Same-sex blessings draw ire

  • Article by: ROSE FRENCH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 2, 2011 - 12:17 PM

United Methodist leaders call for investigation into whether the Rev. Greg Renstrom of New Harmony United Methodist Church conducted blessing ceremonies for same-sex unions.

The Rev. Greg Renstrom, pastor of New Harmony United Methodist Church in Minneapolis.

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Dml - Star Tribune

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United Methodist leaders have filed a complaint against a Minneapolis pastor, calling for an investigation into whether he conducted ceremonies to bless same-sex unions during Gay Pride Week last month.

On Monday, Bishop Sally Dyck announced the complaint against the Rev. Greg Renstrom, pastor of New Harmony United Methodist Church. The five-member cabinet of the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church formally lodged the complaint June 29.

Renstrom said he "participated in services of blessings" on June 25, five in Minneapolis' Loring Park and one in Blaine. All the services were held in public parks, and none took place in Methodist churches or properties, he said.

Renstrom, who said the complaint was not unexpected, said he understands that the blessings could be viewed as contrary to Methodist church rules, but that "it's all worth it."

"I deeply believe that what a number of us are doing is expressing the love of Jesus the best way we can," he said. "How can that ever be wrong? Sharing the love of Jesus is an important experience. Offering a word of blessing is an extremely important pastoral responsibility."

Renstrom reported to Bishop Dyck in advance that he "planned to conduct the blessings," said Victoria Rebeck, spokeswoman for the Methodists' Minnesota Annual Conference.

An investigation into the matter may last up to 45 days, and once it's complete, the bishop must dismiss the complaint or "initiate a supervisory response," Rebeck said. Renstrom will continue to pastor New Harmony while the complaint is looked into.

Bishop Dyck said she decided to publicize the complaint because of two recent events: the signing by at least 70 Minnesota Methodist clergy of a statement pledging to "offer the grace of the church's blessing to any prepared couple desiring Christian marriage" and the church trial in June of the Rev. Amy DeLong, a Wisconsin elder.

DeLong was acquitted on the charge of being a "self-avowed practicing homosexual." However, the same panel found her guilty of conducting ceremonies celebrating same-sex unions. The jury voted to suspend DeLong from her ministerial functions for 20 days beginning July 1. Rebeck said Renstrom's case may -- or may not -- result in a church trial.

"These are challenging times for everyone in our families, communities, churches, and country as we find our way forward on this issue," Dyck wrote in an online column about the complaint. "Few people have no opinion. Some are ambivalent and can acknowledge more than one opinion. Some have very strong views about this topic, to the point of considering it the defining issue of our time, [of] the church, and [of] one's commitment to Christ and the church."

In March, Renstrom shared plans to hold ceremonies to bless same-sex unions at Wesley United Methodist Church in downtown Minneapolis, where the New Harmony congregation meets. So far he's not held any ceremonies at the church, he said.

Like many Protestant denominations, Methodists have grappled with gay marriage, gay clergy and related issues for decades, and only a few Christian denominations allow same-sex union ceremonies.

The United Methodist Church's Book of Discipline states, "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches."

But church policy toward gay unions and pastors is being increasingly challenged by Methodist clergy. Besides those in Minnesota, hundreds of Methodist pastors in other states have signed on to similar statements in recent weeks, showing greater support for officiating at same-sex marriages.

Rose French • 612-673-4352

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