Reparative counseling, which is intended to change a person's sexual orientation is believed by most mental health professional organizations to be ill advised. They recognize that an adult's sexual orientation is fixed and unchangeable. Transforming Congregations would agree with the Reconciling Congregation on one point: that the denomination needs to eliminate its homophobic beliefs and practices. Otherwise, they are poles apart.
The group was founded in 1988 by the Evangelical Renewal Fellowship of the California-Nevada Annual Conference. In order to become a Transforming Congregation, a church must hold a series of study sessions. They also are required to develop a program to try to help transform homosexuals into either heterosexuals or celibates.
Shortly before charges were laid by the church against the Rev. Dell, the Rev. Donald Fado of St. Mark's United Methodist Church in Sacramento CA delivered a fiery sermon, announcing his desire to lead a public gay or lesbian service "as an act of ecclesiastical disobedience". He said "we must demonstrate to the General Conference the folly of the exclusion." His wish came true. Jeanne Barnett, 68, and Ellie Charlton, 63, asked to have their long term, lesbian relationship recognized through a church ritual. Jeanne is the lay leader of the regional UMC conference and a retired state unemployment administrator; Ellie serves on the UMC board. The Associated Press referred to their service on 1999-JAN-16 at the Sacramento CA Convention Center as "a civil rights demonstration." 7The ceremony was unusual in two aspects:
1200 guests turned were present. 67 additional ministers sent letters indicating that they were there in spirit, even though they could not be present in body. The "Sacramento 95" had earlier stated: "We believe we are acting in the way in which Jesus Christ would act." A personal account of the union service has been placed online by Rev. Jagannath Prakash. 8
The ministers present chanted a blessing: "O God, our maker, we gladly proclaim to the world that Jeanne and Ellie are loving partners together for life." The Rev. Fado commented: "If anyone wants to file charges against us, this is what the charges are for: praying this prayer...In our church, unfortunately, I'm allowed to come into their home and bless their house, bless their car, bless their tractor and even bless their dog, but I am not allowed to bless them." Rev. Fred Phelps, a Baptist minister, and about a dozen protesters waved flashy signs that read: "Brides of Satan" and "Methodist Fag Church." Three women sang a hymn "God Hates Fags." Hundreds of individuals who support equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians formed a circle to separate the service from the Baptists.
Conservative Methodists, members of the Evangelical Renewal Fellowship, held a protest rally at a nearby Sacramento church. They believe that the ceremony violated both Scripture and Methodist law. In 1999-MAR, Bishop Melvin Talbert referred a complaint against the pastors to church counsel. The logistics of recruiting almost 1200 jury members and conducting 68 or 95 trials proved to be formidable. The California-Nevada Conference decided on 2000-FEB-11 to not try the ministers.
In 1995, Martha Juillerat was a Presbyterian minister. She resigned her ordination at a meeting of her fellow pastors in Kansas City, MO. Before resigning, she made a request of other gay or lesbian ministers and ministerial candidates who have been denied ordination, been forced to leave the church, or been required to keep their sexual orientation secret as they remained ministers. She asked them to send her their stole. (A stole is a band of cloth that ministers wear around their necks). She expected perhaps a dozen. She initially received 80 stoles. She hang them around the room where she gave her farewell speech. "It moved people to tears. It made it obvious that we weren't just talking about me. We were talking about hundreds of folks who are denied the opportunity to openly serve their church." 9
Her collection has since grown to a "Shower of Stoles", totaling almost 800 stoles from 13 different denominations. She displays them at annual and regional meetings of various denominations, to promote discussion of the ban on homosexual ordination. She commented: "Seeing the stoles is like seeing the Vietnam Memorial or the AIDS quilt. It helps take this issue out of people's heads and into their hearts. It makes it very real and very human and, to a certain extent, de-politicizes the issue."
Ms. Juillerat felt the call to ministry as a teen. "The church meant the world to me. I made a decision to follow the party line and be single and celibate. I guess what I never anticipated was the terrible oppression of living a double life and of never having anyone to share it." In 1986, she met a woman at a support group for women clergy who would become her partner . They dated in secret. They invited only four friends to their ceremony of holy union. For security, they had to cover the windows of the church. Her partner had a serious bicycle accident in 1993 which nearly killed her. The next day, Ms. Juillerat had to conduct a service without being able to tell anyone about the incident. "After that, we decided we just could not stay hidden anymore. We decided this was a sick way to live...Leaving the ministry was the hardest decision I ever made in my life. I love to preach and I miss it terribly. But it was like the weight of the world was being lifted off our shoulders. For my own sanity and peace of mind, I needed to leave."
She took 340 stoles to a national convention of More Light churches; she took over 300 to the 1996 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA); almost 400 were on hand at the 1997 Assembly. There was no place to hang the display so she asked volunteers to wear them. "It became a way for people to find a voice. I offered the option of people sending them to me anonymously. For those people especially, it was the one opportunity they had of letting the church know that, 'Hey I'm out here.'" Rev. Bill Chadwick, co-pastor of St. Luke Presbyterian Church in St. Paul said: "It was so moving to see all of them. I went around looking at them by myself and just sobbed at the heartbreak of those who had received the same sort of call from God that I did, but were unable to fulfill it."
"...we were able to present a wonderful display at the General Conference (GC) that completely surrounded the AMAR Coalition Resource and Hospitality Room across the street from the Convention Center." During the summer of 2000, they were scheduled to be displayed at nearly one dozen UMC regional conferences and at several UMC congregations. 10
The Shower of Stoles is now a nonprofit organization with a board of directors.
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