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First UM Plans Vote

On Whether To Reject

Church’s Ban On Gays

In February, Worldwide Church Council

Affirmed Bar To Gay Marriage, Pastors

J.J. Warren, a gay seminarian whose speech at the United Methodist General Council in St. Louis brought some attendees to tears, spoke at Oneonta’s First UM today. He received a standing ovation. (Jim Kevlin/

By JENNIFER HILL • Special to

ONEONTA – A resolution, “We Refuse,” objecting to the international United Methodist Church’s reassertion of its prohibition on gay marriage and gay pastors, was inserted into today’s Sunday Service program at Oneonta’s First UM.

Warren led youngsters in an exercise to draw a multi-colored flower, symbol of a diverse church.

The local resolution calls the church’s “Traditional Plan,” which reaffirmed its ban and was approved by majority vote last February, “exclusive, punitive, and unwelcoming” and declares it “incompatible with God’s all-inclusive love of and for everyone…and with Jesus’ teachings,” which tell people to love everyone “unconditionally.”

The resolution goes further, labeling the Traditional Plan “un-Christian.” It calls for regional churches and the bishop to reject it and pursue a separate path.

The insert also announced a Special Charge Conference for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the church, where members of the congregation will debate and vote on “We Refuse.” Rev. Marti Swords-Horrell, the pastor, will preside.

Delivering the sermon today was J.J. Warren, a gay seminary student from Penn Yan whom Bishop Mark Webb, of the Syracuse-based conference that includes Otsego County, has said he will not ordain.

“We are the church no matter what the denomination says,” Warren declared from the pulpit.  “We will not allow the assembly to hijack the message of God.”

“We,” he emphasized, “are the people of God.”

The sermon was met with a standing ovation.

About 150 members of the First UM congregation heard J.J. Warren this morning.  “We are the church no matter what the denomination says,” he declared.  (Jennifer Hill/

Rev. Mark Ledbetter of the Eastern Parkway UMC in Schenectady wrote “We Refuse” on behalf of UNIFY, the “Upper New York for Full Inclusion” caucus that formed on Feb. 26, the day a United Methodist worldwide General Council in St. Louis approved a “Traditional Plan” that confirmed existing prohibitions on gay marriage and gay pastors.

Last week, UMC’s Judicial Council upheld the General Council’s decision.

Coincidentally, Oneonta’s First UM today was marking its 30th anniversary as a “reconciling congregation,” having agreed in 1989 to welcome gays in all capacities despite the United Methodist’s position.

Not just in Warren’s sermon, but “We Refuse” themes echoed through this morning’s service, attended by about 150 worshippers.

It opened with the hymn, “All Are Welcome” and featured a biblical reading on the prophet Amos, who tells reveling Hebrews that God is displeased with their “assemblies.”  Another reading, “How Long?” asks “How much longer must we wait?” for change.

Warren, whose passionate speech at the February General Council moved some bishops and delegates to tears, compared the assemblies Amos condemned to the General Council.  Amos, he said, was “a person in the system to call out the system.”

“We are being Amos,” Warren said, and to move forward, “We have faith in the absurd. We move beyond law, even church law, to a higher realm, that of faith.”

As gay millennial called to be a minister, he represents the future Methodist church, he said, adding, “Absurdity is to have faith in a church in the future not yet realized,” he said.


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