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Bishop orders new hearing, vote in Beth Stroud case

 


Bishop orders new hearing, vote in Beth Stroud case

Sept. 16, 2004

By the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference

VALLEY FORGE, Pa. (UMNS) - A new hearing has been ordered in the case of a Philadelphia pastor facing a church trial after publicly declaring she lives in a committed lesbian relationship. United Methodist church law bars the ordination of "self-avowed, practicing homosexuals."

Retired Bishop Joseph H. Yeakel, named earlier this month to oversee the case of the Rev. Irene Elizabeth "Beth" Stroud, said he ordered the new hearing after reviewing the transcript of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference’s Committee on Investigation’s deliberation of case.

In a Sept. 9 letter to the committee’s chairperson, the Rev. Kent E. Kroehler of Lancaster, Yeakel said the committee’s 5-3 vote on July 23 to file a charge against Stroud did not meet requirements of both church law and rulings of the denomination’s top court, the Judicial Council.

Yeakel said the committee erred by considering laypeople as voting members of the committee. "Two of those members were laypersons who were counted in the quorum," the bishop wrote. He noted the Judicial Council ruled in May 2000 that laypeople "do not have the voting rights and parity with clergy members." The result was the committee lacked an official quorum in which to take action. Church law contained in the denomination’s Book of Discipline says seven people constitute a quorum.

The bishop also declared the committee "was not properly constituted to adopt either the charge or specifications" in the case against Stroud, who serves as associate pastor of First United Methodist Church of Germantown. Yeakel said a statement from members of the committee, supporting the specification in the case but against bringing a charge, is contrary to an October 2003 Judicial Council decision stemming from a Washington state case.

In the statement, three clergy members of the committee indicated, "We do not believe that a self-avowed, practicing homosexual clergyperson in a monogamous, committed relationship engages in practices incompatible with Christian teachings." Yeakel told Kroehler that the Judicial Council ruling requires members "unwilling to uphold the Discipline for reasons of conscience … to step aside."

The bishop asked Kroehler to "inventory the present members of the committee on investigation on their willingness to serve, meeting the requirements of the Discipline in conformance with the Judicial Council’s ruling." If that inventory reduces the number of members below what is necessary for a quorum, then additional members should be appointed, Yeakel wrote.

Reached for comment, Stroud had no direct response to the latest development. "I’m in good spirits and just trying to be faithful as a pastor and a Christian," she told UMNS. "Nobody ever said it would be easy."

The committee on investigation received the complaint against Stroud from Bishop Peter D. Weaver, who presided over the annual conference until Aug. 31. He is now bishop in Boston. Bishop Marcus Matthews leads the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference as part of the Philadelphia Area.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

The following is the letter sent by Bishop Joseph H. Yeakel to the Rev. Kent E. Kroehler:

September 9, 2004

Dear Dr. Kroehler,

Pursuant to our recent conversation, I am informing you that as the Presiding Officer for the trial of the Rev. Irene Elizabeth Stroud, I am nullifying the recent Bill of Charges and Specifications adopted by the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference Committee on Investigation and remanding it to the Committee on Investigation for rehearing and decision.

In accordance with The Book of Discipline, paragraph 2708.11, I have consulted with the Counsel for the Church and the Counsel for the Respondent indicating my decision.

My reasons for doing this are as follows:

1. The transcript of the meeting of the Committee on Investigation indicates that the committee did not have the necessary voting members present as required by The Discipline, paragraph 2703.2, which reads as follows: "Seven members or alternates seated as members of the committee shall constitute a quorum."

a. While the transcript indicates that eight members of the committee were present, two of those members were lay persons who were counted in the quorum. Though the committee may have acted on the presumption that these lay persons had the right to vote, I call your attention to the Judicial Council Memorandum No. 887 which reads: "Lay persons serving on an Annual Conference Committee on Investigation of a clergy member of an Annual Conference do not have the voting rights and parity with clergy members . . ." (May 10, 2000).

b. As a result, the committee is left with only six voting members which does not meet the quorum requirement.

2. The vote of the Committee on Investigation to sustain the Specifications as a Bill of Charge(s) was recorded as five in favor and three against.

a. There follows a statement which reads, "Statement from those who voted for the specification but against bringing a charge passed on the specification: ‘We do not believe that a self-avowed, practicing homosexual clergyperson in a monogamous, committed relationship engages in practices incompatible with Christian teachings.’"

i. Upon inquiry, you indicated that these three persons were themselves clergy persons, raising the question as to their ability to serve on the Committee on Investigation.

ii. The Judicial Council, Decision No. 980 of October 24, 2003, speaks to this issue as follows: "Should members of the (Annual) Conference Committee on Investigation be unwilling to uphold The Discipline for reasons of conscience or otherwise, such members must step aside in this matter and either alternate members or others who are willing to uphold The Discipline must be appointed to the Committee to enable it to complete its responsibility."

b. The Committee on Investigation, therefore, was not properly constituted to adopt either the Charge or Specifications.

I request that you inventory the present members of the Committee on Investigation as to their willingness to serve, meeting the requirements of The Discipline in conformance with the Judicial Council’s ruling that those "unwilling to uphold The Discipline for reasons of conscience or otherwise" must step aside. I further request that responses to this inventory be placed in writing.

Should such inventory reduce the number of members on the Committee below that necessary for a quorum, please communicate with Bishop Marcus Matthews and me so that the necessary persons can be appointed for a quorum.

When the Committee on Investigation is properly constituted, you are authorized to begin the work of the Committee on Investigation on the rehearing of the investigation of the Complaint brought against the Rev. Irene Elizabeth Stroud.

If you have any further questions, do not hesitate to communicate with me.

Grace and Peace,

Bishop Joseph H. Yeakel,

Presiding Officer

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