This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Allegheny Conference to license LGBT pastor

Allegheny Mennonite Conference on Feb. 15 announced it will license for ministry a Maryland pastor who “is a member of the LGBTQ community and married to her partner.”

The conference approved a request to license toward ordination Michelle Burkholder, associate pastor of Hyatts­ville Mennonite Church.

Michelle Burkholder is associate pastor of Hyattsville (Md.) Mennonite Church. — Markus Kristeya
Michelle Burkholder is associate pastor of Hyattsville (Md.) Mennonite Church. — Markus Kristeya

Burkholder becomes the third openly LGBT pastor credentialed for ministry in Mennonite Church USA, after Theda Good of Denver in 2014 and Mark Rupp of Columbus, Ohio, in 2015. In December, Good was the first to be ordained.

Allegheny Conference “recognizes that approval of this request for credentialing places our conference of congregations at variance with Mennonite Church USA membership guidelines,” stated a news release from the conference office and conference minister David E. Mishler.

“We welcome dialogue and counsel from sister conferences and MC USA about our decision in the spirit of mutual discernment, forbearing with each other in the spirit of Romans 14-15.”

The release cited a 2015 Allegheny Conference decision “to live together with theological disagreements using the 1995 Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective as a guiding document, not a disciplinary document.”

The release continued: “[W]e believe congregational autonomy to discern and choose congregational leaders from the context of the congregation should be affirmed as appropriate congregational authority.”

That belief, the release said, “is in the spirit of” the conference’s 2015 decision and two resolutions passed by MC USA delegates at Kansas City in 2015 “in which we see an intentional tension between a vision of forbearance among diverse congregations and application of membership guidelines that have remained constant.”

The release said the decision was made “with deep humility . . . in support of [Hyattsville Mennonite Church] yet not intending to impose one congregation’s decision on other congregations who see things differently.”

Hyattsville has a long history of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inclusion. Last June it celebrated 30 years of welcoming LGBT people.

Burkholder, who has served the congregation since 2013, said in a sermon at the celebration: “Hyattsville has time and again chosen that, for us, being faithful witnesses to the love of God calls us to acts of hospitality, justice, healing and peacemaking, even when those actions are counter to the status quo expected by the broader church.”

For 10 years beginning in 2005, Hyattsville was under discipline by Allegheny Conference. Its representatives could not vote at conference meetings or serve in leadership positions. In 2015, by a 72-70 vote, delegates restored the congregation to full, voting membership.

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