Methodist churches across Massachusetts trumpeted their support of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community with a newspaper ad Sunday, and a service is planned to address the United Methodist Church’s vote last month to uphold its opposition to same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy.
“Harvard-Epworth in Cambridge has long been involved in this fight for full inclusion, and basically no vote will define God’s stance, or our stance in our ministry,” said the Rev. Herb Taylor, pastor of Harvard-Epworth United Methodist Church, in a phone interview Sunday.
His church is among three dozen from Acton to Woburn that took out a half-page ad in Sunday’s Globe affirming their belief “in the sacredness of all” and announcing “a service of lamentation, resistance and celebration” on March 24 at Old West Church in Boston.
“There are a lot of people who are just truly horrified, and who are tired and might leave [the Methodist church] because of this,” said the Rev. Sara Garrard, pastor of Old West Church.
Garrard said the March 24 service will be a time to come together, renounce the decision made by clergy and lay leaders in the largest mainline Protestant denomination, and seek emotional and spiritual healing — before launching a fresh effort to change the church.
The policy on LGBTQ parishioners and clergy passed by just 54 votes out of more than 800, surprising some who had expected them to embrace a more inclusive plan. Some believe the policy won’t last past April, when it is expected to be reviewed by the church’s judicial branch.
“Many of us believe that significant portions of this plan will be ruled unconstitutional,” Taylor said.
Though there are exceptions, most Methodist churches in New England welcome the LGBTQ community, Garrard said. Some previously hung rainbow flags on their signs and left it at that. The Feb. 26 vote by the United Methodist Church’s General Conference, she said, has forced people to take action on their belief in inclusion. “It actually has galvanized people who have sat passively. . . . This is really a religious rallying cry, which can be good,” she said.
The policy of the international Methodist church has little practical effect in New England, where the regional conference had voted before last month’s General Conference to remain inclusive to all, pastors said. But LGBTQ parishioners here still feel the psychological and spiritual effects of being told by their church that they are, in effect, “basically subhuman,” Garrard said.
Taylor said LGBTQ Methodists’ feeling of rejection is particularly harsh because they are being judged for an immutable part of their identity.
“There’s nothing else that brings such harm and such heartache as this,” he said.
The Rev. Hope Luckie, pastor of Crawford Memorial United Methodist Church in Winchester, said her parishioners were frustrated by the vote.
“They were pretty upset that what occurred was not their expression of faith,” she said.
Crawford Memorial already had a rainbow flag in front of the church, she said, but after the vote, it added more flags outside and inside. “We continue to say that God’s love includes everyone; it does not exclude anyone,” Luckie said.
The ideological division within the church, she said, could lead to a schism.
“I think the history of Protestantism, period, from the Protestant Reformation on, is to protest and divide,” she said.
Before the vote, Garrard would have considered such a split unlikely, she said, but it now seems increasingly possible. “I would assume, no matter what happens, churches are going to leave the Methodist Church, either because it’s too conservative or too liberal,” she said.
Taylor said that, despite the deep divisions and hurt feelings, he has faith that leaders within the international church organization eventually can agree that all people should be welcome.
“I truly believe it’s a matter of time. I think God is at work,” he said. “I believe that like a lot of things in this world, people hold onto the past. People hold onto the status quo and are afraid to let old beliefs and old mindsets pass away.”