As I turned to my conversation partner he immediately said to me, “Amy, tell me about the most important thing in your life.” I wanted to tell him about Val, but I couldn’t. I wanted to tell him about her children whom we were raising together, but I couldn’t. So I talked about my cat. Now aside from looking profoundly superficial – the most pathetic part was that I didn’t have a cat at the time. My life and my loves had been reduced to telling make-believe stories about a cat I didn’t have.

Amy DeLong and Val Zellmer

So says Methodist clergywoman Amy DeLong who eloquently states the case for honesty in spite of potential consequences, and she now self-describes as an “out, partnered lesbian and United Methodist minister.” Her honesty resulted in an ecclesiastical trial in Wisconsin in 2011 that was the first in the current wave of Methodist clergy trials that may have brought the church to a tipping point in the Methodist journey toward full inclusion. In particular, Rev. Amy and her partner, Val Zellmer, were honest in registering under Wisconsin’s domestic partnership law, and Amy honestly noted that she officiated at a covenant ceremony of a lesbian couple when she filed an annual report of her clergy activity.

Reluctantly, Bishop Linda Lee pressed ecclesiastical charges. Several trial prosecutors were appointed and subsequently resigned, and the trial process barely moved forward until the seasoned inquisitor of the gatekeepers, Thomas Lambrecht, became trial prosecutor. With an angular face and a disarming cant of his head to the right, Lambrecht had become inquisitor general on behalf of Good News (an organization of conservative Methodists) years earlier, and his guiding hand remains behind many of the ongoing Methodist trials. Finally, in June, 2011, the trial convened in a small church in Kaukauna, halfway between Green Bay and Oshkosh in East-central Wisconsin. Despite the isolation, the national press followed the trial closely.

The clergy jury acquitted Rev. DeLong of the charge of being a “self-avowed, practicing homosexual” because prosecutor Lambrecht’s clumsy attempt to prove genital contact failed but convicted her of the second charge of officiating at the holy union ceremony of the lesbian couple. Indeed, the couple testified on Rev. DeLong’s behalf during the trial. Then, the jury did something radical in the imposition of a penalty. Rev. DeLong was merely to spend a purposeful twenty day suspension discerning whether or not she would develop recommendations for the church on how better to deal with clergy conflict.

She accepted the challenge of writing the recommendations.

The paper was a year in process and resulted from collaborative meetings (four of them) between Pastor DeLong, Bishop Lee, District Superintendent and complainant Rev. Jorge Luis Mayorga, Board of Ordained Ministry chair Rev. Richard Strait, and Pastor Wesley White, who served at Pastor DeLong’s request. It was presented to the Wisconsin Annual Conference in June, 2012. Her eleven page document is a tour de force for the cause of LGBT inclusion that indicts the church, its leaders, and its membership for a lack of courage. Her argumentation is summarized in the words of Dr. King, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends,” and the concept of “weeping executioners” that “describe those who express concern for the oppressed, but will not leave their place in the hierarchy of oppression.

Earlier that spring, Rev. DeLong had become the de facto leader of the gays, lesbians, and allies that engaged in direct action ecclesiastical disobedience by moving to the center of the plenary floor at General Conference 2012 and refusing to leave. Rev. Amy negotiated an agreement that allowed a gay man to offer the opening prayer for the afternoon session, and the president of the Council of Bishops, Rosemarie Wenner, began the session with an acknowledgement that harm had been done to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people during the Conference, which had once again failed to remove onerous LGBT policy provisions from the Book of Discipline. Rev. DeLong continues to advocate directly with Methodist leadership—the Council of Bishops last fall and soon with the Connectional Table, and her activities may be followed at Love Prevails website.

Rev. Amy has been an invaluable source and fact-checker for Queer Clergy, and she has offered this blurb for the book’s back cover.

Holmen has captured in detail our fervent belief in the grace of God and the gospelstrength of our cause. I am grateful that this narrative of our risk-taking saints and sages is preserved under one cover.

Where to buy the book

Print copies are available from Amazonthe publisherBarnes and NobleCokesbury, or an autographed copy straight from me. Amazon offers it in digital, eBook format for Kindle, and Barnes and Noble offers it for Nook. For iPad or other Apple users, you may order through the iTunes bookstore. Search on RW Holmen.

This is the latest installment in the series Cast of characters countdown, which are biographical snippets and summaries of the stories of the iconic pilgrims and prophets on the road to full inclusion who are featured prominently in Queer ClergyAs with all these posts, this is merely a summary of the full story, which is woven into an overarching narrative in the book. Here’s the list of prior posts:

1968 Troy Perry (founder of the MCC)

1970 Robert Mary Clement (gay priest who marched in the first Gay Pride parade)

1972 William Johnson (first out gay man to be ordained by a traditional denomination)

1974 James Siefkes (Lutheran pastor behind the formation of Lutherans Concerned)

1974 David Bailey Sindt (founder of More Light Presbyterians)

1975 Steve Webster (organized the first gathering of gay Methodists)

1975 Dr. Louie Clay (founder of Episcopal Integrity)

1976 Chris Glaser (longtime Presbyterian activist)

1977 Ellen Marie Barrett (first out lesbian ordained to the Episcopal priesthood)

1978 Loey Powell (early UCC lesbian pastor and activist)

1980 Mark Bowman (founder and leader of RMN and editor of Open Hands Magazine)

1982 Melvin Wheatley (Methodist bishop and straight ally)

1987 Ann B. Day (Led the UCC ONA for twenty years)

1990 Jeff Johnson, Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart (Extraordinarily ordained Lutherans)

1990 John Shelby Spong (leading straight ally in the Episcopal House of Bishops)

1992 Janie Spahr (Presbyterian leader of “That All May Freely Serve”)

1994 Ross Merkel (defrocked Lutheran allowed to remain on call with a “wink-and-a-nod” from his bishop)

1996 Walter Righter (Episcopal Bishop whose heresy trial opened the door for queer clergy)

2000 Jimmy Creech, Greg Dell, Joseph Sprague, and Jack Tuell (Methodist trials to punish clergy who performed covenant services for same-gender couples)

2001 Anita Hill (extraordinarily ordained Lutheran)

2003 Gene Robinson (gay bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire)

2004 Karen Dammann and Beth Stroud (Methodist clergy put on trial for being lesbians)

2007 Bradley Schmeling and Darin Easler (defrocked Lutheran clergy who were the first to be reinstated)

2011 Scott Anderson (first gay Presbyterian to be ordained following policy change)