By Melissa Lauber
The Baltimore-Washington Conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry (BOOM) recently released its new policy for examining candidates for ministry. Who can and can’t be ordained has been in the news throughout the denomination in recent years as The United Methodist Church wrestles with inclusion of LGBTQ people.
The United Methodist Judicial Council – the church’s “Supreme Court” – stated in ruling #1344 that Boards of Ordained Ministry examinations of candidates “must include” questions about gender and sexuality, among others.
The BWC BOOM policy states that, “Knowing each of us is a child of God, made in God’s image, and a recipient and vehicle of God’s grace, we do not view race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or marital status as a barrier to ministry. We will not consider or evaluate sexual orientation or gender identity, nor see them to be sufficient reasons to deny a candidate’s ability to live up to our United Methodist standards.”
The policy was created by the Board’s Task Force on Human Sexuality and approved by a significant consensus of the 54-member board. It was adopted in October 2017. While there were BOOM members that did not agree with the new policy, once it was adopted, the Board of Ordained Ministry “speaks with one voice,” said the Rev. Melissa Rudolph, chair of the conference Order of Elders.
“We believe this policy fully embraces God’s welcome and work in every person,” said BOOM chair, the Rev. C. Anthony Hunt, pastor of Epworth Chapel UMC in Baltimore. “In our love and commitment to The United Methodist Church, we offer this policy as our contribution to moving the church forward to that day when all are welcomed into the ministry of the ordained, and into the fullest possible life in Christ’s body.
The policy, said the Rev. Amy McCullough, BOOM’s vice chair, is grounded in the denomination’s expectation of “faithfulness in marriage and celibacy in singleness.” Within the BOOM examinations, members expect high moral standards from the candidates and a strong sense of self-awareness about one’s relational life, she stressed.
During the past year, BOOM members used the policy in their work of assessing and examining candidates for ministry. The Board is recommending 17 people for commissioning as provisional Elders or Deacons, and 13 for ordination as Full Elders or Deacons.
Those whom BOOM recommends for commissioning and ordination will be voted on by the full Clergy Executive Session, which meets May 30 at the start of the Annual Conference Session.
The Revs. Amy McCullough and Bruce Jones, who chaired the BOOM task force, acknowledge that the policy “may not be in compliance with the Book of Discipline.” McCullough serves as pastor at Grace UMC in Baltimore; Jones is pastor at LaPlata UMC in LaPlata. They also recognize, they said, that “not everyone in the Baltimore-Washington Conference is of one mind on this issue.”
Creating the policy was a “very prayerful, thoughtful process that was about being faithful to God and to The United Methodist Church and being good stewards for both the pastors under our care and the churches those pastors serve,” McCullough said. “My hope is that this feels respectful. We all want the best for this Church that we love.”
The impetus to write the new policy stemmed from Judicial Council decisions 1343 (http://www.umc.org/decisions/71962/decision_number) and 1344, which made it clear that Boards of Ordained Ministry cannot ignore a candidate’s sexual orientation.
The Baltimore-Washington Conference follows a path of transparency and does not require anyone to “hide in the shadows,” said Rudolph. Rudolph serves as pastor of the North Carroll Cooperative Parish in Hampstead.
The BWC’s Board of Ordained Ministry, under this new policy, also no longer allows one’s sexual orientation to be a disqualifier for ordained ministry. BOOM leaders are aware that the new policy “is not compliant with the Book of Discipline.”
Rather, BOOM has opted for a path they believe to be prophetic and focused on justice.
“I really feel like this is Spirt-led. It’s not just organizational position-taking,” Jones said.
Many in the denomination are waiting for the denomination’s Commission on a Way Forward, the Council of Bishops and the delegates at the special-called 2019 session of General Conference to address the issue of human sexuality.
But, BOOM leaders said, waiting did not feel like an option. It felt, said McCullough, like “justice delayed is justice denied.”
“It is time,” said Jones. “We’re at a juncture where this is the primary debate of our church, and there is a kind of fish-or-cut-bait moment that may be the lynchpin upon which the future of The United Methodist Church hangs. We, as a Board of Ordained Ministry, after prayerfully examining and talking and praying and discerning, have come to the conclusion that this is the side on which we believe God wants us to stand.”
