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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 18, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 11
Methodist minister to defy church, bless same-sex unions
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Methodist minister to defy church, bless same-sex unions

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Rev. Greg Renstrom of Wesley United Methodist Church in Minneapolis says he plans to bless same-sex unions, even though his denomination prohibits same-sex relations.

'Somebody has to do it,' Renstrom told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. 'I cannot imagine that Jesus would ever refuse to bless a responsible, mutually respectful, and reverent relationship.'

Renstrom said he hasn't blessed any same-sex unions yet. It is not clear how his church will react when he does.

Some people will be 'madder than the dickens,' he said, but he believes it would be worth the trouble.

'I have so many friends who are Gay and Lesbian,' Renstrom said. 'I've seen the absolute anguish they've been placed in because of the refusal of most churches to bless what is a basic relationship. I see this as something we will try to provide in our small way.'

The United Methodist Church is the third-largest denomination in the United States.

According to the UMC's Book of Discipline, same-sex relations are 'incompatible with Christian teaching.'

'Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches,' the Book of Discipline says.

Methodists also do not allow clergy in openly Gay relationships to serve congregations.

Bishop Sally Dyck, of the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, declined to comment about Renstrom's plans.

'She prefers not to speculate on something that's a hypothetical,' Victoria Rebeck her director of communications said.

At least two Methodist churches have come out in favor of blessing same-sex unions in Washington, D.C., where same-sex marriage is legal.

In Wisconsin, on the other hand, a Lesbian Methodist pastor will face a church trial in April on charges that she conducted ceremonies celebrating same-sex unions. She could face possible defrocking or suspension.

According to Rachel Harvey, a director at the Chicago-based Reconciling Ministries Network, some Methodist pastors are now blessing same-sex unions covertly.

'Many pastors and congregations fly under the radar of the UMC and some don't even tell Reconciling Ministries Network for fear of being found out,' she said.

For Renstrom, blessing same-sex marriages is part of the commitment he made when he took over Wesley United last year.

Declining membership and the expense of maintaining an old building forced Wesley to close in 2008 after almost 150 years in existence. The huge Romanesque Revival-style church is on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 2010 UMC leaders agreed to Renstrom's suggestion that Wesley could be re-opened to serve the LGBT community in the nearby Loring Park area of Minneapolis.

Renstrom came out of retirement at age 64 to lead the congregation, for an annual salary of $1.

To publicize the church to local LGBT residents, Renstrom said the congregation placed ads in Lavender magazine and church representatives recently attended a GLBT wedding show in Bloomington.

In 1986, Wesley became the first UMC church in Minnesota to become a 'reconciling congregation,' committed to a ministry regardless of race, gender, age, or sexual orientation.

Harold Anderson, of Richfield, said that as a Gay man, he had always felt welcome at Wesley.

'I think that this community maybe didn't look at the labels so much as people. After I'd been here a while, I realized there were Gays and Lesbians in the community. In the last 150-plus years, this community has always reinvented itself from time to time. This is one of those times.'

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