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Lesbian Minister Recomendation Divides Congregation

June 8, 1987

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) _ A church has resumed its search for an associate minister after the congregation split over a search committee’s recommendation to appoint an acknowledged lesbian to the job.

The University Congregational Church’s search committee withdrew its recommendation after it and the prospective minister agreed there was no strong majority of support for her.

The minister, Wendy Taylor, 42, said she never considered hiding her sexual identity from the church’s members and was received very professionally by the search committee.

The church’s national affiliation, the United Church of Christ, has taken a liberal stand on homosexuality and allows homosexual men and women to be ordained, but only a few have been ordained, church officials said.

The Rev. Jeff Suddendorf, minister of the 450-member congregation, said he understood it was only the second time a search committee recommended a homosexual be chosen to minister to a congregation.

″It took a lot of courage for the search committee to make that recommendation,″ Suddendorf said. ″They made their recommendation not on principle, not on trying to force the congregation to grapple with the issue of homosexuality. They made it because they believed Wendy Taylor was the best candidate.″

Search committee chairwoman Joyce Hocker said Taylor was the top choice out of 37 applicants because of her wide range of experience as a teacher and counselor.

Reactions in the congregation ″ranged from shock to disbelief to rejection to excitement, curiosity, acceptance,″ said Hocker. ″Many people were undecided and said they’d just have to meet her. Others were very upset .... Some people thought that the search committee had taken leave of its senses.

″Some people in the church were genuinely excited about having the opportunity for their children to be exposed to different sexual models and spoke openly about wanting their children to learn tolerance and understanding.″

″This congregation has always affirmed itself and been proud of its diversity,″ Suddendorf said. ″But that hasn’t been tested on too many occasions the way it was with Wendy. I think we learned something about overselves in the process.″

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