Karen Turino, administration council chairwoman at Bolsters Mills United Methodist Church in Harrison, chats with fellow parishioners Sunday morning during the after-service coffee hour. Turino, who is gay, has made a public statement in opposition to the 2019 United Methodist Church’s General Conference ruling on homosexuality. Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn

HARRISON — For the first time since Feb. 26, when United Methodist Church delegates voted to enforce anti-LGBTQ policies churchwide, about a dozen worshipers attended a service Sunday at Bolsters Mills United Methodist Church.

John Baker-Streevy delivers a sermon via computer projection to the congregants of the Bolsters Mills United Methodist Church from the Bethel United Methodist Church on Sunday morning. Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn

Pastor John Baker-Streevy delivered his sermon from 25 miles away via live stream. The pastor was at Bethel Methodist Church.

Baker-Streevy of Lewiston was appointed to Bolsters Mills church three years ago. Last July, he was appointed to the Bethel Methodist Church, too. Baker-Streevy cannot be at two churches at once, obviously, so he began to alternate sermons between Harrison and Bethel.

For the first three months of the split, Baker-Streevy, reached by telephone Sunday, said there was tension between the two churches. Feelings were hurt and many parishioners felt the technological solution of streaming sermons was not one they could support.

“It’s very interesting,” Baker-Streevy said. “It’s the juxtaposition of a church divided around the issue of human sexuality, and yet here are these two little churches, which didn’t have any relationship before July 1 of last year, now linked inseparably because of the ministry we’re doing together. Somehow, we’ve found a way to make it work, together.”

Baker-Streevy supported the One Church Plan, which would have allowed regional and local church bodies to decide for themselves on gay-friendly policies.

The United Methodist Church’s General Council instead voted to uphold the faith’s bans on same-sex marriage and ban on the ordination of LGBT clergy.

“Even though the One Church Plan wasn’t perfect, even though it didn’t meet everyone’s needs perfectly, what it did do was allow space for everyone to be in a relationship together, as a United Methodist,” Baker-Streevy said.

It’s the same with these two churches. The technology isn’t a perfect fit, it’s not a perfect fit to all of the issues, but what it is is an opportunity to be in a relationship together.” 

Sunday’s sermon fell on Transfiguration Sunday, the day Jesus, on the mountain top with his disciples, was bathed in light and, after council from Elijah and Moses, took on a radical new vision for Christianity.

Following the service, the dozen worshipers at Bolsters Mills headed to the basement of the church to sip coffee and eat cheese slices, grapes and ham salad sandwiches — standard procedure following a sermon.

Karen Turino, the administration council chairwoman at Bolsters Mills United Methodist Church, moved to the Otisfield side of Bolsters Mills, across the Crooked River, and in 1993 built a home with her partner. Turino is gay, and has been involved with the Methodist Church in the village for more than 20 years.

“It’s been a long enough time to feel like it’s home,” she said.

Turino said she was driving when she heard the results of  Feb. 26. vote. She started to cry.

She said it was difficult to reconcile the familial, intense bond she feels with her small church and the results of the General Council’s vote.

“This church has  been wonderful  in terms of loving, supporting and accepting me. I’ve kind of felt protected,” she said.

I know that I’m wanted and I know that I’m loved, but there’s a part of me that feels like my religion doesn’t want me. My church does, but my religion doesn’t.”

Talk has centered around whether this division could divide the church, marking a line in the sand between traditionalists and those who embrace calls for inclusivity within the church.

“I continue to pray for a day when we can live together in the unified Spirit in a fully inclusive church,” Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar, New England Conference of the United Methodist Church, wrote in an official statement.

“I  celebrate the beauty and rich variety of gifts that God has created, and I have faith that God will create, in and through us, a beautiful incarnation of the Body of Christ for the transformation of the whole world.”

Turino said she does not want to see the church divided. But if time came to decide between the friendships and bonds she has built while worshiping in Bolsters Mills and her religion’s stance on LGBTQ issues, she would side with radical change.

“My hope is that they find this traditional plan unconstitutional,” Turino said, “and they work it out so that we can all be together. That’s my hope.

“If that doesn’t happen, I certainly would never leave this church. There’s just no way. I would hope that the church would leave, and form it’s own. I hope it doesn’t come to that.”

Baker-Streevy said while he could not specifically advocate for or against a split, his methods of  addressing congregations in his small, rural churches will not change. 

“No matter what the church’s stance is, I’m going to continue to love people, period,” he said.  “My hope is that we will continue to love everyone in fullness.”

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