An altar decorated to welcome LGBTQ people to services at Morningside United Methodist Church on March 4, 2019 (Courtesy/Wendy Woodworth)

Clergy at Salem’s United Methodist churches say they will continue to marry same-sex couples and ordain LGBTQ clergy in spite of a “heartbreaking” vote by the church’s global conference last week to continue a ban on both.

Rev. Dan Pitney, pastor at First United Methodist Church of Salem said the Feb. 28 vote in St. Louis prompted “lots of tears yesterday in worship” as he and other leaders reassured the congregation they would not change local practices.

“We do not agree and we’re not going to practice the way the denomination has taken a position,” Pitney said.

The church, which is democratically governed by delegates from around the world, welcomes anyone to attend services but has long been split over the issues of gay clergy and same-sex marriage.

Officially, gay people cannot be ordained, but since 1984, a Methodist movement called the Reconciling Ministries Network has pushed for inclusive church practices.

Many individual churches, including Salem’s, have declared themselves “reconciling churches” and embraced the full inclusion of LGBTQ people.

The Methodist church’s Western Jurisdiction, which encompasses U.S. states west of the Rockies, also subscribes to that doctrine.

Delegates at the St. Louis conference rejected a plan that would have lifted the global church’s ban on gay clergy while allowing individual communities to make their own decisions.

Pitney said the decision was especially sad because the Methodist church embraces a diversity of belief. It’s intended to be a home for people with a variety of religious interpretations, life experiences and political views where people are united by a love of Jesus Christ, he said.

“That has been broken (by) the majority saying we have to abide by this perspective theologically,” Pitney said. “At this time we’re not sure how that will resolve itself and whether the church will split over this.”

For Rev. Wendy Woodworth, pastor at Morningside United Methodist Church, the decision was personal. Woodworth is lesbian and married her wife in 2017 after more than two decades together.

She came to Morningside in 2013 in part because it had been a reconciling congregation since the mid-1990s. Church members with gay children led the conversation, she said.

“They wanted to let their kids and their other members who are gay or lesbian know that they are beloved children of God,” Woodworth said.

Mark Bateman, a member and lay leader at First United Methodist, was among the delegates in St. Louis. He said the decision to entrench church policy against gay clergy went against the pluralism Methodists are known for.

“For me, the real heartbreak coming out of St. Louis was that a portion of the denomination that was saying 'no, you have to believe the way I believe,'” he said.

To make it clear their practices haven’t changed, many Salem churches are adding extra rainbows to their décor.

“I went in Sunday, put some rainbow material on the altar, made sure we had ‘All God’s People’ banner up,” Woodworth said. “My first words were, ‘We are not changing who we are.’ In the ministry we are called to welcome all people.”

Reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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