NEW YORK -- For the first time since the United Methodist Church passed a rule in 1984 barring "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" from the ordained ministry, a church court is planning to bring a minister to trial under the provision.
The Rev. Rose Mary Denman, 40, of Portland, Maine, an acknowledged lesbian who has said she has a lover, will be tried by a court of 13 ordained ministers in a trial scheduled to open Aug. 25 at St. John's United Methodist Church in Dover, N.H. Jury selection is set for July 28, church officials said.
Bishop Neil Irons of Cherry Hill, N.J., will preside at the trial.
Denman was ordained in 1981 and served United Methodist parishes in Maine and New Hampshire before going on a leave of absence in June 1985. She has a private counseling practice and writes for a gay newspaper. She is still a ministerial member of the New Hampshire Conference.
Denman said the church still regards her as a minister in good standing -- called in United Methodism "an elder in full connection" -- pending the trial and that her travel expenses for the proceedings will be paid by the church. If found guilty she would be removed from the ministry.
Bishop George Bashore, head of the church's New Hampshire Conference, filed a complaint against Denman in May after she disclosed her sexual orientation to him.
A committee on investigation that met to decide whether the case should come to trial issued a document saying it "found reasonable grounds for the accusation made by Bishop George W. Bashore that a chargeable offense . . . has been committed by the accused."
The investigating committee identified the offense as a violation of a paragraph in the church's Book of Discipline in which "practices declared by the United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings" are listed along with other offenses that make a minister liable to trial.