Schaefer’s stole: A story of courage, faith and leadership

Schaefer stole

Frank Schaefer’s stole

Today a very special liturgical stole was added to the Task Force’s Shower of Stoles Project. The stole belonged to Frank Schaefer, an ordained pastor of the United Methodist Church until he was defrocked in 2013 for officiating his son’s same-sex marriage.

Schaefer, a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, ministered in eastern Pennsylvania for 20 years before being brought to trial over his refusal to serve in accordance with the United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline, which contains rules that discriminate against LGBTQ people. Schaefer’s courageous and faithful act has sent shockwaves through the United Methodist Church and may well be remembered as a galvanizing moment for the welcoming movement within the denomination. Now a United Methodist layperson, speaker, and activist, he continues to advocate for human rights.

The back of Schaefer’s stole contains heartfelt, hand-written messages from his colleagues and supporters: “God made you a prophet.” “Thank you for your strong stance for integrity in the church.” “Frank, ordained in the spirit—an ordination that can never be taken away.” “Thank you for your witness with a father’s love.” “We are greater today because we have been blessed by your courage.”

During his church “trial,” Schaefer wore a rainbow stole. Given the opportunity to give a closing statement, he spoke confidently to the “jury”: “I cannot go back to being a silent supporter,” he said. “I must continue to be in ministry with all people and speak for LGBTQ people. Members of the jury, before you decide my penalty, you need to know I wear this rainbow stole as a visible sign that this is who I am called to be.”

Schaefer went on: “We need to stop judging people. We need to stop the hate speech and treating our brothers and sisters like second-class Christians. We have to stop harming the beloved children of God.”

Frank Schaefer’s story reveals how much work remains to be done to ensure that LGBTQ people and allies can live rich and abundant lives—including freedom from spiritual violence. The Task Force’s Faith Work program works in collaboration with faith partners from a vast array of spiritual and religious traditions, including the Reconciling Ministries Network within the United Methodist Church, to create a world where all people feel safe practicing their faith as they feel called to do.

The Shower of Stoles Project is a collection of over a thousand liturgical stoles and other sacred items representing the lives of LGBTQ people of faith. These religious leaders have served in thirty-two denominations and faith traditions, in six countries, and on three continents. Each stole contains the story of an LGBTQ person who is active in the life and leadership of their faith community in some way. To learn more about the project, or to arrange an exhibit of stoles, visit The Shower of Stoles Project site.