Bishop Peggy Johnson makes first Island visit

Gathering at the United Methodist church commended changes benefiting the LGBTQ community.


Bishop Peggy Johnson of the New England Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church is set to finish her term serving the church by the end of this month. Both she and her spouse, the Rev. Mary Johnson, made their first ever visit to the Island for a luncheon Monday, in part to celebrate changes that would “open the church officially to the LGBTQIA community.”

As voted on by “overwhelming majorities” during the recent General Conference of the United Methodist Church, restrictive language related to LGBTQ people has been removed from the Book of Discipline, which constitutes the law of the United Methodist Church. 

The General Conference was held in North Carolina, and ran from April 23 to May 3, when the changes officially went into effect.

“The spirit of that whole conference was joyful, and exciting, and positive,” said the Rev. Johnson. “And the other times we’ve had general conferences, it’s been contentious and painful.”

Previously, the written rule book stated that the practice of homosexuality “is incompatible with Christian teaching” and banned the ordination and appointment of “self-avowed practicing homosexual clergy.”

On a personal level, Bishop Johnson and her spouse said they feel a sense of hope based on the book’s changes.

Back in 2010, the Rev. Johnson came out as transgender, receiving mostly positive support. She recognized, though, that this isn’t always the case. “There’s been a lot of trans people out there that don’t have that luxury of being loved by their world,” said Bishop Johnson. 

This recent removal of harmful language has catalyzed changes that were previously attempted, and can still be further put to practice, according to the Rev. Joanne Hus, pastor of the United Methodist Church of Martha’s Vineyard.

Hus said the church is excited about the altering of the Book of Discipline, but tells members there’s still more to do. “That’s changing words on a page. We still need to change hearts and minds,” she said. “And that’s what we’re about.”

Several years back, according to Hus, there was debate regarding whether or not the Island’s Campground Methodist Church should be flying a Pride flag that now vibrantly waves outside the Parish House. “There were people who were upset about that, but sadly, they left,” she said. 

According to Bishop Johnson, the debate specifically on the language which relates to human sexuality in the Book of Discipline has been happening for years. These rules, she said, were put in place in 1972, and since then, they’ve been “made stricter and made more punitive.”

“People were working hard to try to get rid of it,” said Bishop Johnson. Now, there are still people who want to leave the church. “But we also have a wonderful, overwhelming group of people who are staying and want to move ahead with life,” she said. 

Bishop Johnson recounted her past in dealing with racism, sexism, and ableism when it came to the church. She said she remembers when having women in ministry was its own battle.

When it comes to the future of the church, both Bishop Johnson and the Rev. Johnson said these changes are a good thing. 

“There’s a spirit of hope in the church that hasn’t been around for a while,” said the Rev. Johnson.

Bishop Johnson said she was pleased to be able to visit the Island, and made a few thankful remarks at Monday’s luncheon.

“There’s no more punishment,” she said regarding the changes made in the church. “We’re all humans, and we’re all diverse.”