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Charles Meredith: A moderate Republican, a church split


Dear Friends,

Good morning. The passing of former Congressman and Bucks Commissioner Michael Fitzpatrick was very sad, but not surprising news. Mike had been battling cancer for about 10 years. He lost that fight last week and leaves behind his wife Kathy, six children and seven brothers and sisters. He was only 56.

Mike and I often met for lunch to discuss current events. He and I were Eagle Scouts, county commissioners and Republicans. While we both were moderate members of the GOP, we disagreed on party positions like abortion.

He was a staunch supporter of term limits. While I generally favor them, our political system at the state and national level does not. Legislators become more influential thanks to seniority, the bedrock of how business is done in Washington and Harrisburg. But Mike believed in term limits and left Congress voluntarily after four terms.

Before I get to former Bucks Commissioner Andy Warren’s visit, I wanted to share thoughts about the struggles within the Methodist community. After I read the prediction that the Methodists would split at their international meeting in May, I called the Rev. Lori Beth Wagner, the pastor of the United Methodist Church in Quakertown, for her take.

As you’ve read, the dominant wing of the Methodists worldwide opposes gay and lesbian clergy and same sex marriage. For example, the Methodists defrocked the Rev. Beth Stroud from its denomination in Germantown. She defied the Methodist rules by admitting that she was gay.

And the Methodists briefly defrocked the Rev. Frank Schaefer for officiating at his gay son’s wedding in Lebanon, Pa. (A year later, his ministerial credentials were restored by the church’s highest judicial board, which ruled on technical grounds and not on the ban on gay marriage.)

“While a plurality of American Methodists consider themselves conservative, according to the Pew research Center’s Religious Landscape Study in 2014, six in 10 believe that homosexuality should be accepted and nearly half favor same-sex marriage,” the New York Times reported Jan. 4.

If the Methodists agree to split their denomination, local churches will choose whether to join any new traditionalist denominations or remain in the United Methodist Church and accept gay clergy and gay marriage. Most believe that American churches will permit gay ordination and gay marriage.

“What will happen in Quakertown?” I asked Rev. Wagner. Will the United Methodist Church of Quakertown remain united or become a part of the church that permits the Lesbian Gay Bi-sexual Transgender Queer (LGBTQ) community and ordain pastors and marry same sex couples? Would the two divisions ordain separately? Would the two divisions own church property and assets separately? Does the Quakertown church or the synod own its assets?

We’ll have to stay tuned for those answers.

“We’ve worked hard on unity,” she began. The pastor won’t attend the international meeting in May but will follow the discussions closely. “We have to keep our eye on the ball. The big picture is Jesus’ mission. His mission should be our mission.”

Rev. Wagner has been the Quakertown pastor for 18 months. The term for pastors is determined by the Methodist Conference, a group of 400 churches in southeast Pennsylvania plus Delaware and Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The Rev. Wagner hopes to remain at the Quakertown church for a long term. “We’re fortunate to have warm and friendly people in our congregation,” she said.

Turning to former Bucks County Commissioner Andrew (Andy) Warren’s visit in Quakertown, next week, I’ll share his questions about the commissioners’ history in the 1960s and 1970s. Stay tuned.

Sincerely, Charles Meredith