Message of Acceptance
By Mina Corpuz
The Rev. Liz Maghill grew up Methodist and hoped the United Methodist Church would take a step forward to be more accepting of LGBT congregants and clergy members at its February General Conference.
Although the Church voted to reaffirm its ban on same-gender marriages and ordination of gay clergy, the pastor wants the town to know that the Ashburnham Community Church is supportive of everyone regardless of their sexual orientation or interpretation of Christianity.
“We’re planning to get our rainbow flag up,” said Maghill, who identifies as bisexual. “We’re a place where you can be accepted the way you are.”
Its congregation voted several years ago to be open and affirming, she said. The church’s sign along Main Street reads “All Welcome” and features a rainbow.
Delegates from around the world gathered on Feb. 26 in St. Louis for a special session of the United Methodist Church’s General Conference, the church’s highest legislative body.
In a 438-384 vote, delegates supported the Traditional Plan that keeps the church’s ban on same-gender marriage and ordination of “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy, according to the church.
It also streamlined the penalty process for when a clergy member violates the church’s human sexuality stances.
Bishop Ken Carter, president of the Church’s Council of Bishops, said people of faith have differing views of human sexuality, but the church will continue to work together.
“We continue to teach and believe that all persons are welcomed in the church, all persons are persons of sacred worth and we welcome all to receive the ministry of Jesus,” he said in a statement.
In response to the General Conference, the New England Conference Cabinet -- a group that includes Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar and nine district superintendents -- said it is “heartbroken by, and repent of, the harm” caused by the vote and years of discrimination in the United Methodist Church against the LGBT community.
“We speak with one heart and voice of our commitment to lead a church that does not discriminate in membership, ordination, or service ministry based upon any person’s gender or sexual identity,” the cabinet wrote in a March 5 letter.
The cabinet added that its churches in New England are diverse and people are able to live and grow together despite their differences.
There are more than 150 United Methodist churches across the state and about half a dozen in the North Central region.
The Rev. Michelle Ashley of Leominster United Methodist Church said she was very surprised by the outcome of the General Conference and saddened that the church has taken a stance that has made people feel like they’re not welcome.
A few weeks before the General Conference, the church held a listening session and invited people to talk about their sexual identities, share stories, and listen. Since the vote, people have approached her with concern.
“The biggest thing that is changing is we’re talking about something that is very important,” the pastor said. “Part of being human is sex and it’s something the church doesn’t talk about a lot. We’re being challenged to have conversations about ourselves.”
Ashley, who came to the church in July, has received guidance from its members about what to focus on as pastor and what the church should be about. One of the areas is being welcoming to all people, she said.
Despite her Maghill’s Methodist upbringing, she wasn’t ordained with the church because it didn’t allow openly gay clergy. At the time of her ordination, Maghill was in a relationship with a woman.
“Back then and now you had to be in the closet or you couldn’t be ordained,” she said.
Instead, Maghill was ordained with the Disciples of Christ and has standing as a United Church of Christ pastor.
Ashburnham Community Church has combined Medthodist and UCC denominations. Maghill said the church’s dual affiliation allows it to take a stand against the General Conference vote.
Becoming ordained with the Disciples of Christ has allowed her to officiate weddings for a lesbian couple and transgender couple in Worcester, actions that could have faced punishment if she were a Methodist pastor.
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