Foreword

Acknowledgements

Julie

Visible Problem Indicators

Stewardship

Agents of Change - Issues

Institutional Dynamics

The Institutional and the Local Church

Operative Theology

Prognosis for the Future

Revival - What is Needed?

Closing Remarks

Appendix N
Case Study: Ocracoke United Methodist Church (OUMC)
Ocracoke Island, North Carolina

This discusses how a church addressed the problem of a pastor's attempting to implement her will against the wishes of the membership.

August 26th - October 29, 1994. On behalf of Concerned Methodists, I became involved in the events at Ocracoke United Methodist Church (OUMC). According to what I had learned from Mrs. Kathy O' Neal, a person who admitted to being lesbian was placed in position of working with the youth and was receiving the support of the pastor, who was Lisa Creech Bledsoe. The placement of the alleged lesbian was done over the objections of a majority of the congregation, but the pastor told the worship committee that she had the support of the District Superintendent, Bill Presnell, and Bishop C.P. Minnick. Some committee members walked out vowing to not return as long as the pastor was there. I advised Kathy, among other things, to tell people to not leave and for the people to not resign their positions. Reasons for this were: It's their church; some of the people had mortgaged their homes to be able to pay for the construction of the building 51 years ago; some of the people are third generation members of the church. The pastor dissolved the choir and told those who objected that if they didn't like her actions, they could leave and, "If everyone leaves the church and we have to close the doors, then so be it."

October 24, 1994. I met with 18 people on Ocracoke at Calvin O' Neal's house to talk about their problems. Wanting to get everyone's input, I started from the position of "Why am I here?" Then we worked chronologically up to the present time of Oct. 24th. According to the meeting, the people stated that:

  • At an August 18th meeting of the worship committee, the worship committee stated who they wanted to have as choir director, and they wanted to minimize disruption. Lisa Bledsoe became angry and said, "I'm in charge. I make the decisions. You have nothing to do with it." The pastor then told the worship committee that Jolene Robinson had stated that she was a lesbian and was prepared to tell the youth the reasons for her lifestyle.

  • When Kathy O' Neal tried to speak with the pastor about the problems, she told Kathy, "If you need time, it would be okay for you to step away from the church."

  • The adult choir was disbanded by the pastor.

October 30, 1994. I attended the Charge Conference of their church, that was held during the regular church service. In the sermon, the DS who preached the sermon told the people that if they did not agree with the way things were going, they could leave the UMC. I saw the DS having the roll read so that only members of the Administrative Council could participate. The meeting saw people not members of the church and not on the Administrative Council but who were part of the pastor's "chosen few" vote on nominations and actions of the church. In addition, he refused to allow the whole congregation to vote, something that had not been done during the past fifty years, and ignored the objections of the people. I felt led to stand, ask to be recognized, identified myself, and suggested that perhaps he could allow all members to vote as had been done in the past. He stuck with his decision. Later when I asked to be recognized again, he yelled across the sanctuary, "No you will not be recognized. You are out of order! You just came out here to stir up trouble! You are not even a member of this congregation! I should bring charges against you!" Later, when he called on me to clear up a point, I emphasized that I had not gone out there to "stir up trouble" and that I had done nothing wrong. Afterwards, I went up to the DS, shook his hand, and reemphasized that the people had called me out of frustration not thinking they had anyone to whom they could turn. Then I talked to the pastor for about five minutes attempting to communicate to her the idea of ministry as serving the people's needs rather than trying to impose her will; she was adamant in her position, so I left. Later, several members of the congregation commented on "how rude the DS was;" Lisa Caswell apologized to me for his conduct and wanted to go tell him that she thought he had been very rude. I told her that it was not necessary. Several of the people standing around asked, "Have you ever seen anything like that?" My response was: "Yes."

November 5, 1995. The date of a letter to "The Rev. William Presnell, District Superintendent, Elizabeth City District" that said:
"We, the undersigned members and friends of Ocracoke United Methodist Church, respectfully request you to convene a Church Conference at Ocracoke United Methodist Church.

