Trips down the aisle halted at Austin church until ‘inclusion of all people’

First United Methodist Church of Austin. (Nexstar Photo/Wes Rapaport)
First United Methodist Church of Austin. (Nexstar Photo/Wes Rapaport)

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Leadership at an Austin church have decided not to perform any more wedding ceremonies, in an effort to support members of the LGBT community. The Methodist Church currently does not allow its clergy to officiate same-sex marriages.

First United Methodist Church of Austin, just across the street from the State Capitol, announced the decision after a vote over the weekend.

“It has been over a year of thoughtful, prayerful, work by the whole church,” senior pastor Reverend Taylor Fuerst said. “Some of our leaders have really taken this home and they have led the congregation through a process of gathering information, understanding where the denomination is on this.”

“Rather than practicing discrimination in our wedding policy, we are going to give up some of the privileges that our opposite-sex couples enjoy and say ‘we will all receive the same ministry in terms of weddings,'” Fuerst said.

“It’s not that the church is not involved in weddings at all, it’s just that we only do for everybody what we can do for anybody,” she explained.

She said gay Texans “need allies to stand with them,” to practice “sacrificial love.”

“The important thing is for each congregation to consider what do we believe about this, and how do we find a way to align our practice with that,” she added.

“We are not actually breaking any rules here,” Fuerst said. “Our position is one that sort of threads the needle.”

First United Methodist Church of Austin. (Nexstar Photo/Wes Rapaport)
First United Methodist Church of Austin. (Nexstar Photo/Wes Rapaport)

“We long for the full inclusion in ministry of all people,” she stated. “We are still working towards that.” She said FUMC has fought for equality and for “inclusion of all people in ministry for decades.”

We contacted numerous United Methodist Church congregations in Texas. Only one other church responded in time for this report.

First United Methodist Church of Round Rock said the congregation has not formally addressed same-sex marriage, but clergy will continue to perform marriages there — just not for same-sex couples.

“I have had conversations all along with people who have concerns and that sort of thing, and I consider that a healthy thing,” Fuerst said.

In a statement, the church’s larger regional group, the Rio Texas Conference, said it was aware of the new policy adopted by FUMC Austin.

“[FUMC Austin’s] policy complies with the rules laid out in the denomination’s Book of Discipline,” director of communications and media support for the conference, Rev. Will Rice said. “Human sexuality has been a topic of debate among United Methodists for some time. The Commission on a Way Forward was proposed by the Council of Bishops and approved by the 2016 General Conference to do a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph of the Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and explore options that help to maintain and strengthen the unity of the church.”

“The commission will report to a called gathering of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church in 2019 in St. Louis,” Rice added.

Fuerst said, “This is about trying to reduce discrimination in the church in our local church in particular. But ultimately this is about people and their stories and the love that they share with one another, and the love that we share as friends and as friends in Christ,” she said.

She mentioned wedding ceremonies that were scheduled before the vote would be performed.

Fuerst said the decision is temporary, and will be addressed again after the church’s general conference meets in February 2019.

Visit the church’s website for their full statement on marriage equality.

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