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Tuesday, July 13, 2004 - Page updated at 11:48 A.M.

Third gay pastor named for Seattle Methodist church

By Janet I. Tu
Seattle Times staff reporter

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In what could become another test of the United Methodist Church's stance on gay clergy, Bishop Elias Galvan of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference is appointing the Rev. Katie Ladd, a lesbian, pastor of Seattle's Woodland Park United Methodist Church.

She will become the third openly gay pastor associated with the church, succeeding as pastor there the Rev. Mark Williams and the Rev. Karen Dammann, both of whom made national headlines after they were accused of breaking church law prohibiting "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" from ministry.

Ladd's appointment could gauge where the denomination now stands on gay clergy, following the controversial March church-trial acquittal of Dammann and the gathering of worldwide Methodists last month that resulted in tighter rules against gay clergy.

"I'm not hoping to be a test case. I'm not hoping to be in the center of any furor," said Ladd, 35, who is now pastor at Crown Hill United Methodist Church.

"I simply want to be the best pastor I can for the people to whom I'm assigned and the church to which I'm appointed," said Ladd, who starts at her new church July 1.

Ladd succeeds Williams, who is leaving to pursue a master's degree in social work at the University of Washington. He remains a minister in good standing with the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference, which encompasses Washington and Northern Idaho.

Ladd disclosed she was gay at the conference's 2001 annual gathering, the same one where Williams also said he was gay. Church charges against Williams were dropped in 2002 after a church investigative panel decided it had insufficient evidence that he had violated church law.

Key dates

1996-1999: The Rev. Karen Dammann serves as pastor at Woodland Park United Methodist Church.

1999: The Rev. Mark Williams is appointed to Woodland Park United Methodist Church.

Feb. 2001: Dammann writes a letter to Bishop Elias Galvan saying she is living in a "partnered, covenanted, homosexual relationship."

June 2001: At the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference gathering, Williams says he is "a practicing gay man," and the Rev. Katie Ladd, then on leave, discloses that she is gay.

Nov. and Dec. 2001: Galvan, under church orders, files complaints against Dammann and Williams.

May 2002: The church dismisses its case against Williams after an investigative committee decides it has insufficient evidence that Williams violated church law.

Jan. 2004: After years of various church panels going back and forth on Dammann's case, an investigative committee forwards the case to trial.

March 2004: Dammann is acquitted at a church trial in Bothell.

May 2004: United Methodist Church's General Conference gathers in Pittsburgh. The denomination's high court declares homosexuality a chargeable offense for clergy and says local bishops cannot appoint those found in church trials to be "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" to ministry positions.

Ladd's appointment comes at a time when the denomination is perhaps more sharply divided than ever on the issue of homosexuality.

That division was clear this year, after 13 fellow pastors acquitted Dammann of the charge of engaging in "practices declared by the United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teaching." The jury said Methodist laws and teachings against homosexual acts were not strong enough to constitute a declaration. That decision elated some and dismayed others.

Then at last month's gathering in Pittsburgh of the denomination's policy-making body, resolutions intended to broaden acceptance of gays and lesbians in the church were defeated, and delegates voted to affirm church teaching that gay sex is "incompatible with Christian teaching."

But delegates also resoundingly voted down a resolution for the denomination to split because of the rift over homosexuality.

Also at the Pittsburgh gathering, the church's highest court did not review Dammann's case, as some delegates had wanted. But it did issue decisions making it easier to enforce the ban on actively gay clergy.

The court declared that the practice of homosexuality is a chargeable offense for clergy and said that local bishops cannot appoint to ministry positions those found at church trials to be "self-avowed practicing homosexuals."

The Rev. Elaine Stanovsky, spokeswoman for the Northwest Conference, said Galvan and his cabinet are "not aware of any reason that Katie Ladd is not fully appointable within the church."

They know of no chargeable offenses against Ladd, she said. "In the United Methodist Church, the way the character of a clergyperson is reviewed is through a complaint process. There is not now, nor has there ever been, a complaint against Katie."

The bishop appointed Ladd to Woodland Park as he would any other minister, Stanovsky said, matching the gifts of the pastor with the needs of the congregation. "Katie Ladd's sexual orientation has never been the topic of conversation," she said.

Ladd said she disclosed she was gay three years ago because "it seemed like an appropriate and opportune time to add my voice to an ongoing conversation that we had been having in the annual conference around the issue of homosexuality. I wanted to be honest about who I am with my congregation and with my colleagues."

She doesn't believe she is violating any church laws.

Only a church trial court can determine if a member of the clergy is a "self-avowed practicing homosexual," she said. And she has never faced church trial.

Ladd said Woodland Park fits her calling to work with those on society's margins, such as disabled and homeless people. Her work as pastor at University Temple and Crown Hill United Methodist have both emphasized that.

"I hope that an effective pastor who has a love for this church, a love for the Gospel, a love for ministry is enough to be a pastor in this annual conference."

The Rev. Rick Vinther, pastor at Woodinville Community United Methodist Church and part of a group of local evangelical Methodists who want to make sure local leaders follow church laws and teachings on homosexuality, declined comment until he knew more about the situation.

Evangelical Methodists generally believe that the Bible says homosexual activity is a sin.

Karen Zeller Lane, a Woodland Park parishioner, said Ladd's sexual orientation is "simply a non-issue" for the congregation.

In their statement to the bishop on what they were looking for in a new pastor, members indicated "we would accept any minister in good standing, regardless of sexual orientation," Lane said. "I think there is enthusiasm and excitement for the skills that she brings. This church is extremely committed to justice and not just in the area of sexual minorities. We're committed to it in regards to all people who are marginalized. And Katie has a vast résumé in regard to the homeless and disadvantaged youths."

Williams, meanwhile, is pursuing a social-work degree because "it's complementary to my work in ministry and the work I feel called to do," he said. He isn't ruling out a return to being a church pastor after finishing school.

His work at Woodland Park, where he was appointed in 1999, has been rewarding, he said. But that work, combined with all the media attention since disclosing he is gay, has been taxing.

"I expect I will continue to be in that spotlight because of being an openly gay clergy person," he said. "But I need a break before I can return to that with my spirit in the right place."

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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