The full policy and a statement from BOOM Chair, Rev. C. Anthony Hunt, is printed below.
A statement from the Rev. C. Anthony Hunt, chair of BOOM, along with the full text of the new policy
During the 2017-18 Conference year, the Baltimore-Washington Board of Ordained Ministry has served on behalf of all persons across the Conference called to representative ministry of the Church as licensed, commissioned and ordained persons. The Board is comprised of 54 lay and clergy persons who serve on behalf of more than 1100 persons under our care as either candidates for ministry, actively commissioned provisional members, Deacons or Elders in full connection, and retired members.
This year, the Board of Ordained Ministry has sought to strengthen its work by engaging in several initiatives which have included working throughout the year to continue to clarify and affirm our values in light of the stated values of the Baltimore-Washington Conference and The United Methodist Church. Additionally, the Board’s Human Sexuality Task Force has worked to help clarify Board policy and practices with regard to the diversity among those we serve on behalf of the Church.
The Task Force was organized at the conclusion of the 2017 Annual Conference with the recognition that in the Baltimore-Washington Conference, many people in our local churches, like our denomination and our society, are not of the same mind on a number of important matters that affect persons who are a part of us, including matters pertaining to the full inclusion of LGBTQI+ persons in the life of the Church. The Baltimore-Washington Conference Board of Ordained Ministry has conducted its work over the past two years realizing that it reflects this reality.
An important part of the Board’s work, in accordance with paragraph 635 of the 2016 Book of Discipline, involves serving as stewards of the process of supporting, evaluating and examining persons who have offered themselves as candidates for ordained ministry as Deacons and Elders. In October 2017, a proposal from the Board’s Task Force on Human Sexuality was approved by the full Board, which has served as a framework for the evaluation of candidates for ordained ministry. Our overarching goals have remained to discern ways that together we can continue to engage in ministry that is faithful and fruitful toward the end of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our communities and the world.
The stated rationale that grounded the Board of Ordained Ministry’s discernment and adoption of this policy is that, as a Board, “We believe this policy fully embraces God’s welcome and work in every person. In our love and commitment to The United Methodist Church, we offer this policy as our contribution to moving the church forward to that day when all are welcomed into the ministry of the ordained, and into the fullest possible life in Christ’s body.”
The rationale and policy affirmed and adopted by the Board of Ordained Ministry in October 2017 states that:
One of the primary purposes of the Board of Ordained Ministry is “to examine applicants and assess their fitness for ministry.” We understand the Judicial Council’s most recent rulings to encourage a full and thoughtful inquiry of all persons who come before us, using the range of questions and standards found in paragraphs 310, 324, 330 and 335 of the Book of Discipline for provisional membership, Deacon or Elder respectively. We write in response to these rulings’ specific mandate to not ignore in the inquiry a candidate’s self-disclosure of sexual orientation. We respectfully disagree with these rulings, acknowledging that the following policy is not compliant with the Book of Discipline.
The Board of Ordained Ministry will examine and assess all candidates who come before us. Knowing each of us is a child of God, made in God’s image, and a recipient and vehicle of God’s grace, we do not view race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, or age as a barrier to ministry. We will not consider or evaluate sexual orientation or gender identity nor see them to be sufficient reasons to deny a candidate’s ability to live up to our United Methodist standards. We will utilize our denomination’s expectation of faithfulness in marriage and celibacy in singleness within our examination and expect not only high moral standards but also a strong sense of self-awareness about one’s relational life. Our aim is to promote well-grounded, Spirit–led, equipped ministers of the Gospel who live up to the high standards for fitness, readiness, and effectiveness in ministry.
We acknowledge that The United Methodist Church is not of one mind around issues of human sexuality, and affirm the ongoing work of the Commission on a Way Forward. We believe this policy upholds the expectation of a full inquiry and high moral standards of all candidates. It also reflects some of our core values as a Board, including openness to the Holy Spirit, deep listening to one another, and a commitment to justice for all. We affirm the right and responsibility of all Board members to engage in holy conferencing during deliberations and to vote their conscience following a fair examination of all candidates.