June 9, 2016 Hempstead, NY – In a historic move, a clergy session of an annual conference has approved for ordination and commissioning numerous out queer clergy despite a 44-year history of official anti-LGBTQI bias in The United Methodists Church. The vote late last night by the New York Annual Conference culminates decades of opposition to The UMC’s discriminatory policies by the conference and comes on the heels of a contentious General Conference that affirmed the church’s anti-queer status quo amidst a rising movement of ecclesial disobedience.

The New York Annual Conference clergy session approved for commissioning Elyse Ambrose, Bruce Lamb, and Lea Matthews; and approved for ordination Alex da Silva Souto. All four are signers of the Methodist in New Directions-organized “Open letter to the people of the United Methodist Church” in which, for the first time in the church’s history, a group of LGBTQI clergy came out in a collective action.

“Through God’s grace, and the fruits of the labor of Christ’s agents of love, justice, and peace, I stood before NYAC clergy session this evening as a whole person, and my call to ordained ministry was affirmed,” said Alex da Silva Souto. “It’s a great blessing to be measured by the content of my character and the passion of my ministerial commitment, as opposed to being misjudged and oppressed because of the gender of the one I love.”

Said Lea Matthews, “When I walked back into the clergy session to a standing ovation and approval, my heart grew. It grew in gratitude to this body, for its historic courage. It grew in love for my LGBTQI brothers and sisters and allies, who have worked so hard to ensure this outcome and my safety. And my heart grew in hope for the Church, as this approval signals a definitive step away from perpetuating theological abuse and towards widening the net of God’s love and justice for all God’s children. I say amen to that!”

Bruce Lamb expressed, “I am very thankful to the New York Annual Conference for being a river of life and love for all Gods children where all truly means all. I am thankful that I can live out my calling as a pastor as an out gay man in my church. The people that are here are the church and I’m so grateful to the NYAC for being the church. The Spirit is moving and I am so grateful that we are listening to the Spirit and moving with it.”

Elyse Ambrose added, “I am overjoyed for myself and my colleagues and friends of the New York Annual Conference, even as I mourn for friends, colleagues, and people I will never know for whom such communal affirmation is not a reality – whose road to ordained ministry is much less hospitable and Spirit-filled than mine is today. It’s bittersweet, and I will still wear my blue armband on Saturday as I think of them.”

For the last 10 years, MIND has organized an armband witness at the annual ordination service, in solidarity with those called by God but rejected by the church. The New York queer clergy letter, released May 2, appealed to LGBTQI clergy across the denomination to join them, and one week later, 111 queer UMC clergy did just that in another open letter. That, in turn, was followed by a pledge signed by 2,300 straight clergy pledging that “If a clergy person is removed from their charge for being LGBTQI, we will refuse to fill their pulpit.”

Meanwhile, the Boards of Ordained Ministry of the New York, Baltimore-Washington,Pacific Northwest and Northern Illinois Conferences all announced this spring that they will not consider sexual orientation or gender identity in their evaluation of candidates.

The New York Annual Conference has a long history of actively opposing the denomination’s anti-LGBTQI policies.

Contact: Dorothee Benz 718-314-4432, writetobenz@gmail.com

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