A colorful sign welcoming the gay community to Mary Taylor Memorial United Methodist Church in downtown Milford disappeared last week, but church officials said it has been found.
The sign, which reads, “To be clear if you are queer LGBTQIA+ you are affirmed here!” was one of two signs posted in front of the church days after a vote at a special General Conference in St. Louis Feb. 23 to 26, when the United Methodist Church voted to strengthen its ban on gay clergy and same-sex marriages.
Last week Milford church officials noticed the sign was missing and thought it had been stolen. When the second sign disappeared over the weekend church members really started to wonder. But then the two signs were found nearby, lying on the ground, and so the minister has chosen to believe it was the wind and not the work of vandals targeting a proclamation in support of the gay community.
The signs went up in late February in protest of the General Conference vote.
The New York Times last week reported that the vote is under review because of some irregularities discovered, and that has the pastor at Mary Taylor Church hopeful the decision will be amended. But across the country the vote is creating a rift in the church.
Milford’s Mary Taylor Church has long been an open and affirming church, one that sanctions marriages between those of alternative sexuality, and allows openly gay clergy. That is why the signs were posted so quickly on the church’s front lawn.
Other Methodist churches in the region posted similar signs after the vote, according to Mary Taylor Pastor Kristina Hansen, who served as chair of the conference delegation that represented all of Long Island, New York City, parts of upstate New York and Connecticut at the General Conference.
“There are several big pieces to this, one of which is you can’t be an ‘out’ clergy person, which I am,” Hansen said.
It is at General Conference where delegates “wrestle with today's issues in light of scriptural teachings and the church's understanding of that teaching,” according to the United Methodist Church website. “Here is where the church's official stands and church policies are made regarding such issues as human sexuality, abortion, war and peace, as well as determination of ministries and funding.”
Hansen and others like her hoped to see the church take a more progressive stand at the gathering in February. She explained that the vote to support the “traditional plan,” which opposes same sex marriages and openly gay ministers, was predominantly supported by conservatives in other parts of the world.
While some progressive congregations have discussed separating from the mainstream worldwide United Methodist Church following February’s General Conference, Hansen said that is a “knee jerk reaction.”
Another local church member said separation is complicated by the fact that in general, church buildings are owned by the church conference, as is the case with Mary Taylor Church in Milford.
Hansen believes it is important to continue to move forward and work with the denomination, and as a senior pastor in a leadership position she is in a place where she can take part in those efforts. While that work moves forward, Mary Taylor Church in Milford will continue to sanction and perform marriages between people of all sexual orientations and allow openly gay pastors.
Hansen said she is still confident and hopeful, and that before the February vote the United Methodist Church was at a standstill on the issue. “This has caused people to get up and finally take some action,” she said.
The United Methodist Church has since posted a statement on its website explaining the conference and the vote.
“The Traditional Plan was passed by the 2019 Special Session of General Conference,” the websites states. “This means our current statements about homosexuality, same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ persons have not fundamentally changed.”
Before the special session closed, a motion was passed to request a decision from the Judicial Council on the constitutionality of the Traditional Plan’s legislative petitions, and that will be addressed when the Judicial Council gathers in Evanston, Illinois, April 23 to 25.
“This means that we don’t yet know what will change and what will not,” the United Methodist Church website states. “Anything ruled unconstitutional can be addressed at the next regularly scheduled General Conference in Minneapolis on May 5-15, 2020.”
LGBTQIA people have not been banned by the United Methodist Church, the church makes clear on its website, but acknowledges “that many LGBTQIA people, their loved ones and allies were hurt by the speeches, rhetoric and decisions of the General Conference.”
In Milford, Hansen said Mary Taylor Church members will put the two welcoming signs back up, more securely this time, and hope they stay. The signs are already working, she said Sunday afternoon, noting that several new faces showed up at church on Sunday morning.