October 27, 1997
Volume 50, No. 10
Susan Henry-Crowe and Sammy Clark, University chaplains for Emory and Oxford, held an open faculty meeting Oct. 16 in Cannon Chapel to discuss the use of University chapels.
The two chaplains have been charged by the Board of Trustees to issue a report on chapel use in the wake of last summer's incident on the Oxford campus in which Chris Hightower, who worked at Oxford at the time, was prohibited from using the campus Day Prayer Chapel for a commitment ceremony with his partner, Jack Hamilton. In the wake of the incident, the board suspended the use of chapels for weddings and same-sex ceremonies.
Ostensibly held to inform faculty of the progress of their report, the chaplains' meeting turned largely into a question-and-answer session for them to address everything from semantics in the United Methodist Book of Discipline to the philosophical underpinnings of the arguments about same-sex commitment ceremonies.
Henry-Crowe and Clark explained that in 1996 the United Methodist Church amended its Book of Discipline to specifically prohibit same-sex commitment ceremonies performed "by United Methodist ministers in United Methodist churches." At issue now is the question of whether Day Prayer (and Cannon on the Emory campus) are classifed as "churches" or are indeed "chapels," which traditionally have served more ecumenical, interfaith purposes.
The two then voiced agreement that the two buildings are chapels, not Methodist churches, and that diversity should be respected in accordance with United Methodist heritage. They pointed out that two Roman Catholic masses are held in Cannon every week, among other religious ceremonies. Indeed, one couple did hold a same-sex commitment ceremony in Cannon in 1995, before the Book of Discipline was amended.
Close to 75 people attended the meeting and had many questions for both chaplains. Neither could say what their report will recommend to the board, but each welcomed and encouraged feedback from faculty, staff and students. Both have received many such letters already, and they will include the contents in the final report to the trustees.
"We're going to find a resolution," Clark said. "It's not going to be easy to do. We're looking at a number of things. No solution would be accepted in which everyone is not treated the same."
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