Defrocked Methodist minister Frank Schaefer reinstated


The Rev. Frank Schaefer

The Rev. Frank Schaefer, who was defrocked six years after officiating at his son’s wedding, was reinstated.

Schaefer refused to say he would never perform another same-sex wedding. While he performed a very private wedding for his son and son-in-law, he couldn’t promise to never do another wedding because he has two other gay children.

The church ruled in his appeal that Schaefer was on trial only for performing his son’s wedding and not for what he may or may not do in the future.

He can return to work at his church and will be given back benefits and pay.

Since being defrocked, Schaefer has been in Dallas twice and spoke at Cathedral of Hope and Northaven United Methodist Church. He appeared on Lambda Weekly and included footage shot at the radio station in an upcoming documentary about his trial.

—  David Taffet

After 53 years, Evans and Harris pack the church for their wedding

Methodist ministers from around the Meteroplex and as far away as Austin attended the wedding of Jack Evans and George Harris at Midway Hills Christian Church.

Harris and Evans are members of Northaven United Methodist Church. The denomination does not allow same-sex weddings to be performed in their churches or Methodist ministers to perform those ceremonies.

The Rev. Bill McElvaney, who is retired, announced at Northaven on Jan. 15 that he would perform same-sex weddings.

On Saturday afternoon, McElvaney walked down the aisle but sat as he officiated, because he had a round of chemotherapy just days before. He sounded strong and brought the crowd of several hundred to their feet several times as he blessed the couple who has been together 53 years.

The issue of same-sex marriage is dividing the United Methodist Church and has heated up since the Rev. Frank Schaefer was defrocked last fall for performing his son’s wedding.

“It’s not my intent to politicize this marriage,” McElvaney said during the wedding. “But…”

With news cameras from most local stations at the church and four stories about the wedding in the Dallas Morning News, there was little doubt the wedding was political.

“Jack and George are challenging the United Methodist Church to become a fully inclusive church,” McElvaney said.

He said he wanted to correct any news reports that said he was a willing participant.

“I’m privileged to be part of it,” he said.

The Rev. Arthur Stewart, pastor of Midway Hills, said he got calls from other pastors of his denomination as news broke about the wedding at his church. He was told that what he was doing was a disgrace to the denomination. He answered that it would be a disgrace if he didn’t welcome the couple to his church. Midway Hill is a member of The Chistian Church (Disciples of Christ).

“When it comes to justice, our doors are always open,” Stewart said.

The Rev. Sid Hall is the pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Austin. He said he performed a number of same weddings at his church between 1992, when his church because a reconciling congregation, and 1996, when the United Methodist Church outlawed the practice. Since then, his church has performed no weddings, gay or straight.

Since then, he said, a number of same-sex weddings have been performed in churches around Texas, just nothing as open and public as this event.

Hall speculated what his and every other congregation would be without their LGBT members, gay music directors and organists.”

“Worship would suck,” Hall said.

He wouldn’t speculate on whether charges would be brought against McElvaney or not. Anyone within the denomination may file a complaint, he explained, and the local bishop may decide to elevate the complaint to charges.

Hall, however, thought there couldn’t be a worse case than this one for the church to use as an example — a pastor in his 80s undergoing chemotherapy celebrating the lives of a couple that’s been together longer than most straight couples.

McElvaney said he wouldn’t speculate about whether charges will be filed.

“It’s their business what they do,” McElvaney said. “And I’ll deal with it.”

At the reception, held at Northaven United Methodist Church, McElvaney had one wish for Harris and Evans.

“Continued joy, health and happiness,” he said.

Evans and Harris don’t think things will be much different now that they’re married. Harris said they’re not planning to have kids.

“Hell, he won’t even let me have a dog,” Harris said.

—  David Taffet

Jack and George are getting hitched


Jack Evans, left, and George Harris

Jack Evans and George Harris have been together 53 years. On March 1, they’re getting married. Finally.

Evans and Harris are members of Northaven United Methodist Church but because of a ban on same-sex marriages within the denomination, their ceremony will take place at Midway Hills Christian Church. That church belongs to Disciples of Christ, which recognizes same-sex marriages.

