Petition 2017 #AC401 -
Begin to Heal Injustice against Gay Clergy in the New York Annual Conference
WHEREAS while there is an honorable history in the New York Annual Conference going back to the 1980s of strong advocacy for full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons in the life of our churches and our communities, still great spiritual, emotional, and psychological harm has been done to those who felt the need to remain closeted, to those who felt a call to ordained ministry but were intimidated by the United Methodist Church’s cruel and discriminatory stand against “homosexuality,” and to lay persons in our congregations who felt unsafe, unvalued, unloved, and unwelcomed in our churches and who were wounded witnesses as some of our pastors were driven from ministry because they were gay. We know of at least two instances in which pastors with long years of service to God and to the United Methodist Church were pressured to retire. This petition seeks to revive the memory of their service and the injustice done to them and to begin to work toward healing for our conference and for these men’s loved ones who suffered with them.
Rev. Dr. Clarence Edward Egan
In a case that recently re-emerged from obscurity thanks to research done by a lay member of The Church of the Village, we know that in 1977 Rev. Clarence Edward Egan, who had served at Metropolitan Duane UMC (one the churches that consolidated 2005 to become The Church of the Village) from 1971 to 1977, was forced to accept a leave of absence and ultimately went into retirement. Bishop W. Ralph Ward first tried to send him to a small church in Queens, but that church’s Staff-Parish Relations committee refused to accept him because he was “homosexual.” He was then asked to take a leave of absence because, according to District Superintendent Rev. Dr. H. Burnham Kirkland, Egan was unable to fulfill his responsibilities as a pastor. Kirkland stated, “Our position is that under the present position of the total United Methodist Church, we’re unable to appoint an avowed, practicing homosexual to a pastoral appointment.”
Ed Egan had received his license to preach in 1949, was commissioned a deacon in 1952. In 1954, he graduated from Yale Divinity School with a Master of Divinity degree and that same year was ordained a full elder. He served churches in Connecticut, Long Island, and Westchester, and three years as an Associate Conference Program Director, before being appointed to Metropolitan Duane UMC. Ironically, Ed was awarded his Doctor of Ministry degree from New York Theological Seminary in 1977, the same year he was effectively compelled to retire.
At Metropolitan Duane, Ed was responsible for establishing a basketball league for local youths, a methadone clinic for out-patients from St. Vincent’s Hospital, inviting the Metropolitan Community Church (a predominantly LGBTQI denomination) to worship in the church sanctuary, and was a founder of Parents of Gays (later to become Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), which held its first meetings at Metropolitan Duane. Long before the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969, Ed Egan was active in the Gay Rights movement. He was an active participant and organizer in the Mattachine Society in the 1950s and served on its leadership board. He also served as a spiritual counselor for the Daughters of Bilitis, a lesbian rights organization active in the 1950s and 1960s.
After being forced into retirement, Ed Egan and his longtime companion, Russ Morin, moved permanently to their home on the Hudson River, where Ed continued to be active in various causes, including editing the newsletter of Affirmation (an LGBTQI advocacy organization in the UMC formed in the 1970s), and volunteering with SAGE – a support organization for older gay men. He was also an accomplished sailor, photographer, genealogist, and amateur archeologist.
Rev. Paul Abels
In 1978 – a year after Ed Egan was forced to accept a leave of absence – Bishop Ward and Rev. Kirkland tried to do the same to Rev. Paul Abels, who had served at Washington Square UMC since 1974. However, Rev. Abels refused to accept the leave of absence. He was backed up by the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, which refused to recommend a leave, and by the clergy session at Annual Conference, where a majority of the clergy supported him. The Judicial Council later affirmed this decision. Bishop Ward was compelled to reappoint Paul to WSUMC and his successor did the same through 1984. The 1984 General Conference passed the infamous resolution barring “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” from candidacy, ordination, or appointment. In spite of the NY Annual Conference’s opposition to the position of the General Conference, Paul felt compelled to retire from local church ministry.
Paul was a very effective and well-loved pastor. He had been commissioned as a deacon in the Newark Conference in 1961 and became a full elder in 1963, the same year he received his Master of Divinity from Drew University. He earned a Master of Sacred Music degree from Union Theological Seminary in 1965. He worked for the National Council of Churches from 1965 to 1969.
After he left WSUMC, Paul and his companion, Thomas Hunt, moved to Rensselaerville, NY, where Paul became executive director of a human services agency that provided counseling and services to runaway and homeless youth, persons with addictions, and battered women. He was an active board member or officer of many organizations, including Clergy and Laity Concerned and Methodist Federation for Social Action. Paul was also an early AIDS activist. As his memoir in the 1992 Conference Journal stated, “Paul’s faith in the gospel inspired his devotion to social justice for all.”
