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Seattle bishop files complaints against two gay clergy members

12/18/2001 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

By United Methodist News Service

Bishop Elias Galvan of Seattle has filed formal complaints against two openly gay United Methodist pastors, initiating a process in which the clergy members' ministerial standing will be reviewed.

The complaints were filed at the direction of the United Methodist Judicial Council, Galvan said in a Dec. 12 statement. The bishop said he had filed formal complaints against the Rev. Karen Dammann and the Rev. Mark Edward Williams with the office of the Rev. Robert Hoshibata, Seattle District superintendent. Hoshibata and the Rev. Elaine Stanovsky, Puget Sound District superintendent, have been assigned to initiate the supervisory responses to the complaints.

The filing of the complaints follows the Judicial Council's declaratory decision that the admission of being a "self-avowed practicing homosexual" was sufficient cause for a pastor to undergo a ministerial review. The council, which serves as the denomination's supreme court, rendered the decision during its Oct. 24-26 session in Nashville, Tenn.

"This conference will proceed with great care and compassion so that Karen and Mark are treated with the respect that innocent parties are due in a pre-investigation environment," Galvan said in a Dec. 12 statement. "And we will hold that they are innocent until proven otherwise. Our prayers are with all of those involved in this proceeding."

Dammann had told Galvan by letter Feb. 14 that she was living in a covenanted relationship with another woman. Williams had announced that he was a practicing gay man during the Pacific Northwest Conference's annual gathering in July.

During that session, Pacific Northwest members decided to ask the court for a decision on two passages of the Book of Discipline. One passage forbids the ordination and appointment of "self-avowed practicing homosexuals," while the other states that all clergy in good standing shall receive appointments. The court ruled that the passages are not contradictory.

The court also ruled that a bishop could not unilaterally deny an appointment to a pastor in good standing but that due process must be followed. Both Dammann and Williams are deemed in good standing by the conference. However, they were denied appointments during the conference's annual gathering in July and were placed under Hoshibata's supervision. As a result of the court ruling, Galvan immediately restored Williams to his position as senior pastor at Woodland Park United Methodist Church in Seattle, and the bishop worked out an appointment for Dammann.

"After consultation with Karen and Mark, both have been appointed and both are now engaged in ministry," Galvan said in a Dec. 10 letter to Pacific Northwest clergy and lay members. "Additionally, I want you to be aware that, as directed by the Judicial Council, I have filed formal complaints against Karen and Mark with the office of the Seattle District superintendent, the Rev. Robert Hoshibata."

If a resolution is not achieved through the supervisory response process, "then the bishop is asked to determine whether there are grounds to refer the complaints to the counsel for the church," Galvan continued. The counsel will then draft and sign a judicial complaint and send it to the conference committee on investigation, "which serves somewhat like a grand jury in the civil courts," he said.

The committee will investigate and determine whether grounds exist for a church trial, he said. If so, a trial will be convened in accordance with the Book of Discipline, he said. Citing the book, Galvan noted that church trials should be regarded as a last resort.

"Complaints against any clergy person strain the covenant among us," he said. "No matter how these complaints are resolved, this will be a very painful process for the entire annual conference, and especially for these two persons. I ask you to pray and to lead your churches in prayer for Karen and for Mark and for their families and loved ones, for the Woodland Park United Methodist Church, and for all who may be involved in this process along the way."

Dammann told United Methodist News Service that she had expected the complaint and wasn't shocked, but she was still stunned when she learned that it finally had been filed. Hoshibata and Stanovsky called her Dec. 10 to discuss the complaint.

She had received an appointment the week before, and the details are still being worked out. The job will involve doing research and possibly producing a resource on the chaplaincy that could be used by annual conferences and churches, said Dammann, a former chaplain. The research could be done from her home in Massachusetts, where she lives with her partner and their son. She had been serving a Seattle-area church until going on family leave in 1999. Her family leave ended last July 1.

The first stage of the supervisory process involves seeking reconciliation and resolution, and Dammann expressed doubt about whether that end could be achieved. Her suspicion, she said, is that one side or the other wouldn't be happy with the resolution and that true reconciliation wouldn't occur. The issues surrounding her good standing as a pastor have not been resolved, she said, adding: "I'm not contesting the homosexual issue."

"I still feel called," she said. "... In my heart of hearts, I am called to be a pastor in the United Methodist Church, so I'm not going to abandon that, but I also know and have come to understand that I am a homosexual person."

She noted that "there are other denominations. I don't see myself staying part of the United Methodist Church if my credentials are taken from me."

In a prepared statement, the congregation at Woodland Park expressed support for Williams.

"Woodland Park remains steadfast in its support of our beloved pastor, Rev. Mark Williams," said Lay Leader Cindy Rattray and Maggie Brown, chair of the staff-parish relations committee. "During a recent meeting, our congregation again affirmed its support for Rev. Williams. We can think of no good reason why Mark Williams needs to be taken from us.

"The church has suffered rapid pastoral turnover, including four pastors in the past 10 years," they said. "Rev. Williams' arrival at Woodland Park in 1999 represented a healthy new beginning for us."

Williams brings a "healing presence" to the church, they said. "He has many gifts of ministry, and we hope he is allowed to continue as our minister."
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