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Holy union participant voices hurt

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  • U.M. Cornet
    Holy union participant voices hurt, anger over Dell verdict March 30, 1999 News media contact: Tim Tanton· (615)742-5470· Nashville, Tenn. {170} By United
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 31, 1999
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      Holy union participant voices hurt, anger over Dell verdict

      March 30, 1999 News media contact: Tim Tanton� (615)742-5470�
      Nashville, Tenn. {170}

      By United Methodist News Service

      The two men whose holy union ceremony led to the March 25-26
      trial of Chicago pastor Greg Dell are angry over the verdict, but the
      experience has strengthened their relationship, one of the
      couple said.

      "We feel very hurt and angry," said Keith Eccarius, a systems
      analyst and member of Dell's Broadway United Methodist Church. He and
      partner Karl Reinhardt have a lot of emotions that
      they need to work through, he said.

      "We've been out there for so long now that we need to get back to our
      lives," Eccarius said in a March 29 telephone interview. "This issue is
      not going away, and we understand that, and we need a break right
      now."

      Eccarius and his partner, Karl Reinhardt, declared their commitment
      to each other in a Sept. 19 holy union ceremony performed by Dell. The
      preceding month, the United Methodist Church's Judicial Council
      declared that a prohibition in the Book of Discipline against such
      ceremonies carried the weight of law and made any pastor who violated
      it liable to being charged. The stricture says that ceremonies
      celebrating homosexual unions shall not be conducted by United
      Methodist ministers in United Methodist churches.

      Last fall's holy union ceremony led to the March 25-26 clergy trial
      of Dell in the Chicago suburb of Downers Grove. The trial court of 13
      clergy members from the Northern Illinois Annual Conference found Dell
      guilty of disobedience to the order and discipline of the United
      Methodist Church. The penalty: suspension, effective July 5, unless
      Dell submits a signed pledge not to perform any more holy union
      ceremonies � or until the denomination's law might be changed.

      The months leading up to the trial have been difficult for Eccarius
      and Reinhardt. But the experience has "made us stronger," Eccarius
      said. "We have to be there for each other, and we are there for each
      other."

      The Dell case has affected Eccarius and Reinhardt in other ways.
      They strongly suspect it is the reason for Reinhardt's contract as a
      high school English teacher not being renewed. Although all of
      Reinhardt's performance reviews have been "outstanding" and he has a
      good relationship with the students, the North Chicago Public School
      System told him recently that his contract wouldn't be renewed for
      next year, Eccarius said.

      Both Eccarius and Reinhardt testified on Dell's behalf during the
      trial. The trial court "seemed to be very compassionate," Eccarius
      said. "When the verdict came down, and more importantly the penalty, I
      was totally shocked.

      "The verdict itself was not terribly surprising. The penalty was what
      was surprising," he said. "In a lot of people's minds ... the penalty
      was very cowardly on the part of the trial court. They basically, in
      order to avoid making a definitive ruling, dumped it back on Greg's lap.
      They're basically telling him that it's his responsibility to decide
      what to do. That, to me, was very cowardly."

      Though glad that the trial court didn't remove Dell's credentials
      altogether, Eccarius said "they've pretty much done that to him"
      anyway. "They know how strong Greg believes in this issue. They know
      Greg will not compromise what he believes," he said.

      "In our eyes, we look at it as by not taking away his
      ordination, there are still options there for ministry," he said. "But
      the penalty they did give him was just as severe in a lot of peoples'
      eyes."

      Eccarius said he has talked with Reinhardt and others in the
      gay community, and "none of us would feel that Greg was abandoning us if
      he were to sign that paper that he needed to sign."

      Broadway, which is 30 percent gay, is united behind Dell.
      Last October, the church's administrative council met and voted
      unanimously to support the pastor, Eccarius said.

      "Our hope would be that Greg would not leave, but Greg's
      pretty adamant right now about not signing any document," he said.

      Facing the prospect of Dell's departure, the church members
      are aware of the need to talk to Bishop C. Joseph Sprague, who leads the
      Chicago Area.

      "All we are hoping for is that our bishop will be sensitive
      to our community," Eccarius said, "and the worst thing that the bishop
      could do is assign a pastor that doesn't share a sensitivity to the
      diversity of our community because that would destroy Broadway."

      Sprague told United Methodist News Service after the trial
      that the conference would be sensitive to Broadway's needs in the
      appointment process.

      Eccarius said the church needs to determine how best to move
      ahead toward General Conference, which meets next year in Cleveland to
      set and change denomination law. The issue of holy unions is sure to be
      on the agenda and probably will be the most hotly debated topic of the
      gathering.

      In his Palm Sunday sermon, March 28, Dell encouraged the
      Broadway congregation to push ahead. His topic: "We've only just begun."

      "It was obviously very emotional; it was very uplifting,"
      Eccarius said of the Palm Sunday worship service. "One of the things
      that Greg said was the pain that we're feeling is ours and no one
      should deny us that pain and that anger and frustration, but we have to
      use that to move ahead, and we can't stop here. We've only just begun."

      As to whether the verdict will result in gays and lesbians
      leaving the church, Eccarius said: "There's always going to be that
      possibility. There are people that come to Broadway that have no
      religious affiliation in their past. There are people that have been in
      the Methodist church for years. You are always going to have a small
      percentage of the people that have reached their point of feeling that
      they can't handle it anymore. But by and large, we are united, and we
      will continue on."
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