Chicago United Methodist minister Gregory Dell could lose his job if a January church trial convicts him of presiding over a same-sex union ceremony. On September 19, Dell performed a "holy union" ceremony for Keith Eccarius, 41, and Karl Reinhardt, 33, despite an August 11 ruling by the United Methodist Judicial Council that "ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted by our churches" (CT, Oct. 5, 1998, p. 18).
Joseph Sprague, bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference, filed a complaint against Dell on October 12.
This year's acquittal of Jimmy Creech on a similar charge (CT, June 15, 1998, p. 15) has sharply intensified debate among United Methodists about homosexuality. Dell told CT that he has been performing same-sex union services for 17 years. "If someone says to me you can perform marriage ceremonies, but you've got to exclude people of the same sex, then I violate the integrity of my ministry," Dell says. "The very joy of ministry is because it takes seriously the wonder of diversity."
Sprague told CT that Dell has a "very enviable record as a faithful pastor and is deeply committed to the ministry and to the people he serves." While he supports Dell and disagrees with the ban on same-sex ceremonies, Sprague says he must also "support the law of the church." Nearly one-third of the 185 members at Dell's Broadway United Methodist Church are homosexual.
Evangelical groups have welcomed the filing of the charge against Dell. "We trust that as the case goes to trial, the Northern Illinois Conference will provide a sentence for Dell commensurate with the gravity of the violation," says Jim Heidinger, publisher of the evangelical magazine Good News.
Meanwhile, 67 clergy have announced they will celebrate a same-sex union next year at Saint Mark's United Methodist Church in Sacramento, California. Jeanne Barnett, lay leader of the California-Nevada Annual Conference, and Ellie Charlton, a member of the conference board of trustees, plan to formalize their 15-year relationship.
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