The Rev. Bill McElvaney will preside. He’s a retired Methodist minister who served many years at Northaven and always welcomed the LGBT community when some other Methodist churches in the area didn’t.

The controversy in the Methodist Church gained national attention last fall when the Rev. Frank Schaefer was defrocked after a church trial that found him guilty of performing his son’s wedding.

Schaefer recently appeared in Dallas and suggested that a way to change church policy is for 1,000 ministers to perform same-sex weddings. He said his trial was budgeted at $100,000, and the church couldn’t afford to try 1,000 ministers and can’t afford to lose that many ministers.

Evans said they sent out about 100 invitations and are putting together a reception with just a few weeks’ notice. Members of Northaven stepped up to help. One is taking care of the catering, and another member is taking care of the flowers, Evans said.

“We’re doing this more to support Bill in his efforts,” Evans said. “It’s more about him than us.”

Whoever it’s about, friends will gather to celebrate the relationship of two men who have worked for equality throughout their lives and served on numerous boards in the LGBT community including Resource Center, Turtle Creek Chorale, Black Tie Dinner and, most recently, The Dallas Way.

They said they had no plans to hyphenate their names after they marry and didn’t think being married would change things too much.

Well, maybe some.

“It does get better,” Evans said. “We’re counting on that.”

—  David Taffet

PHOTOS: Black Tie distribution party

Members of Northaven United Methodist Church accept their distribution check. The church also received a special award for selling more than 100 raffle tickets, a Black Tie record.

Black Tie Dinner distributed proceeds from the November dinner on Thursday night. (CLICK HERE TO VIEW FULL STORY)

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin flew into town to receive a check for more than half a million dollars. Resource Center Dallas CEO Cece Cox and other staff picked up a check for more than $75,000 — a Black Tie Dinner record for a local organization. Erik Folkerth received a special award on behalf of Northaven United Methodist Church for selling more than 100 raffle tickets, another BTD record.

The distribution celebration was held at the Dallas Contemporary, a gallery of Riverfront (Industrial) Boulevard near Oak Lawn Avenue. Photos below.

—  David Taffet

Faith leaders weigh in on Perry’s bid

Eric Folkerth

Local clergy criticize governor’s exclusive approach

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer

With evangelical zeal, Texas Gov. Rick Perry jumped into the presidential race this week. Local clergy weighed in with their reaction.

The Rev. Jo Hudson, senior pastor at the Cathedral of Hope, said that it’s appropriate for people running for public office to hold onto their faith beliefs.

“But when you’re elected, you represent everyone,” she said.

She objected to Perry aligning himself with evangelicals to the exclusion of others and with the American Family Association, an organization identified as a hate group.

“He’s aligning himself with people who do damage to others, and that’s not the role of an elected official,” she said.

She said the harm extends beyond the LGBT community, and she wondered whether it’s a winning strategy since recent polls show a majority of Americans believe in equality.

The Rev. Eric Folkerth, pastor of heavily gay Northaven United Methodist Church said, “It’s certainly interesting how quickly he’s getting traction.”

While Perry held his recent day of prayer in Houston, Folkerth was part of a group that gathered at Pegasus Park to express concerns at how non-inclusive the event was.

Perry is Methodist.

“As a part of our tradition, I would hope he would remember and respect that United Methodists are deeply respectful of other Christians and people of other faiths,” Folkerth said.

Rabbi Steve Fisch of Congregation Beth El Binah — the local gay Jewish congregation — wasn’t as circumspect with his assessment of the Perry candidacy.

“I don’t think you can print my reaction,” said Fisch.

In his announcement speech, Perry said if he becomes president, the U.S. will be an unqualified ally of Israel.

Fisch said that’s typical of evangelical Christians because the gathering of Jews in Israel is a precursor to the Messianic Age.

“We, as Jews, don’t believe that Israel is a precursor to anything,” he said. “Israel should be supported as a country.”

He said Perry wants to make the U.S. into a Christian country.

“That’s offensive to me as a rabbi and Jewish leader,” he said.

Concerning Perry’s day of prayer, Fisch said having a prayer meeting and paying for it with private funds is fine.

