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Reconciling Ministries Network

Mary Ann Barclay.

Board blocks lesbian candidate for ordination

By Sam Hodges
May 14, 2014 | DALLAS (UMNS)

Mary Ann Barclay got her long-delayed interview with the Board of Ordained Ministry of the United Methodist Southwest Texas Annual (regional) Conference, but afterward the board voted against letting her move forward in the ordination process.

Barclay, a lesbian seeking ordination as a deacon, met Tuesday afternoon, May 13, with the board at Mount Wesley Conference Center in Kerrville, Texas, and received the news of the vote a short while later from the board chair, the Rev. Suzanne Isaacs, and two other members.  

“I’m exhausted. I’m very sad,” Barclay told United Methodist News Service late Tuesday night. “As much as I expected things to end this way, it still hurts.”

Isaacs released a brief statement Wednesday morning, confirming the board had decided against recommending Barclay for provisional membership in the Southwest Texas Conference.

“The Board thanks Mary Ann for her time and we affirm her as a person of sacred worth, created by God,” the statement said. “We have learned from her and we extend our respect for her work in ministry at her local church.” 

Barclay’s sexuality had been an issue when the Board of Ordained Ministry discontinued her candidacy nearly a year ago, without an interview.

Sexuality not mentioned

But Barclay said her sexuality was never mentioned in the Tuesday interview, and that after the vote, she was given four other reasons for the board’s decision.

Barclay said she was told the board felt she didn’t have an adequate understanding of Jesus as “Lord of all;" that her understanding of the theological idea of justification was lacking; that she did not adequately articulate an internal sense of call to ministry and that she needed to work on how she communicated her understanding of the specific role of ordination and why she needs to be ordained to do her ministry.

Isaacs’ statement did not give specifics for the decision. It did say the board followed standard procedure for candidates by reviewing Barclay’s written materials and sermon video, as well as personal references and personal biographical data.

Barclay, in a statement she released, said, “I can’t help but wonder how their perception of my sexuality influenced their thinking.”

Asked by phone if she felt the board had found other reasons to vote against her, with her sexuality being the real reason, Barclay said, “I can’t say that. I’m sure somebody else would.”

Barclay did say she felt she had articulated adequately and in line with United Methodist teachings on the questions she was asked.

“It is frustrating to have a hard time understanding the reasons given,” she said.

Isaacs’ statement noted that Barclay “is returned to the care of the District Committee on Ordained Ministry of the Austin District” of the Southwest Texas Conference.

“I would have to be passed by them again in order to come to the board again,” Barclay said. “I definitely intend on continuing my path to ordination. No question.”

The Isaacs statement did not say if the vote was unanimous, and Barclay said she was not given a voting breakdown.

Action at 2013 Annual Conference

Church law, while declaring all people are of sacred worth, states that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and bans “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from “being certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”

The initial drama regarding Barclay’s status played out when the Southwest Texas Annual Conference convened June 6-8, 2013, in Corpus Christi.

The board removed Barclay from the ordination process on June 6, without interviewing her. Earlier, she had been open about her sexuality in responses to the Austin District Committee, which certified her and recommended her to the board for commissioning.

In removing her, the board cited the church law restrictions against actively gay clergy. 

An effort to get Barclay reinstated through a vote at the annual conference clergy session failed, with 119 voting in favor and 124 opposed.

The Rev. John Elford, senior pastor of University United Methodist Church in Austin — where Barclay is youth director and mission and justice associate — asked Bishop James Dorff on June 7 for a ruling on whether the board itself had violated church law by removing Barclay as a candidate for ordination without interviewing her. Dorff waited until July 2, and then declared the question hypothetical and moot.

Judicial Council decisions

But Judicial Council, the denomination’s top court, overturned Dorff’s decision on Oct. 26, 2013, ordering him to make a ruling. Dorff ruled in December that the board had erred in its process and Barclay must get her interview.

The Judicial Council affirmed that decision in April, noting that the issue was one of process and that the “sexual orientation and practices of the candidate are irrelevant for determining the matter.”

In 2008, Barclay – then Mary Ann Kaiser - gained certification as a candidate for deacon by the Pensacola District Committee on Ordained Ministry in the Alabama-West Florida Conference. She told United Methodist News Service in an earlier interview that at the time, “I was not even out to myself yet.”

Barclay would move to the Southwest Texas Conference and complete a Master of Divinity at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, a United Methodist-approved school. Last fall, she married her partner, Annanda Barclay, in Maryland, where same-sex marriage is legal.

Among those reacting to the latest news on Barclay was the Rev. Jen Stuart, connections pastor at First United Methodist Church in Austin.

Stuart and her husband decided to move with their children to the Western Jurisdiction after what happened with Barclay's candidacy at the Southwest Texas Conference's annual meeting last year.

Stuart recently was appointed to lead a church in Ellensburg, Wash.

"I'm sad to hear what happened with Mary Ann, but not surprised," Stuart said. "Her treatment was absolutely the factor that made me decide to seek commissioning and appointment elsewhere."

The Rev. Tom Lambrecht, vice president and general manager of Good News, an unofficial evangelical group within The United Methodist Church, applauded the board's decision.

"The assessment of Ms. Barclay's candidacy yielded a reasonable recommendation," he said. "I trust that the process will continue to uphold United Methodist standards for ordained ministry."

Dorff released a statement Wednesday afternoon, nothing that under United Methodist polity neither bishops nor district superintendents participate in the interviews or later deliberations of Boards of Ordained Ministry.

"Both Mary and the board have been in my prayers," Dorff said. "I trust that all were seeking the will of the Spirit. I also trust that the board prayerfully made its decision in keeping with its understanding and application of the requirements of our Book of Discipline."
 
"My prayers continue to be with Mary Ann as she continues her ministry in her local church and with us all as we seek to be faithful servants of the Risen Christ." 

*Hodges, a United Methodist News Service writer, lives in Dallas. Contact him at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org