Church distances itself from decision

GREENLAND HILLS UNITED

By Sujata Dand

On Sunday, when parishioners drove up to Greenland Hills United Methodist Church, the Methodist part of the sign was covered by a rainbow banner.
Photo by Sujata Dand

Kristin Mallory walks her 4-year-old twins into preschool at Greenland Hills United Methodist Church. 

“Can you open the door for me?” she says to her son August as they approach the entrance. Mallory’s hands are full carrying two backpacks and a cup of coffee. 

“You are so strong!” August smiles knowingly. 

Kristin and her wife Connie Mallory have been parishioners at Greenland Hills for more than 10 years. 

“This is where our relationship grew,” Kristin remembers. “We started our life together here.”

Kristin is the youth and children’s minister at the church. She and Connie have three kids. Four years ago, when the couple decided to get married, Greenland Hills was not an option because the United Methodist Church’s official position was same sex marriages could not be officiated by Methodist ministers nor conducted in Methodist churches. 

“It’s hard to look back on your wedding day and have regrets because it was amazing and beautiful. We were on the cliffs of La Jolla overlooking the water, but there was nowhere that I would have rather been than at Greenland Hills Church.” 

“When I saw the pictures from that day I just cried because I wasn’t the one doing the wedding,” Pastor Kerry Smith recalls. Smith has led the congregation at Greenland Hills for six years. “I wasn’t there because I was afraid.” Tears fill Smith’s eyes. “I can’t be afraid anymore.”

Last October, after much discussion, Greenland Hills church members decided almost unanimously to allow gay weddings in their sanctuary. There was concern, though, for their beloved pastor who could lose her job, her pension and her credentials for bypassing the rules of the United Methodist Church. 

“Even I was worried,” said Mallory. “I didn’t want to lose my boss who is also my friend.”

The church board decided to wait for the General Conference meeting in hopes that the “One Church Plan” would lift prohibitions on individual churches choosing to marry same sex couples and allowing LGBTQ followers of the religion to become ordained ministers.

Last Tuesday, the motion failed by 70 votes with 438 voting to put a stricter Traditional Plan in place. Some believe that the traditional plan’s success was due to an alliance of conservatives from the U.S. and overseas. About 43 percent of the delegates were from abroad, mostly from Africa, and overwhelmingly support the LGBT bans.

“I value my Methodist history and tradition and that heritage, but I don’t agree what happened last week and the decision that was made,” Smith says. “And, so how do we distance ourselves from that and say we are not that kind of place?”

On Sunday, when parishioners drove up to Greenland Hills United Methodist Church, the Methodist part of the sign was covered by a rainbow banner.

“A church may say they are welcoming, but you don’t know what that means,” Smith explains. “Does that mean I am welcome to come but you won’t marry me, and you don’t really want to know that I’m gay? Gay people are not only welcome here, but they are affirmed and celebrated.”

After the service, the congregation was invited to meet to discuss the decision from the conference. The parishioners held hands and reaffirmed unanimously that this is a place where same sex weddings can happen. This time Pastor Smith said she wanted to perform all wedding ceremonies despite the risk to her position. People cried and cheered.

“I wanted the system to work, I wanted the process to work. I wanted to follow the rules as much as I can,” Smith says. “I think what’s at risk is our integrity as a church. If you can’t stand up for injustice now, when will you?”

Bishop Michael McKee, who oversees the Methodist churches in North Texas, was not available for comment. But Smith says she has talked to him and he understands her position.

Greenland Hills is not alone. Northaven United Methodist Church will continue to perform same sex weddings in their sanctuary.

Pastor Marti Soper said in a statement to her congregation: “Northaven will continue to abide by the Marriage Proposal adopted on June 26, 2016 in which our congregation voted overwhelmingly in favor of permitting all weddings at Northaven. This continues to defy the Book of Discipline and it is still our policy, which I support and will be honored to uphold. Also, we will continue to be a church that will advocate for full inclusion of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters at every level in our denomination.” 

Senior Pastor Mitchell Boone from White Rock United Methodist Church says while his church is still in the process of deciding how to handle same sex marriage, he will perform same sex wedding ceremonies.

In a letter to his congregation, Boone wrote: “While I am fully committed to using the power I have to create a fully inclusive church, I know my commitment may conflict with your beliefs, making it impossible for you to feel affirmed and supported at WRUMC. Know that I love each of you, and I hope you can remain within our beautiful and diverse community.” 

Pastor Smith says while she faces full support from her congregation, she understands that other Methodist churches and ministers may feel divided.

“I think what happened last week really brought a lot of people together and made us evaluate our positions,” Smith says. “As Methodists we look at scripture through our tradition, through our experience and through our reason. This is something that I want to do. If I’m not going to do it now, when am I going to do it?”

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