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Charges against Seattle pastor dropped

5/31/2002 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

By United Methodist News Service

A complaint against an openly gay United Methodist pastor in the denomination's Pacific Northwest Annual (regional) Conference was dismissed after a May 30 hearing.

The conference committee on investigation decided to drop a complaint against the Rev. Mark Edward Williams. Consequently, he will not face a church trial and will continue to serve as pastor of Woodland Park United Methodist Church in Seattle.

The complaint alleged that a statement by Williams about being a gay man, read into the record of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference meeting on June 15, 2001, was incompatible with the denomination's standards for clergy.

A conference press release announced the decision by its nine-member committee, which deliberated about the complaint following the hearing. In a statement, the committee said it "found there was not reasonable cause to forward this matter for a church trial."

The decision of the committee, composed of seven clergy and two lay members, cannot be appealed, according to conference officials. The committee does not determine guilt or innocence, but whether reasonable grounds exist to support charges in a church trial. Five votes were required for Williams to be brought to trial.

Williams' statement in the 2001 conference session led the conference to seek a ruling from the church's highest court as to an apparent conflict between its prohibition of appointing "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" to lead congregations and its requirement that all clergy in good standing be given an appointment.

Bishop Elias Galvan filed complaints against Williams and another clergyperson following 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. Galvan filed the complaints in December. That action started the process which concluded with the committee's decision.

In their own press release, members of the Woodland Park church, who had supported Williams throughout his ordeal, expressed joy that the complaint had been dropped and that he would be able to continue to serve the congregation. He has been the senior pastor there since 1999.

Williams, who was pleased about the decision, told United Methodist News Service that he had decided to focus "on answering the questions they would ask as clearly and honestly as I could" when he participated in the hearing.

But he said he also has made clear that the statement he made last June was meant to refer only to his sexual orientation and "at no point have I ever intended to discuss my sexual behavior."

What has sustained Williams during what has been a long, frustrating year, he said, is "the adamant support" of the Woodland Park congregation. "I never guessed their capacity to walk with me and care for me and advocate on behalf of our ministry together," he added.

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