After sharing publicly that she is a lesbian in a covenant relationship with a partner, The Rev. Irene Elizabeth Stroud will face a United Methodist church trial beginning on December 1, 2004. The purpose of the trial is to determine if Rev. Stroud is guilty or not guilty of “practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teaching.” If she is found guilty, she could lose her credentials as an ordained minister.
Rev. Stroud has been the associate pastor at First United Methodist Church of Germantown since 1999. She is in charge of youth and children’s programs and evangelism, and also assists with leading worship, preaching, and pastoral care. The church judicial process that led to the trial has been unfolding since April 2003, when Stroud preached a sermon in which she shared how her Christian faith was shaped by her experience as a lesbian.
The trial date was set by Bishop Marcus Matthews, the resident bishop of the Philadelphia area, on October 21. Bishop Joseph H. Yeakel, a retired bishop, has been appointed to serve as presiding officer for the trial.
On October 11, 2004, an investigating committee found that reasonable grounds existed to bring the case to trial. This was a second vote by the investigating committee, whose first vote to send the case to trial, on July 23, 2004, was declared invalid by Bishop Yeakel on procedural grounds.
Stroud will be represented at the trial by The Rev. J. Dennis Williams, a retired United Methodist pastor whom she selected to serve as her counsel. Rev. Williams will be assisted by Alan Symonette, Esq., an attorney and labor arbitrator who is also one of FUMCOG’s Co-Lay Leaders, and a team of attorneys from FUMCOG. Stroud’s entire legal team is serving pro bono.
“We continue to be inspired by Beth’s courage and faithfulness,” says Senior Pastor Fred Day. “Our congregation supports her. In May, we established a legal defense fund for Beth, and people have sent donations from all over the country. We are in a process of prayer and discernment to determine what else we can do. Many of our members want to be present at the trial to support Beth.”
“We are an open congregation, welcoming to all people,” says Day. “We welcome all people and families to be part of our church community, without regard for race, gender, or sexual orientation. As a Reconciling Congregation, we are one of many United Methodist Churches who disagree with the demomination’s discriminatory stance, and hope to see a day when the church lives up to its promise of justice and inclusion for all people.”
“I’m not afraid,” says Stroud. “I can’t know what the outcome of the trial will be, but I trust God to work in and through whatever happens. I love the people of The United Methodist Church, I love ministry, and I love my partner and the life God has given us together. I just want to be the person God created me to be, and to serve in the way God has called me to serve.”
The trial will be held at Camp Innabah, a United Methodist camp and retreat center in western Chester County.