Charlotte pastor who married same-sex couple will keep job, avoid church trial

The April 23, 2016 wedding of John Romano and Jim Wilborne at First United Methodist Church of Charlotte,
The April 23, 2016 wedding of John Romano and Jim Wilborne at First United Methodist Church of Charlotte, Courtesy of Reconciling Ministries Network

A United Methodist pastor in Charlotte will not face a church trial or lose her job for officiating at the same-sex wedding in April of two members of her church in uptown.

The Rev. Val Rosenquist married John Romano and Jim Wilborne, who became the first same-sex couple in North Carolina to be wed – at least publicly – in a United Methodist church.

Days after the wedding, several complaints were filed against Rosenquist with Bishop Larry Goodpaster, then the leader of the denomination’s Western North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church, which includes Charlotte. The complainants alleged that Rosenquist of First United Methodist Church of Charlotte had violated the denomination’s Book of Discipline.

On Tuesday, the conference announced that a “just resolution” of the case involving Rosenquist had been reached.

But it is uncertain what that resolution involves. That’s because Rosenquist, Bishop Goodpaster and Counsel for the Church to whom the complaints had been referred agreed to keep the details confidential. And the resolution will remain sealed until at least 2018, when The United Methodist Church could convene a special General Conference to act on future recommendations relating to same-sex marriage and the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy.

Currently, the denomination’s Book of Discipline states that ceremonies that celebrate same-sex unions “shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.” Clergy who violate it can lose their jobs, face a church trial, even lose their clergy credentials.

On April 23, Rosenquist and retired Bishop Melvin Talbert, who lives in Nashville, officiated at the wedding of Romano and Wilborne at First United Methodist, long a gay-welcoming church where the couple are active members.

Coles said Goodpaster initiated what United Methodists call a “supervisory response.” He met with Rosenquist and the “multiple” complainants and tried to reach a “just resolution.” That’s defined by the church as “one that focuses on repairing any harm to people and communities, achieving real accountability by making things right so far as possible and bringing healing to all parties.”

Initial efforts to reach a resolution failed, Coles said, triggering a possible church trial. But Goodpaster, Rosenquist and Counsel for the Church did reach a resolution agreement on August 30 – the same week as Bishop Goodpaster’s long-planned retirement.

As part of the resolution, Coles said, Rosenquist, Goodpaster and Counsel for the Church agreed to seal the contents from the public pending any action by a future General Conference on the language relating to gays and lesbians and same-sex marriage in the Book of Discipline.

In May, delegates to the denomination’s last General Conference in Portland, Ore., hotly debated those issues. But in the end, they voted to approve a suggestion offered by a majority of their bishops to defer the discussion until a “Commission on a Way Forward” can be formed to study it and make recommendations. A special General Conference could be called for that purpose in 2018, Coles said.

In cases such as Rosenquist’s, Coles said, “our goal is to get a resolution, not go to trial. We achieved that.”

One of the complainants, Ron Wood, a member of Sharon United Methodist Church in Shelby, said he and the others who filed complaints against Rosenquist do not know what the resolution involves. He said he was under the impression they would be told about any penalties or repercussions.

“Even though I’m not happy (about not being told) ... the resolution that was reached is allowed for in the current Book of Discipline.”

Rosenquist declined to comment Tuesday, but Coles confirmed that she “will continue to serve as pastor at First United Methodist Church.”

Bishop Goodpaster was succeeded last week by Bishop Paul Leeland, who formerly headed the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church.

An earlier online version of this story incorrectly reported that the complainants in the case had been part of the agreement to keep confidential the details in the “just resolution.”