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Baltimore-Washington leaders explore transgender issue

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    CALLED OUT INFORMATION SERVICE From United Methodist News Service ... Oct. 1, 2001 Baltimore-Washington leaders explore transgender issue News media contact:
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 2, 2001

      From United Methodist News Service

      Oct. 1, 2001
      Baltimore-Washington leaders explore transgender issue
      News media contact: Tim Tanton� (615)742-5470� Nashville, Tenn.

      By Dean Snyder*

      WASHINGTON (UMNS) � A group of United Methodist leaders is planning
      conversations throughout the church's Baltimore-Washington Annual
      Conference about the status of transgender clergy.

      A 12-member committee comprising representatives from the
      conference's board of ordained ministry, the bishop's cabinet, the
      order of elders and the order of deacons met with the Rev. Thomas W.
      Porter, a lawyer and clergyman who heads JUSTPEACE, a United
      Methodist mediation service, on Sept. 4, according to the Rev.
      Roberta Scoville, the group's spokeswoman and dean of the order of

      The committee of leaders from the Baltimore-Washington Conference
      will meet three times this fall to discuss the issue of transgender
      clergy in ways that model trust and cooperation and to design "a
      means of expanding the circle of conversation," Scoville said. Porter
      will facilitate the meetings using mediation techniques developed by

      "The group cannot make any decisions or recommendations about a
      specific individual," Scoville said. "What we can do is provide
      clergy and laity with a way to be well informed, understanding of all
      positions, and engage them in a spiritual discernment process so that
      when they are confronted by decisions brought to the clergy session
      we have a thoughtful and well grounded � spiritually grounded � basis
      for the church to address those decisions."

      The issue of the status of transgender clergy was raised earlier this
      year during the clergy session at annual conference in June. The
      board of ordained ministry acknowledged that, despite its rule of
      confidentiality, many people were aware that it had discussed the
      question of whether the Rev. Rebecca Steen, formerly the Rev. Richard
      Zomastny, a pastor who had had a sex-change operation, could return
      from a voluntary leave of absence to active service as the appointed
      pastor of a local church. Although no action was taken by the board
      or required of the clergy session because Steen decided to remain on
      leave, the issue had the potential to severely divide the conference,
      according to the board.

      The board asked the orders of elders and deacons to initiate a
      conversation among clergy and lay people "to explore the issues
      raised in the hearts and minds of many regarding the responsibilities
      of the board of ordained ministry in relation to a clergy colleague
      who is transgendered," according to a report issued by the orders'

      The orders recommended that the JUSTPEACE Center for Mediation and
      Conflict Transformation, an organization established by the
      denomination's General Council on Finance and Administration in 1999,
      be asked to assist in planning and facilitating the conversations.

      After consultation with Bishop Felton Edwin May, JUSTPEACE was
      invited to work with the conference.

      Scoville said the committee, also known as a "core group," has set
      the agenda for three fall meetings. The first meeting will be a
      learning session exploring personal experiences, biblical and
      theological points of view, medical and psychological perspectives,
      sociological and cultural aspects, United Methodist polity and due
      process. The second meeting will focus on spiritual discernment with
      the goal of identifying affirmations and concerns raised by the
      learning session. During the third meeting, the group will design a
      means for "expanding the circle of conversation" throughout the
      annual conference, Scoville said.

      Porter, a retired trial lawyer who specialized in representing
      nonprofit and charitable organizations, developed JUSTPEACE's process
      for conflict mediation called "Engage Conflict Well" after becoming
      disillusioned with adversarial law. He studied mediation at Harvard
      University and Eastern Mennonite University, but he said he was most
      influenced by a visit to observe the South African Truth and
      Reconciliation Commission, led by Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

      The Engage Conflict Well process emphasizes small group discussion in
      which people agree on a covenant of mutual respect and share peak
      experiences before tackling areas of disagreement. The covenant
      includes agreement to speak and listen with respect.

      "The main thing that people need in life is to be heard," Porter
      said. "They don't have to have you agree with them, but people, for a
      lot of different reasons, do not feel heard today, and we need to
      provide opportunities for them to be heard."

      Scoville believes JUSTPEACE offers a way of discussing controversial
      issues that will be "more productive and less hurtful." She doesn't
      know if anybody's mind will be changed as a result of the
      conversations, she said, but "they may perceive people who don't
      agree with them in a different way."

      Scoville has extended an invitation to the clergy and laity of the
      conference to recommend resources, such as scholars, theologians,
      physicians or written materials, which they believe should be part of
      the core group's learning process. She is also asking people to
      identify specific issues or concerns the committee should consider.

      The core group, which currently consists entirely of clergy, plans to
      add lay people to its membership, Scoville said.

      # # #

      *Snyder is director of communications for the Baltimore-Washington
      Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. This story
      originally appeared in the conference newspaper, UMConnection.

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