“But if any state funds were used, that clearly contravenes the spirit and the letter of separation of church and state,” he said.

—  John Wright

‘A roomful of silent witnesses’

NO LONGER SILENT | The Rev. Steve Sprinkle, assistant professor at Fort Worth’s Texas Christian University, donated his stole to the Shower of Stoles project in 2001. He added the line of bells along the bottom so that he would never again be silent about his sexual orientation.

Collection of stoles from LGBT clergy on display at Northaven UMC, including stole from local minister Stephen Sprinkle

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer

The Shower of Stoles — a portion of which is now on display at Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas — is a collection of liturgical stoles from LGBT religious leaders representing about 30 Jewish and Christian denominations from six countries on three continents.

Stoles are the religious garb worn by clergy around the neck, usually over a clerical robe. This collection, started by a lesbian minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) whose ordination was threatened when she came out, is designed to “connect with people emotionally,” creating an impact similar to that of the NAMES Project AIDS Memoral Quilt, said the Rev. Rebecca Voelkel of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Voelkel said the collection is an important artifact of the ongoing battle for ordination equality in mainstream churches.

In 1993, Voelkel explained, the Presbyterian Church called for a three-year period of open dialogue on human sexuality. The Rev. Martha Juillerat, a Presbyterian minister from rural Missouri, participated by traveling around her district participating in dozens of conferences and opening dialogues in churches throughout the area.

Despite the invitation to come out, there was no guarantee that Juillerat wouldn’t face repercussions.

And in fact, she did.

Voelkel said that when the Presbyterian Church threatened to revoke Juillerat’s ordination in 1995, she put word out for other LGBT clergy to send her their stoles and stories. Within a week she had 75.

When Presbytery officials gathered to discuss her case, “she lined the room with stoles,” Voelkel said.

Within a few weeks the collection had grown to more than 200.

After Juillerat retired, she donated the collection to the NGLTF’s Institute for Welcoming Resources, which now maintains it. The collection has grown to about 1,200 pieces.

Today, parts of the collection are exhibited in about 100 places each year. Voelkel said that some churches use the display as part of the welcoming process, but others bring in the collection before they are even ready to talk about it.

She called it “a roomful of silent witnesses.”

Those witnesses can have an impact. Just last week, 18 years later Juillerat’s fight, the Presbyterian Church voted to allow ordination of LGBT clergy.

A display of 50 stoles will be on exhibit at Northaven United Methodist Church through June 5, said the Rev. Eric Folkerth. The church is a welcoming congregation with a large LGBT membership. Northaven is also a beneficiary of the Black Tie Dinner.

Folkerth said his church has hosted the exhibit before: “It was very moving and an inspiring thing to see.”

While other churches use the collection to begin a dialogue, Folkerth said, “This is a reminder that we are so blessed.”

Folkerth said that in terms of creating change, it would be better for the stoles to be somewhere else. But, “It’s important to remind ourselves what’s going on in the rest of the church.”

Among the stoles in the collection is one from the Rev. Steven Sprinkle, an associate professor at Texas Christian University. In his accompanying story, Sprinkle said that he served several congregations as a single person. Congregants suspected he was gay and he was targeted with graffiti on his house and had his car ties slashed.

“In an attempt to drive me away, my pet Basset hound, Beau, and my English bulldog, Buck, were butchered and hung up in the back yard of my parsonage,” Sprinkle said. “There was a lot of fear in my life.”

But Sprinkle said he didn’t run. Instead he came out after a close friend told him, “If there are no secrets, Steve, there can be no ambushes.”

Shower of Stoles exhibit, Northaven United Methodist Church, 11211 Preston Road. Mon.–Fri., 9:30 a.m.–4 p.m. and Sun. 9:30 a.m.–2 p.m. through June 5. 214-363-2479.

—  John Wright

The other victims of homophobia

Connie Marshall

Straight Spouse Network offers help to those whose partners have come out — without bashing LGBT people

DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer

Connie Marshall had been married to her husband for 30 years and had two children when, on the evening her older son returned from his honeymoon, her husband sat her down for a talk.

He told her he was gay and that he was moving to New York, and he handed her a list of what he wanted to take with him.

