Former Lebanon County pastor speaks out after reinstatement

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Reverend Frank Schaefer -- a former pastor at Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon County -- made national headlines after he officiated the wedding of his gay son in 2007.

"What I did, I did out of love for my son," said Reverend Frank Schaefer.

But The United Methodist Church didn't see it that way. A parishioner reported it to church officials and they suspended Schaefer. But when he refused to promise them that he wouldn't perform other gay weddings, church officials defrocked him in December of 2013.

"I had to deal with a local congregation that was splitting before my eyes. There were families in my congregation that were at odds with each other. It split up friendships and it was just so very hard to see," Schaefer said.

Reverend Schaefer says while that is the only gay wedding he's officiated -- he couldn't promise the church he wouldn't perform more in the future, partly because three out of his four kids are gay. He says he was sending a message that things needed to change.

"If any part of the message that you give as a church implies that you may be going to hell if you are a certain way, if you are a homosexual, that's terrible! In my eyes this is abuse," he said, adding it made him doubt parts of his faith. "I never doubted God but I seriously doubted organized religion."

But it was the LGBTQ community he says that restored his faith. "Had it not been for this part of the church, for these people, I don't know that I would still be in church today."

But thousands of miles away, in California, a bishop with the United Methodist Church believed in the reverend's stance and invited him to be part of their congregation. Schaefer has now lived there for the past four months.

This entire experience he says, has led him on another path: advocate for the LGBTQ community. "I could be somebody from within the church who could work for change, who could hopefully change these exclusionary policies."

While working on that, news came of his reinstatement last month. It reaffirmed what he believed all along. "I was ecstatic of the message that it carried. That the church was saying now that our LGBTQ community there is room for you and there is a ministry for you in our church," said the reverend beaming with pride.

As for the church member who reported him, Reverend Schaefer says they've made peace. "That's the only message that Christ wanted me to preach is the message of love and forgiveness."

Reverend Schaefer has also released a new book called "Defrocked: How a Father's Act of Love Shook the United Methodist Church." He co-authored the book during his appeal process in February of this year. He says it provides an honest, detailed account of what really happened behind the scenes including his family struggles throughout the process. His message: "If you do the right thing, if you follow your heart, good things can happen to you. Don't be afraid to speak the truth."

Reverend Schaefer will speak at Heidelberg United Church of Christ in York as a guest preacher. Worship services begin at 10:45 a.m. Sunday and is open to the public.

 

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