On a morning about 10 years ago, the Rev. Amy DeLong woke up in disbelief that she was still a reverend.
The day before — June 23, 2011 — she had stood trial at Peace United Methodist Church in Kaukauna on two charges. She had officiated a wedding between two women and she herself was in a lesbian relationship — or in the church’s language, was a “self-avowed, practicing homosexual.”
LGBTQ clergy and same-sex weddings were, and continue to be, forbidden by the United Methodist Church, a body of over 12 million members globally that has in recent years threatened to split over its refusal to fully include LGBTQ people into the faith.
Since DeLong’s church trial sat squarely on that debate, her case drew national scrutiny, including a story in Time Magazine. But she could barely pay attention to the uproar she had triggered, because she was certain she’d lose her pastoral rights and responsibilities as punishment.
Instead, the jury of ministers gave her just a 20-day suspension and tasked her with writing a document about how clergy could resolve issues that harm the church or could lead to future trials. An event that could have been devastating ended up leaving her hopeful that the United Methodist Church was changing.
Today, though, she’s lost that hope.
After a decade of fighting for the inclusion of the LGBTQ community in the denomination she had chosen for herself and loved, DeLong said she watched things get only worse.
She retired from her post as pastor at Spirit of Grace, a United Methodist Church in River Falls, on June 30. The robust advocacy organization she’d helped create quit the UMC denomination two days prior.
Although she said it breaks her heart that her work came to an end without producing meaningful change, DeLong said she never questioned whether she was right to do it.
“There’s nothing … that tells me that the love that I share — the adult, consensual, loving relationship I share with my partner — is anything but holy,” DeLong said. “I have always been hurt by the accusations, and I’ve certainly been hurt by the hatred that has been directed at me. But I never once thought I was wrong.”
Even if the United Methodist Church had a rapid change of heart and opened its arms to the LGBTQ community, DeLong said, the institution is flawed. The way church leaders have conducted themselves is no longer resonating with people, she said.
The decision to depart was an immensely tough one, she said, but necessary. She could no longer be an ambassador for the church, after all, if she no longer believed in the product.