Marshall, who is now retired, owned several restaurants in San Antonio. Not only did her husband leave her with her business, but also with his car and their house to sell.

A few weeks later, her younger son left for college. So within a month, her household shrank from four to just one and she was suddenly facing a life alone.

“This kind of divorce is so different from the run-of-the-mill divorce and those of us who have walked down that path need support,” Marshall said.

The first thing Marshall assured is that Straight Spouse Network not about gay bashing. It provides support to the heterosexual current or former partner of a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person to constructively resolve coming out issues.

In fact, Marshall said, the group encourages LGBT people to come out when they’re young so that what happened to her doesn’t happen to others.

The heterosexual partner is just one more victim of homophobia, Marshall said.

When Marshall moved to Dallas from San Antonio several years ago to live near her older son, she was surprised that this city didn’t have a straight spouse group. A group did exist in Dallas previously but disbanded. After speaking to members of PFLAG and people at Northaven United Methodist Church, she decided to start one.

Marshall points out that there are all sorts of groups for people in the LGBT community. Straight Spouse Network is the only organization that meets the needs of the heterosexual partner.

Her experience with the group is that some people who attend are angry but most just need the support of knowing they are not the only person that this happened to. Actually, she said, the group estimates that about 2 million people have found themselves in this situation or are still married to a gay or lesbian spouse.

Marshall said her former husband has always been a good father, and she wishes they had been able to maintain their friendship. She said that since he left 10 years ago she has reached out to him a number of times but he keeps his distance. She imagines that guilt on his part keeps him from re-establishing their friendship.

After being on her own for 10 years, Marshall said she has created a new life for herself. But she hopes to help others facing this situation.

The Dallas Straight Spouse Network will meet for the first time on April 12.

Straight Spouse Network meets the second Tuesday each month at Northaven United Methodist Church, 11211 Preston Road at 7 p.m.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 8, 2011.

—  John Wright

Northaven UMC’s members tell First Baptist to chill (and have a happy holiday)

I love when an article starts conversations. The Happy Holidays vs. Merry Christmas story in the Spirituality section of this week’s Dallas Voice about First Baptist Church’s seems to have done just that.

Last week after I spoke to Eric Folkerth, the pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church, he posted something on his Facebook page about it.

He received dozens of comments.

On GrinchAlert, you can rebuke, reprimand, belittle, berate and spew your general hate for working people, many of them minimum wage, who don’t quite greet you the way you want on their busiest working days of the year. After all, what exemplifies Christmas better than trying to get someone fired.

I called Folkerth for my article because Northaven is a mainstream church and is a beneficiary of Black Tie Dinner.

He obviously has no love for First Baptist’s pastor.

One of my favorite comments on his Facebook page came from Jim Lovell, a member of Northaven who is an elementary school music teacher in Plano. Here’s his comment that is one of the most beautiful descriptions of the holiday season that I’ve seen in a long time.

“All this reminds me how much I love my job,” Lovell wrote. “Today, a 6-year old Muslim boy was so proud to give me a Christmas cookie that his mother (who wears a hijab) bought. His beaming face just made my day! Other Muslim children are sporting Santa hats. Some of the favorite songs of our Christian and Hindu children are about dreydls. Everyone is getting along and having a good time. Happy Holidays, one and all! Whatever it is that you’re mad about, give it up!”

Here were some of the other comments.

“Interesting that they are using the secular Grinch to illustrate their religious celebration,” said one.

Interesting indeed. Not just that the Grinch is a secular character, but that the character was created by Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss.

Geisel began his career as a cartoonist. Before World War II, he warned of discrimination against Japanese-Americans, African-Americans and Jews. I think Dr. Seuss would be horrified at using one of his characters to spew the hatred coming from First Baptist Church.

Other comment’s on the Facebook page of Northaven’s pastor commented on how little the narrow-minded members of First Baptist actually apply the lessons of their religion.

“Don’t they have something more important to spend time and resources on? Cause if they cant think of any, they surely aren’t listening to the world around them,” said one commenter.

But that’s the point of You need to celebrate Christmas my way.

—  David Taffet