Cassopolis United Methodist Church loses pastor

Published 11:58 am Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Rev. Benjamin David Hutchison resigned from the Cassopolis United Methodist Church after the district superintendent found out he had a gay partner and gave him the ultimatum to resign or be fired. (Scott Rose photo)

The Rev. Benjamin David Hutchison resigned from the Cassopolis United Methodist Church after the district superintendent found out he had a gay partner and gave him the ultimatum to resign or be fired. (Scott Rose photo)

The Rev. Benjamin David Hutchison plans to celebrate one of the happiest days of his life later this week.

Days earlier, though, he experienced what is likely one of his worst.

Just weeks after the Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriages legal in all 50 states, Hutchison says he resigned because he faced being fired for having a gay partner.

“It is difficult because the church is just now standing on its own two feet,” he said. “Being the church with bright red doors, two steeples and wide-open doors, hearts and minds, it is difficult because the congregation is grieving, the people are grieving and I dislike seeing them hurt.”

Hutchison came to the Cass United Methodist Church three years ago. He resigned Monday night after being given the choice between being fired or resigning by West Michigan Conference of the United Methodist Church Superintendent the Rev. John Boley.

Boley was scheduled to address the congregation about the decision Wednesday night.

The fact that Hutchison was gay was known by many of the church members as well as many in the community. He said he had not been asked about his partner until Monday.

Hours after his inquisition, the pastor was without a job.

He felt the timing was a bit strange.

“Everything has been going so well for so long,” Hutchison said. “We got ourselves financially solvent. We were projected to be $20,000 behind the first Sunday of July and we are currently $950 over our projected budget. For a small rural church, that is rare.”

According to a statement released by the Methodist Church, “This subject has been passionately debated for a very long time in our denomination.  In May 2016, clergy and laity from around the world will meet in Portland, Oregon for General Conference, where discussions are expected to take place on the church’s official position on these matters.”

According to the Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline, the church is open to everyone, but practicing homosexuals are not allowed to be ordained as ministers or appointed to serve in the church.

Hutchison said he was well aware of the doctrine, but feels it is contrary to what the Methodist Church stands for.

“Even people knowing that their pastor is gay and has a partner is rare. But we quadrupled the congregation above and beyond that,” Hutchison said. “My understanding is somebody made it formally known to the district and they have to respond. They followed their protocol.”

He does not feel that the district learned he had a partner from within the church.

“I do not believe it is within our church or even our county,” Hutchison said. “I believe it could be within the domination or even world-wide.”

Hutchison, who told Boley he had a partner, took Monty Hutchison’s last name two years ago in Kent County.

“I said I would never deny that I have one, so yes, I do have a partner,” Hutchison said he answered when asked. “We legally share a last name. I called Boley. He called me back and by 7 p.m. Monday evening I resigned under the circumstances of a forced resignation.”

Hutchison said he and Monty were planning to get married in February, whether the church accepted it or not.

“It wasn’t a problem for this congregation,” he said. “Monty knew I wanted Monica Kennedy (Cass County Clerk/Register) to be involved. I wanted her to give me the document. He knew the congregation I wanted to be with. So not knowing what the future holds, we proceeded with it right away.”

With the recent decision to resign from his job, Hutchison and his partner have decided to proceed with the union now, and they plan to be married Friday.

Hutchison has a master’s degree in social work and said he would like to put that to use. The plans is for he and Monty to move to Ann Arbor where he will seek employment in that field.

Hutchison has mixed feelings about his departure.

“I hold on to the good that this is the next chapter in our life together,” he said. “What that looks like we are not necessarily sure.  There is a lot of anger and hurt in the congregation right now and in the community. I feel like I have been the community’s pastor for so long that I need to help them heal before I walk away.”

“I certainly support him in whatever he chooses to do,” Monty said. “Certainly it is heartbreaking for him and the congregation, but everything will work out. It certainly would have been more ideal if it had been on our terms rather than somebody coming in and saying basically you are not good enough to be a part of our structure.”

Bill Loux, who is a member of the Cass United Methodist Church, said that the congregation is shocked and angered by the decision.

“We had a big prayer meeting at the parsonage,” Loux said. “People are just very upset and confused and very disappointed in our own church. It is like a double standard. It is almost like they are saying it is not okay to be gay.”

Loux said, at first, he had his reservations about Hutchison, but they quickly faded and were replaced with admiration for his pastor.

“We are all fine with it,” Loux said. “We have been introduced to Monty and he is a good person. Our good reverend, he just loves one guy. He is fine. I never thought I would see the day 10 years ago that I would feel so strongly about a gay man. But this guy saved our church. He has done so much. When he came here we were going under. He has revived our church.

“He worked for nothing for the longest time. He said ‘God will take care of me.’ When they sent him I thought it would ruin our church because I thought older people wouldn’t accept it. But almost immediately they loved this guy. He is so good. He is a great storyteller. He pulls you in and you can just tell he loves what he does.”

Hutchison said he could have lied and kept his job, but that would be unfair to Monty and himself.

“It is what it is,” he said. “We can’t change it.”