United Methodist panel overturns decision to defrock pastor

Rev. Frank Schaefer was reinstated as an ordained minister.

United Methodist panel overturns decision to defrock pastor

BALTIMORE - A United Methodist Church appeals panel has overturned the church's decision to defrock a pastor who presided over his son's same-sex wedding ceremony and said he would perform other gay marriages if asked.

A nine-person church appeals panel issued an opinion Tuesday, reversing a lower church court decision.

"I feel like dancing today and I feel like rejoicing because this is a big day," said Rev. Frank Schaefer.

Schaefer was rejoicing after the United Methodist Church's Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals reinstated him as an ordained minister.

Schaefer was suspended last year for officiating his son's same-sex wedding in 2007. The church then defrocked Schaefer because he wouldn't promise never to preside over another gay ceremony.

But, the nine-member appeals panel overturned that decision.

"It means so much to me to be restored, to be able to celebrate with the people of God the sacraments once again, to be able to perform weddings once again and to be able to speak with a stronger voice than what I could have spoken as a defrocked minister," said Schaefer.

Philadelphia Episcopal Area Bishop Peggy Johnson released a statement saying she intends to abide by the committee's decision, but the Counsel for the Church could still appeal.

Schaefer said the ruling is very significant for both him and the church as a whole.  

"The message behind this ruling is that there will be change. The church is changing and that is good news for everybody," said Schaefer.

The panel upheld a 30-day suspension that Schaefer already served and it ruled that he should get back pay dating to when the suspension ended in December.

Schaefer said he will continue to be an advocate for the LGBTQ community.

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