Local pastors ‘heartbroken,’ won’t conform over gay-marriage ban

  • Pastor Marguerite Sheehan of Trinity Church in Shelburne Falls STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • Orange United Methodist Church Pastor Judy Jones. STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • The Rev. David Neil of the United Church of Bernardston stands out next to the rainbow-colored doors on display outside the church on Route 10. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • The Rev. David Neil of the United Church of Bernardston stands next to the rainbow-colored doors on display outside the church on Route 10. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 3/14/2019 11:41:54 PM

Three local pastors say they’re struggling with the heartbreak they feel over the United Methodist Church’s recent vote to reaffirm its ban on same-sex marriage and the ordaining of gay clergy, and will continue to move forward and support all of their members.

“I’m not surprised at the vote, just heartbroken,” United Church of Bernardston Pastor David Neil said.

He said he is speaking for himself, not his congregation, but said those he has spoken with are upset, as well.

In Shelburne Falls, Trinity Church Pastor Marguerite Sheehan, who says she is gay, said she is discouraged, dismayed and unhappy about the vote, but will continue to be hopeful.

Both said their congregations are talking about it, but no one has come up with any suggestions at this point.

Orange United Methodist Church Pastor Judy Jones said she is heartbroken, as well, but will continue to welcome everyone into her churches in Orange and South Athol, so the church will be considered non-conforming.

The Bernardston and Shelburne Falls churches are only part Methodist — United Church of Bernardston is also the United Church of Christ, while Trinity Church serves Methodists, Episcopalians, American Baptists and members of the United Church of Christ — while the Orange church is Methodist.

“The (Methodist) church is thinking globally,” Neil said — he was originally ordained Methodist, but is now with the United Church of Christ. “There are many conservative views in other parts of the country and worldwide. This was painful to watch. It’s going to have an impact on us.”

Neil said the United Church of Bernardston, which has a display of doors painted in rainbow colors, is an open and welcoming church to everyone, no matter their sexual orientation — it is a “big part” of the church’s identity. He said he doesn’t want that to change.

“Basically, we invite anyone and everyone to join us,” Neil said.

Neil attended a meeting of pastors and lay members of the Methodist churches in western Massachusetts and Connecticut last weekend. He said people expressed their concern over the decision, but no one has a plan in place yet.

“We all have to deal with the reality, first,” he said. “I think we all wish this would change or just go away.”

Neil said many people spoke against the vote, but some did speak in favor of it, as well.

“That shows the divided nature of the denomination at this point,” Neil said.

Neil said United Church of Bernardston has about 160 United Church of Christ members, while there are more than 30 Methodist members.

Sheehan said Trinity Church has about 150 members, and about 50 to 60 worship regularly.

She said more than two years ago, a study led to the local church declaring to be open to the LGBTQ community.

“We’re very firmly committed to that,” she said. “It’s important to intentionally support that often excluded community.”

Sheehan calls the vote “very awful.” She said she feels like the Methodist Church is taking a step backward.

“And, for me, it’s personally painful,” she said.

Even though she said her congregation has not come to any decisions or conclusions, it intends to continue to be welcoming.

“We’re even more faithful in who we are, at this point,” Sheehan said. “We’ll just have to see what happens next. This is a united group.”

Jones said the South Athol church is officially accepting of anyone without discrimination, which gives her a lot of hope. She said the Orange church consists of members whose average age is 70, and even though they are older and have not officially become a reconciling church, they also accept everyone who wishes to attend.

“That gives me a lot of hope,” said Jones. “These are good Christians following the message of love, precluding discrimination.”

Jones said Methodist churches that don’t follow the recent vote — all three have said at this point they will not — are considered to be in non-conformance. But, then again, all three said they haven’t been to date.

“This is all just extremely disappointing,” said Jones. “We are just striving to be good and look through the eyes of love. This is going to be a journey.”

Jones said she’s hopeful that the church will progress into the future with its 60 members in each church.

In Greenfield, First United Methodist Church Pastor Joseph Choon said he is “fully in prayer over what’s going on.” He said he and his parishioners are “waiting to see” what happens.

Choon said the Greenfield church has 264 members, but about 35 attend regularly.

We are focused on our church,” Choon said. “We’ll do what we need to do to remain one family in Christ. We simply don’t have enough information, yet.”


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