At the charge conference on October 30, 1994 we feel the membership as a whole was not fairly represented. Although ignorance is no excuse, most of us did not realize that there was a difference between a Charge Conference and a Church Conference. In the past, these meetings have always been announced as Charge Conferences and the membership has been allowed to vote...You pointed out the problems we have had in the past. We feel that this congregation having input into the nominations and elections of its Board of Trustees and the Administrative Council is the only way we can move forward.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you but we feel that this is absolutely necessary for our church to heal."
[Signed by 77 members and friends of the congregation of the OUMC.]

November 6, 1994. During the course of a subsequent conversation with Kathy, she was talking about the situation's being hopeless if the pastor has the support of the DS and the bishop. I advised her to ask to speak to the DS at some point in time and ask him if he knows that he has been asked to support the appointment of a lesbian to a position of leadership in the church, that he may not know it or that the pastor may have lied to them in saying that she had their support. This she and some others later did and found out that Dr. Presnell had not been apprised of this situation.

November 20, 1994. The date of a letter "To Whom it May Concern:"

"We, the undersigned members and friends of Ocracoke United Methodist Church, would like to clarify the fact that our Church has had problems for quite some time. These problems were not then and are not now due to Allen Morris as is being charged.

In a meeting with our District Superintendent in September he stated that the last three ministers "were miserable" here at Ocracoke. This covers a span of 3 1/2 years. This fact should certainly clear up in your minds any doubts you may have about Mr. Morris "stirring up trouble"out here on Ocracoke. Quite the contrary. Mr. Morris is the only one who has encouraged us to stay within the United Methodist Church. Mr. Morris was contacted in a desperate effort to find someone who could answer questions that were being raised here by members concerning Methodist policies.

When Mr. Morris was contacted, our minister had told a group of members in August that if they needed to leave the church then so be it. At our Charge Conference in October the District Superintendent told us if we weren't happy with the way things were run we needed to look for another church. (This is a little hard considering we live on a small island with access only by ferry and only one other church.)

People have left the church and no one within the Methodist Conference has reached out to them. Mr. Morris is the only person who has shown any concern over this situation. That is not stirring up trouble. That is what appears to be a genuine concern for the Methodist Church and its members. Allen Morris would have never been contacted had the "powers that be" made some attempts to deal with the situation here on Ocracoke or even shown genuine concern for the members of this congregation."
[Signed by 27 members of the congregation of the Ocracoke church.]

November 23, 1994. I received the letter from the people at Ocracoke dated November the 20th containing the signatures of 27 people attesting to the fact that I had not caused disruption at their church. In this same mailing was a copy of a request for a Church Conference (in which all members would be allowed to vote) signed by 77 members of the congregation of the Ocracoke church; this indicated widespread dissatisfaction with the October 30th conference, since normally only one conference is held per year and the average attendance at a Sunday service is 45 - 50.

November 30, 1994. Kathy O' Neal called and said that their people made a clean sweep of the elections and all of the pastor's supporters were removed from office. In accordance with my suggestion, she and a group of people met with the DS after the church conference and talked with him in private. They said that the pastor Lisa Creech Bledsoe needed to be moved because she was the problem; he agreed. She also told him that she resented Jimmy Creech's involvement in the affairs of their church (Lisa's dissolving the choir had been done when Creech was a pastor there before.). That was illegal. In response to my telling Mrs. O' Neal to ask him about his "support" of lesbianism in the church, he said that "he and Bishop Minnick did not know that Jolene was a lesbian and had not supported her being the youth choir director. The District Superintendent was apologetic to them for having lost his temper at the last meeting and stated that he had not truly understood the situation. She was effusive in the thanks she gave to Concerned Methodists and me.

October, 1994 - May, 1996. Believing that the pastor was damaging their church, and that they had not been helped by the denomination, OUMC members refused to pay the apportionments or her salary.

June 1995. Lisa Creech Bledsoe was reappointed away from OUMC.

March, 1996. I visited OUMC, met the current pastor, and was told at a luncheon "If it had not been for you (i.e., Concerned Methodists), we would not have a church today."

- Allen O. Morris, Concerned Methodists


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