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Retired bishop to preside over lesbian minister's church trial

November 30, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

A retired United Methodist Church bishop from Washington County will preside this week over a church trial on whether a Philadelphia minister's homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian teachings."

Joseph H. Yeakel wouldn't discuss the trial Monday, but said this will be the 11th time he has presided over a case.

Yeakel, who lives near Smithsburg, retired in 1996.

The proceedings - similar to a civil trial - will start Wednesday morning in Spring City, Pa., about 30 miles from Philadelphia.

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The Rev. Irene Elizabeth Stroud is on trial. Stroud has been an associate pastor with First United Methodist Church of Germantown in Philadelphia since 1999, according to a United Methodist News Service summary of the case.

Stroud, 34, told her congregation in April 2003 that she's a lesbian in a committed relationship with a woman, according to a statement from Stroud's publicist, Jana Moore.

After a bishop complained, Stroud was charged with violating the Book of Discipline, a United Methodist governing code.

According to Moore's statement, the Book of Discipline says "self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers or appointed to serve" as pastors.

But the Book also denounces discrimination and calls homosexuals "individuals of sacred worth," Moore's statement says.

Through Moore, Stroud declined to be interviewed for this story.

The News Service summary says a church jury, or "trial court," could revoke a minister's ordination or choose a lesser penalty.

Yeakel will be the presiding judge and 13 ordained United Methodists will serve as jurors. At least nine votes are needed to convict and seven votes to set a penalty.

Moore's statement says Stroud is the third United Methodist minister to face a trial over homosexuality.

An openly gay New Hampshire minister, the Rev. Rose Mary Denman, was convicted and defrocked in 1987.

In March, the Rev. Karen Dammann of Ellensburg, Wash., was acquitted of "practices incompatible with Christian teachings" for being in a committed relationship with another woman, Moore's statement says.

The church trial court jury concluded that the Book of Discipline does not say that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching," according to Moore's statement.

The denomination's top court, the Judicial Council, was unable to overturn the acquittal, but in May reaffirmed that a bishop may not appoint a pastor found to be a "self-avowed practicing homosexual," the News Service summary says.

Usually, a church court trial is closed, but a respondent, or defendant, may allow it to be open, as Stroud has.

Yeakel said two of the 11 trials in which he has presided, including this one, have been open to the public.

Yeakel said he served 12 years as a bishop in upstate New York, then 12 years as a bishop in Washington, D.C., before retiring and moving to Smithsburg in 1996.

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