WHEREAS a terrible injustice was done to these two dedicated and faithful pastors, and
WHEREAS we know there must be many others who, because of the actions against Rev. Dr. Ed Egan and Rev. Paul Abels, were intimidated into remaining closeted, and
WHEREAS these actions and the subsequent unstated policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the NYAC did untold damage to LGBTQI clergy and laity in the NYAC, and
WHEREAS the New York Annual Conference has repeatedly and overwhelmingly taken stands in favor of full inclusion of LGBTQI persons in the clergy and in the life of our conference and our congregations, and in a 2015 petition titled, “Bringing to Reality Our Vision of a Beloved and Just Community,” resolved “that the New York Annual Conference declares itself to be in solidarity with and in support of LGBTQI lay persons, clergy, candidates for ministry and their families, and regards as its sacred duty the protection of their full and equal participation in the life of the church,” and further resolved “that the New York Annual Conference calls upon all of its constituent organizations, committees and leaders to carry out their ministries in ways that reflect the self-understanding of the annual conference as a place of safety, equality and welcome for LGBTQI lay persons, clergy, candidates for ministry and their families,” and
WHEREAS the Board of Ordained Ministry of the NYAC voted in 2016 that it would no longer consider a candidate’s sexual orientation or gender identity in determining fitness for ordained ministry and opened the opportunity for candidates to express who their fully are, and in a 2016 petition titled, “Celebrating the Journey to Equality,” the NYAC resolved “that the New York Annual Conference celebrates this declaration by the Board of Ordained Ministry and commends the Board of Ordained Ministry for its faithfulness to the spirit of justice and welcome long proclaimed by this annual conference,” and
WHEREAS the effort to restore to our collective consciousness the memories of Rev. Dr. Ed Egan and Rev. Paul Abels comes in the context of the United Methodist Church’s continuing attacks on the committed and faithful ministry of our commissioned and ordained LGBTQI clergy, and
WHEREAS The Church of the Village already has a plaque and photograph of Rev. Paul Abels in memory of his faithful service, and further that during Pride Month 2017, The Church of the Village will hold a ceremony to dedicate a memorial plaque for Rev. Dr. Edward Egan for his courageous and faithful ministry to the vulnerable and oppressed, and further that Rev. Abels’ and Rev. Egan’s companions and families will be invited to this ceremony, and further that these memorials will serve to restore to the collective memory of the New York Conference a recognition of the ministries of Rev. Egan and Rev. Abels and of the injustices done to them.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the New York Annual Conference expresses deep remorse for the harm done and the pain experienced by Rev. Dr. Ed Egan and his companion, Russ Morin, and by Rev. Paul Abels and his companion Thomas Hunt and ask for God’s forgiveness and theirs, and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Conference Secretary will send a copy of this resolution to Rev. Egan’s surviving companion and to Rev. Abels’ companion, if he can be located. Further, we encourage Bishop Thomas Bickerton to write a letter on behalf of the NY Annual Conference to these persons or other family members who might be located, and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the New York Annual Conference encourages Bishop Bickerton, Conference and District leaders, pastors and members of local congregations to attend the ceremony planned for Rev. Egan and Rev. Abels at The Church of the Village.
Co-sponsored by: Methodists in New Directions, United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus, NYAC Board of Church and Society
Signed by: MIND Steering Committee members: Elyse Ambrose, Brian Bodt, Melissa Boyer, Michael Cobb, Thomas Carney, Mickey Correa, Hermon L. Darden Jr., Mary Edwards-Ransom, Karen Eiler, Carolyn Hardin Engelhardt, Vicki Flippin, Alexis Francisco, Roy Grubbs, Wongee Joh, Bruce Lamb (chair), Lea A. Matthews, Charlotte Patton, Karen G. Prudente, Siobhan Sargent, Matt Schaeffer, Cathy Schuyler, Althea Spencer Miller, Scott Summerville, Sara Thompson Tweedy, and Jeff Wells; Emily B. Hall, Elizabeth Jones, Lois McCullen Parr (Reconciling Ministries Network), Kathleen Reynolds, Alex Souto, and Ron Tompkins
*2017 Pre-Conference Reports/Petitions to The New York Annual Conference – Draft – 5/16/2017
*Conversation with Ed Egan’s partner, Russ Morin, April 4, 2017.
“Homosexual Minister Removed from Parish,” *United Methodist Reporter, July 8, 1977.