ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - The "extraordinary ordinations" of two women by the unofficial Church Within A Church group "has no official status" within The United Methodist Church, says the Council of Bishops.

In a statement, the United Methodist bishops declared the ecumenical ordination of a lesbian and another woman who champions gay rights, which took place Oct. 19 at a United Methodist Church in Baltimore, "was not approved by any United Methodist annual conference, board of ordained ministry or cabinet."

The ordinations "belong to Church Within A Church," according to the council of 69 active and 91 retired bishops from the United States, Africa, Europe and the Philippines.

Church Within a Church is a six-year old organization of Methodists who describe themselves as "dedicated to being the inclusive church." During the ecumenical ordination service, hands were laid on the two women by retired United Methodist Bishops Susan Morrison and Jessie DeWitt, along with leaders from the United Church of Christ, Catholic, Lutheran and Presbyterian churches and the women's sponsors.

While ordinations are ecclesial actions, the bishops said the ordination, "has no effect within The United Methodist Church," has no official status and will not qualify individuals for appointment within the denomination. The bishops upheld the clarity of the church's proscription that it does not ordain "self-avowed practicing homosexuals."

The 2008 General Conference, the top lawmaking body of The United Methodist Church, upheld the church's stance that homosexual practice is "incompatible with Christian teaching."

Although the denomination does not recognize the ordinations, the interest in the service from United Methodists worldwide, religious, and secular bodies prompted the bishops to collaborate and release a uniform response.

Effect of ordination

According to Minnesota Bishop Sally Dyck, a member of the task force that created the statement, it represents the facts about the "extraordinary ordination" and outlines the actual effect of what the ordination means to The United Methodist Church. "Church Within a Church is the one that ordained them, not The United Methodist Church," she said.

The statement also removes doubt about the standing of the women as "ordinands" and their relationship to The United Methodist Church and affirms the bishops' and church's understanding of ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals.

"It was a helpful clarification," said Indiana Bishop Michael Coyner.

The ecumenical service was held at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church in Baltimore, located inside the episcopal area of Bishop John Schol of Washington. He expressed appreciation for the council's statement, which he said "speaks for itself."

As people express their faith, there are times when the expression goes beyond church structure and polity, noted Wisconsin Bishop Linda Lee, but that does not make the ordination valid. "Our word is clear as a council that we will uphold the Discipline as it is written until it changes," she said.

A group of people wanted to ordain someone they felt had been rejected, added East Ohio Conference Bishop John Hopkins, but there "are no widespread implications to The United Methodist Church."

There are people who are unhappy with their stance and will find ways to protest or engage in acts of disobedience against the church, Coyner said. "Some may leave the church but I do not think the church is headed for a split," he added.