An Iowa City pastor who pushed back against the United Methodist Church’s restrictions on gay clergy and same-sex marriage — and accused of violating church doctrine by being “a self-avowed, practicing homosexual” — will take an indefinite leave of absence under a settlement announced Wednesday.
Under the resolution described by the Iowa Conference of the church, the Rev. Anna Blaedel will request a leave of absence until they — the pronoun Blaedel prefers — asks to come off it.
Blaedel formerly served as director of the Wesley Center in Iowa City but stepped down in May because of a complaint filed in 2018. Blaedel instead became leader of the center’s Table Tuesday program, a time for college students to come together for conversation about spirituality and social justice.
Under the settlement to avoid a church trial, the former center director will keep working 10 to 15 hours a week as leader of the program but not otherwise be compensated.
The resolution said Blaedel will use the leave for “personal healing, and for discerning a livable future and alternatives to remaining a member of the Iowa Conference and The United Methodist Church — the conference and denomination to which Rev. Blaedel was called, ordained, and appointed, but which seems to hold no future for them and their ministry.”
Blaedel’s legal counsel, the Rev. Tyler Schwaller, said Blaedel will keep pastoral credentials, which is “significant,” he said.
But, at least for now, Blaedel cannot reclaim the campus ministry.
“Today, we are naming together the truth that it is not currently possible for me to continue my ministry in the context of the Iowa Annual Conference, nor the (United Methodist Church),” Blaedel said in a statement. “I had hoped for a different conclusion to the story. ... I am no longer willing to subject my body and soul and life to this particular violence.”
Blaedel was not available for an interview.
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The dispute underscores a volatile issue that was thrust to the forefront in February when United Methodist Church delegates voted to strengthen a ban on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage. The decision included representatives from United Methodist Church’s churches around the world, representing its 12 million members globally. But several churches — and clergy members including Blaedel — have objected, sometimes defying the decision.
The Committee on Investigation of the Iowa Conference charged Blaedel on May 20 with “being a self-avowed practicing homosexual in violation of Paragraphs 2702.1b and 304.3 of the Book of Discipline,” the law of the United Methodist Church.
It was the third complaint against Blaedel in three years. It grew from a complaint lodged by John Lomperis of Chicago on March 22, 2018.
The resolution avoided a church trial, which could have cost the Iowa Conference about $100,000. The Book of Discipline says a trial should be a last resort.
In September, Blaedel told The Gazette they hoped to avoid trial and would like financial compensation for the full-time job as director of the Wesley Center and a public acknowledgment from the Iowa Conference of the harm the complaints caused.
“We want a commitment to no further complaints or trials against me or any of our LGBTQIA” — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual or allied — “kin for being clergy or for officiating at weddings,” Blaedel said then.
Wednesday, Schwaller said Blaedel now is considering what a “livable ministry” would look like, but that doesn’t seem possible within the United Methodist Church. Even if Blaedel requested to come off leave, it’s unclear whether the Iowa Conference could protect the pastor from further complaints.
Schwaller said he agreed to represent Blaedel against all three complaints “because this is queer kinship.”
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“I will never for a moment doubt Anna’s call, their gifts, and their extraordinary capacity to enflesh good news for a world in deep need of mercy, healing and transformative justice,” he said in a statement.
The resolution states that the complainant “does not name any harm that has been done to him by Rev. Anna Blaedel.” But it said Lomperis’ complaint, and the Iowa Conference’s handling of it, “have resulted in harm to Rev. Blaedel specifically and directly.”
Bishop Laurie Haller, of the Iowa Conference, in a statement, apologized to Blaedel.
“The United Methodist Church is broken because we are still not able to honor our differences around human sexuality,” Haller said. “I believe our brothers and sisters in the Central Conferences have a better understanding of what is happening in the United States and why it is important to make adjustments in our policy so that our worldwide denomination can reach out together to more people with the good news of Jesus Christ in a way that transcends all boundaries.”
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