Friday, May 25 , 2018, 4:43 am | A Few Clouds 51º


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Isla Vista Pastor’s Future in Ministry Uncertain After Officiating Gay Son’s Wedding

Supporters hold a vigil in solidarity with the Rev. Frank Schaefer, who next week will go before the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church

Kneeling beneath a crucifix hanging above the Korean United Methodist Church sanctuary, the Rev. Frank Schaefer lit a candle and took a moment to pray about what he'll be facing next week when he steps in front of a group of church leaders who will determine his future in ministry.

Schaefer, who leads the congregation in Isla Vista, will go before a judicial council who will decide whether Schaefer's action to officiate his gay son's wedding should or should not allow him to practice ministry.

"I have so many emotions," he said, adding that they range from feeling happy and supported by his flock to being tired from the seven-year battle stemming from his decision to officiate his son's wedding.  

By next week, Schaefer will have an answer, as the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church conducts a hearing on whether the pastor's actions conform to church law. The decision will be final. 

The United Methodist Church accepts gay and lesbian members but does not sanction officiating gay and lesbian weddings.

Schaefer was formerly the pastor of Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon, Penn., and was defrocked for officiating the same-sex marriage of his son in 2007.

Schaefer appealed and was reinstated in another hearing held last December, and moved from his church in Pennsylvania to the United Methodist Korean Church in Isla Vista this summer.

The hearing is scheduled for Oct. 22 in Memphis, Tenn.

An event was held Wednesday night to pray for Schaefer as he faces the council and to light candles in solidarity.  

pastor vigil
Congregants show their support for the Rev. Frank Schaefer. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

Fifty or so congregants came and went, filling the church with a diverse crowd including local politicians, Rep. Lois Capps and her family, churchgoers, Isla Vista neighbors, students, and leaders from Jewish and Muslim communities of faith stopping in to hug Schaefer and issue support. 

"I am going there with a lot of hope and support," he said.

When Schaefer began serving in Isla Vista earlier this summer, the community was still reeling from the mass murder that occurred in May. He said the community was still dealing from the trauma those events brought and recalled touring Isla Vista and seeing each of the places that students were killed and injured and said it was a moving experience.

He'll be going through his first Halloween in Isla Vista in a few weeks, and says the church will have its doors open to anyone needing a respite from the activity.

"We'll have food and maybe karaoke," he smiled. "We want it to be welcoming to the community."

Reconciliation is a big part of his work, and Schaefer said he's gotten a warm reception since coming to Isla Vista.

"I get a lot of hugs," he said.

One of Schaefer's congregants who showed up to support him was Ethan Betrand, a freshman SBCC student from New Jersey who learned about Schaefer's journey after reading about it in a Los Angeles Times article.

"I'm gay and I'm also a strong Christian," he said, and sought Schaefer out and is now very involved in the church.

Bertrand plays guitar on the church's worship team every Sunday, and said he hopes the judicial council will remember that Christ's message is for everyone.

"Jesus didn't turn anyone away, and yet the church is right now," he said. "It's so important that everyone feel welcome here."

Bertrand said attitudes in the church are changing, mentioning the Vatican's recent statement that said gay people have gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community. He sees that as a sign of hope.

"That really shows the positive direction things are going," he said.

Another vigil will be held for Schaefer next week on the eve of his hearing. The event will be held at First United Methodist from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday and is open to the public.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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