DeLong, of Osceola, could find herself removed from the clergy pending the outcome of a church trial in April, a trial brought about by charges filed by a Wisconsin United Methodist Church panel, precipitated by DeLong’s actions in 2009.
DeLong agreed to preside at a holy union ceremony for a lesbian couple and then separately registered with her partner of 15 years under Wisconsin’s Domestic Partnership Law. She reported both actions to the church’s Wisconsin annual conference, the governing body for the church in the state, as part of her annual accounting of her ministry.
She knew her actions would have consequences.
“I want to help the church to be true to its proclamations,” she said in an interview published Monday in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “We don’t have to earn our way into God’s heart. We’ve already been accepted.”
Support for DeLong has come in the form of not only a letter from retired bishops but also from members of her former church in Grantsburg.
Steve Briggs, speaking not on behalf of the church but as a single member, said Pastor Amy “served our Grantsburg congregation wonderfully for six years. She and her partner, Val, contributed to our church life in so many positive ways. There is no question that God has richly blessed Amy with gifts of ministry.”
Briggs said many pastors have said DeLong is “the finest pastor I’ve ever heard.”
Even the panel that brought charges against DeLong praised the minister’s courage and criticized the church laws that required the charges be issued.
The Rev. Joretta Marshall of Brite Divinity School in Forth Worth, Texas, said the trial of Amy DeLong represents “another chapter in the church’s struggle for its soul.” She said DeLong is being brought to trial only because of her willingess to live openly and honestly and offer pastoral care to those who turn to the church and its leadership.
Marshall says the church and its unwillingness to respond faithfully to God in this case is what has brought about this conflict.
“The church itself is on trial as the world watches once again to see if the insitutional church can break open its soul to hear God’s call to embrace a new way of being a church,” Marshall said in a video statement posted on the Web site loveontrial.org. “The church’s commitment to exclusion is killing its soul.”
The United Methodist Church is the nation’s third largest denomination. It prohibits ministers from performing same-sex unions and allows gay or lesbian ministers only if they’re celibate, or if they don’t reveal their sexual orientation.
DeLong has been a clergy member for approximately 14 years and is well-known in United Methodist circles in Wisconsin as a progressive advocate on issues affecting the church, including homosexuality. She served eight years on the church body that credentials clergy and pastored parishes for eight years until 2006 after her apointment to a Milwaukee congregation was abruptly withdrawn. DeLong believes it was because of her homosexual relationship.
Since then she’s worked in ministry outside of parishes.A jury of 13 clergy members and two alternates will be selected to hear the case, scheduled for April 11. - with information from loveontrial.org and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.