Dozens of clergy members of the United Methodist Church in Minnesota have pledged to marry any couple who come to them, including same-sex couples.

During the Methodists' annual conference in St. Cloud this week, about 40 clergy members signed a statement saying they would "offer the grace of the Church's blessing to any prepared couple desiring Christian marriage."

"Groups have been meeting who want to challenge parts of the United Methodist polity with which we disagree -- that which relates to the lesbian, gay, transgender, and bisexual community and Christian marriage," said the Rev. Bruce Robbins, who serves at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis.

"With the possibility of a constitutional amendment in the state of Minnesota [defining marriage as limited to heterosexual couples], this seems important."

The statement is not part of any official action by the annual conference. Bishop Sally Dyck said the statement itself was not a chargeable offense, according to the Methodists' Book of Discipline. She added, however, that the church does not allow for same-sex marriage, and clergy performing such ceremonies can lose their credentials.

About 900 voting members -- half of whom are clergy and half laypeople -- attend the annual conference, which this year meets from Wednesday to Friday. About 75,000 members worship in 365 United Methodist churches statewide.

Rose French • 612-673-4352