Pastor Heather Seman says the Community United Methodist Church stands for inclusivity, contrary to an international conference of Methodists which upheld a ban on same-sex marriage and gay clergy.
About three-quarters of the crowd of about 60 people stood and applauded after her sermon.
Her 9 a.m. Sunday service was the first she had led at the church since the conference’s decision.
Seman, the lead pastor, said she would stay in her position at the church. She told her congregants that leaving the church was something she had discussed with her husband.
“Perhaps you were ready to be done – I was,” Seman said. “I understand that people’s hearts have been hurt. I want to apologize for the hurt.”
The Rev. Mark Haberman was assisting Seman in the service. He had left this particular church once, 20 years ago, when he came out as gay. When he surrendered his orders, he had been serving as a deacon at Community United Methodist Church.
“I had grieved all of this once 20 years ago,” Haberman said. Looking back on that decision, he said, “I left rather than confront. While it’s an issue of justice, period, it’s also very personal for me.”
Haberman, who was at the service with his husband, wore a stole with a cross outlined in rainbow colors – a gift from the congregation. He said that Community United Methodist Church had come “full circle.” His orders were reinstated last June.
The plan the international conference adopted contains penalties for disobeying the prohibitions, and both Seman and Haberman said they think the Methodist judicial counsel will have to examine the new rules more closely to decide whether they are constitutional. Like the U.S. government, the United Methodist Church has a three-branch governing system.
“My higher allegiance is to God, not to exclusionary rules,” Haberman said.
Haberman does not know what will happen to his role in the church under the new plan. Working for the church isn’t his livelihood – he works with older adults at Aging and Long Term Care of Eastern Washington in Spokane. But he could potentially lose his calling, which he said in many ways would be much worse than losing his position in the church.
In her message to the congregation, Seman told of a sign she had put up outside the building that emphasized inclusivity: “All are welcome. All means all.”
Seman said when she was in front of the church, on her knees, trying to put up the sign, she had worried about what North Idaho would think, that her church and its congregants would be judged. She worried what her congregants would think.
Seman said that while she was putting up the sign, she said to herself, “Lord, this is all you.”
“All means all” isn’t to be taken simply as a pro-LGBT message, Seman said.
“At this church, there is a place for everyone,” she said.
For her, one of the disappointing things about the conference decision was that the conference should have sent a message that “our God is big enough that we can all be under the church.”
Seman said inclusivity is biblical: “It is gospel,” Seman said. “Jesus said, ‘Love one another.’ It is the lord of heaven and Earth, it is not the elected body I pray to.”
Of the standing applause she received, she noted that was not standard.
“Just so you know,” she told a couple of reporters in the audience, “they don’t normally do that.”