UM Clergywoman Fights for Job After Coming Out as Lesbian
- CALLED OUT INFORMATION SERVICE
We have received this news release from the Rev. John Auer.
United Methodist Clergywoman Fights for Job
After Coming Out as Lesbian
A Seattle clergywoman is pursuing an assignment within the United
Methodist Pacific Northwest Conference of Seattle, despite coming out
officially as a lesbian.
Karen Dammann, a United Methodist Church clergywoman since 1991,
declared on March 25 that she intends to pursue a church assignment
guaranteed to pastors in good standing -- a guarantee she feels
should not be curtailed because she is a lesbian. The Rev. Dammann,
44, stated her desire in a letter to all 371 clergy in the UMC
Pacific Northwest Conference, with which she is affiliated. She says
she is now willing to drop any semblance of secret and demand a
clergy job guaranteed to fully credentialed UMC clergy members.
Despite the fact that many of her colleagues knew about her
sexuality, Dammann states that after formally adopting her domestic
partner�s baby in 1998, United Methodist Church officials advised her
against taking the customary newborn parental leave and instead
insisted she take a Periodical Professional Leave. She acquiesced,
but upon returning to service several weeks later, Dammann found a
petition being drawn up against her within her own congregation.
Sensing the growing hostility from her own congregation and the
Conference leadership, she left the area nearly two years ago under a
�Family Leave" status to care for the couple's toddler.
Dammann states that the incidents surrounding the birth of her son
created an irreconcilable gap between her hidden personal life and
public professional life�a gap that the Church Conference was not
willing to bridge. "Preparing for the birth of our baby really
brought home the craziness of attempting to live �in the closet� as a
United Methodist clergyperson," Dammann says. "An ordinary and
predictable experience for most couples became extraordinary and
unpredictable for us."
Raised a Roman Catholic, Dammann informed her parents at an early age
of her intentions to �grow up to be a priest.� She pursued a
religious education degree, and after nearly ten years as a
professional �lay� coordinator in the Catholic church, Dammann left
Catholicism for United Methodism in 1989, where a clergy path for
women was unfettered. She enrolled at the Pacific School of Religion
in Berkeley and graduated in 1992.
At the age 36 Dammann hadn�t yet determined she was a lesbian
("apparently I was one of the last to do so," she states), but time
in therapy following a cancer scare, along with meeting �soulmate�
Meredith Savage, revealed the truth. When the issue of her sexuality
became evident, Dammann began the double life of a closeted gay
clergyperson, living with the unofficial church policy of "don't ask,
Dammann and Savage held a commitment ceremony in 1996, in the
presence of other United Methodist clergy, while Dammann was under
appointment at Woodland Park UMC of Seattle. It was at Woodland Park
where the petition forced her to leave her congregation following the
birth of their child.
Upon taking her Leave from the Conference, Dammann followed her
partner to San Francisco, where she took a one-month interim
preaching assignment at Pine United Methodist Church. The �warm
acceptance and affirmation� she received in San Francisco made it
�impossible to ever return to the closeted secret life of a gay
clergyperson in the UMC," she says. A few months later, she and
Savage moved to Northeastern United States to be with her partner�s
ailing mother as Savage pursued a Ph.D. program. Dammann willingly
went to have a chance to sort out her career choices, and currently
works as a security officer.
Facilitating Dammann's petitioning process to the UMC Pacific
Northwest Conference is the First UMC of San Rafael, Calif., a
congregation that insists on calling itself a "reconciling
congregation" despite the Church's Judicial Council ruling in 1999,
which called the label "divisive" and ordered it dropped.
�Reconciling Congregations� advocate full inclusion of gay and
lesbian people in church life. San Rafael's pastor, the Rev. John
Auer, has agreed to be Dammann's clergy support point-person in what
could be an uphill fight for both an appointment and acceptance.
Dammann states that she only wants the opportunity to serve in the
United Methodist Church as a right to her ordained status, without
having to disguise her sexuality or �live a lie.� The Church�s
official response is still pending.
CONTACTS: Rev. John Auer, (415) 453-8716, 453-2134
Attorney Susan Griffin, (415) 397-2600
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