November 17, 1997
Volume 50, No. 13
Board of Trustees votes to adopt chaplains' guidelines for University, hospital chapel use
Emory's Board of Trustees voted in its meeting last Thursday to adopt a set of guidelines for chapel use, which allow same-sex ceremonies providing they meet certain criteria, recommended by University chaplains Susan Henry-Crowe and Sammy Clark.
The guidelines state that chapels on the Emory and Oxford campuses and at University hospitals "will be used for religious, educational and faculty-sponsored cultural purposes" and may be used for services led by "officially recognized campus ministers, ordained theology faculty and any clergy approved" by the chaplains' offices.
"The past four months have afforded an opportunity, led by the chaplains, to listen carefully to the hopes, concerns and affirmations of the many members of the Emory community," said Board Chairman Bradley Currey Jr. at a press conference in the Emory Conference Center following the board's meeting.
"The Board of Trustees affirms and grants to the University chaplains the authority to exercise wise counsel and sound judgment in overseeing the uses of the University chapels in a manner wholly consistent with the mission of the University, with their ordination vows and with the laws of the land," Currey continued.
Under the approved guidelines, any couple seeking to hold a marriage or commitment ceremony in a University chapel may do so through one of the 24 recognized religious groups on campus. Outside clergy are not permitted to hold such services in University chapels.
"In keeping with Emory's United Methodist heritage, which has nurtured ecumenical and interfaith dialogue, the trustees have approved guidelines that respect the traditions of those 24 faith groups officially recognized at Emory," Currey said.
Following Currey's statement, he and Henry-Crowe took questions from the approximately 25 media representatives present. "One of the geniuses of the union between Emory and the United Methodist Church is that we sometimes struggle with difficult issues until we come to an agreement, and that is what has happened here," Henry-Crowe said.
Thirty-one of the University's 34 active trustees were present at the board meeting, including four of the five active Methodist bishops on the board, along with several trustee emeriti bishops, Currey said. In executive council, the motion to approve the guidelines was made by a senior trustee, seconded by about a half-dozen others and approved without dissent. Currey said the entire discussion of the matter took about an hour, and most of the meeting was devoted to discussion of the report of the Commission on Teaching.
"Out of these conversations has grown the trustees' conviction that Emory University and the United Methodist Church are mutually committed to the noble aims of church-related higher education, of uniting knowledge and vital piety," Currey said. "While the missions of the Church and of the University complement each other, they sometimes differ. The board strongly affirms the covenantal relationship between the Church and the University."
Discussion of the issue of chapel use arose after an Oxford employee was denied use of the Day Prayer Chapel on that campus for a same-sex commitment ceremony. Of the 24 recognized religious groups on campus, two-the Reform Jewish Students Committee and the United Church of Christ-permit same-sex ceremonies.
"This decision is an affirmation of freedom of religion," Henry-Crowe said. "One of the outcomes of this long journey has been that we've come to a deeper discussion of the meaning of commitment."