Bishop announces resolution of complaints against two clergy who conducted same-sex weddings

By Linda S. Rhodes

March 6, 2015 - Bishop Young Jin Cho announced today that two complaints filed against Virginia Conference clergy for conducting same-sex wedding ceremonies have been resolved through the supervisory resolution process stipulated in the United Methodist Book of Discipline.

John Copenhaver
Amanda Garber

The resolutions, agreed to by all parties in both complaints, mean that the Rev. Dr. John Copenhaver, retired elder who is Professor Emeritus of Religion and Philosophy at Shenandoah University in Winchester, and the Rev. Amanda Garber, founding pastor of the RISE new church start in Harrisonburg, will both be suspended from performing ministerial functions for a time, but they will not face church trials or possible loss of their clergy credentials.

“We worked for four months in an attempt to reach just resolutions," Bishop Cho said in a statement. "We experienced many challenges, pain and difficulties along the way, but everyone involved earnestly and prayerfully sought to be open to each other and to the leading of the Holy Spirit."

In both resolutions, all parties in the complaint process acknowledge that they are “not of one mind on matters of human sexuality.” Both resolution documents reflect these different views “and the conflicts of conscience with regard to differing interpretations of scripture and church teaching.”

Recognizing that these differences are found throughout “our sorely troubled church,” all parties in both complaints “commit ourselves to work for unity and to honor the Book of Discipline with prayerful discernment and humility as those who are striving to live as faithful followers of Jesus Christ.”

Copenhaver will be suspended from performing any ministerial functions for a period of three months. Garber will be suspended from her church and from performing any ministerial functions for a period of one month without salary. During their suspensions, both will use the time for reading, prayer and reflection.

Bishop Cho said the length of suspensions differed because of consideration of Garber's ministry setting and the fact that Copenhaver is retired and, therefore, faces no financial impact.

Last Oct. 7, the day after the Supreme Court struck down Virginia’s laws banning same-sex marriage, Copenhaver officiated at the marriage of DeLyn Celec and Sarah Celec at Jim Barnett Park in Winchester.

On Nov. 1, Garber officiated at a same-sex wedding ceremony for members of her congregation.

As a result, the Rev. Larry Thompson, Winchester District superintendent, filed a complaint against Copenhaver, and the Rev. Tommy Herndon, Harrisonburg District superintendent, filed a complaint against Garber.

In addition to the two clergy respondents (Garber and Copenhaver) and the two district superintendents, Bishop Cho included the Rev. Tom Joyce, bishop’s assistant, and the Rev. Rob Vaughn, advocate for both of the respondents, in the resolution process.


Click here to read complete Complaint  Resolution for the Rev. Dr. John D. Copenhaver Jr.

Click here to read complete Complaint Resolution for the Rev. Amanda Miller Garber

Linda Rhodes is the Virginia Conference director of Communications


The Cross and Flame is a registered trademark, and the use is supervised by the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) of The United Methodist Church. Permission to use the Cross and Flame must be obtained from the GCFA, Attn: Legal Department, PO Box 340029, Nashville, TN 37203-0029; phone 615-369-2334; fax 615-369-2330

Background photos courtesy of VDOT.

The Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church
10330 Staples Mill Road, Glen Allen, VA 23060
P.O. Box 5606, Glen Allen, VA 23058-5606
1-800-768-6040 or (804) 521-1100
Click here for directions to the Center