UNITED METHODIST minister Amy DeLong was charged by the United Methodist Church with violating the church's Book of Discipline on two counts: 1) continuing her ministry while being a "self-avowed practicing homosexual" and 2) conducting a holy union ceremony for two women. In the trial that ended in June 2011, DeLong, a pastor in Osceola, Wisconsin, was found not guilty on the first charge (by a 12 to 1 vote) and guilty on the second charge (by a 9 to 4 vote).
In reference to her guilt on the second charge, the jury asked DeLong, in conjunction with the complainant in the case and other United Methodist clergy, to produce a document (a draft is due this month) that considers how to resolve issues that "harm the clergy covenant, create an adversarial spirit or lead to future clergy trials." The document will be considered at the clergy session of the church's2012 General Conference.
Can you tell us about your upbringing?
I was born and raised in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. My parents were members of a United Church of Christ church. The irony of that, given all that has happened, is not lost on me--the UCC ordains openly gay clergy and approves of same-sex marriage.
When I went to college, I got involved with a United Methodist church where, for whatever reason, something clicked. I liked the church and congregation. They were open-minded and taught me not just what to think but how to think. I appreciated their social justice work and the social justice work of United Methodism as a whole. I wasn't thinking about ministry at that time, but the church became my spiritual home.
How did you come to enter the ministry?
After college I did a master's in theology, and I found that I had a propensity and passion for all things theological. At my church, since not every 23-year-old has a master's in theology, I started getting more involved in teaching and worship. About that time, I joined a Disciples Bible study. I met my partner, Val, in that Bible study. We fell in love there, and it was there that my gifts for ministry were affirmed. My love for my partner and my love for the church blossomed at the same time. There was no way that I could silence that work of love, of the Holy Spirit working in my life.
How did the holy union ceremony come about?
In the spring of 2009 I received a phone call from a couple that wanted to have a holy union. I did not know them, but I did not do anything for them different from what I do with heterosexual couples. I met with them a few times and then agreed to do the ceremony. It was obvious that they loved each other deeply. Wisconsin had begun a registry for same-gender domestic partnerships, and this couple wanted a religious ceremony to accompany the registration. So we started premarital counseling, and eventually I performed the ceremony.
People ask me, "Why did you do this one?" The answer is that it was and is the only same-sex holy union that I have ever been asked to do. I was very open with them. I wanted them to know what the UMC says about unions and about gay people. I wanted them to know what they were getting into. I didn't want them in the center of a controversy if they didn't want to be, but I let them know that I had no plans to keep the ceremony a secret.
How did your denomination respond?
As an extension minister, I have to fill out a report every year about my ministry. I simply listed the holy union under my activities. I thought, "I don't know if anybody even reads these." After just a couple days I had a note in the mail asking me to meet with a bishop's assistant. I brought with me my sermon from the wedding, the bulletin, the pictures, the invitations--everything.
I knew that I would not be apologizing for having done the wedding. I would say and have said many times since then that it was one of the greatest joys of my ministry.
I did find it ironic that I would be called in over this. …