NEWBURGH, Ind (WEHT) – A Newburgh pastor has been relieved from his duties after taking part in the HBO docuseries We’re Here.
The show follows three drag artists as they travel to small cities and towns to transform locals into drag queens to promote a safe and inclusive place for LGBTQ communities. Reverend Craig Duke was a clergy member at United Methodist Church and was nominated by the River City Pride Organization to participate. According to the church, Duke has since been relieved from his pastoral duties effective on Dec. 1.
He will continue to reside at the church no later than February 28, 2022. The church released a statement saying while there is a diversity of opinion regarding the moral implications of Rev. Duke’s actions, he has not been found to have committed any chargeable offense or other violation of the United Methodist book of discipline.
You can read the statement from the church below:
My dear friends at Newburgh UMC, Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ. I pray that your Thanksgiving observances were joyful, even though they come at a most challenging time in the life of your congregation. There has been a great deal of information circulating in recent weeks concerning the status of Rev. Craig Duke in the wake of his appearance on the HBO production “We’re Here.” Much of that information has been less than completely accurate. My hope is to clarify the situation as best I’m able.
No single resolution will be satisfactory to all. I’ve received numerous calls and emails that are highly critical of Craig’s actions, and I’ve received numerous messages of support for him. In such a polarized climate, our main intent is to foster an environment in which both NUMC and the Duke family can move forward in grace.
Rev. Duke is being relieved from pastoral duties effective December 1, 2021. He will not be available to perform any pastoral functions at NUMC. He and Linda will continue to reside in the parsonage until no later than February 28, 2022, but he will not be at the church in any capacity. Rev. Mark Dicken will serve as interim pastor, with full pastoral authority, until a full appointment is made. Rev. Dicken’s compensation will be provided by funding from the Southwest District. Rev. Duke will continue with a significantly reduced salary until no later than February 28. This will, of course, pose a huge challenge for Craig and Linda.
Craig has not “resigned,” nor has he been “fired,” as these are not actions that are consistent with our appointment system. While there is a diversity of opinion regarding the moral implications of Rev. Duke’s actions, he has not been found to have committed any chargeable offense or other violation of the United Methodist Book of Discipline.
In short, Craig has reached a place where he feels unable to continue to serve in parish ministry at present. During his time of being relieved from pastoral duties, he will be engaging in a process of renewal, reflection, and recovery that will be monitored by our conference Director of Leadership Development, Bishop Trimble, and myself. Our desire is to provide an opportunity for Craig to again be able to utilize his numerous gifts as a pastor in a local congregation. He will not, however, be returning to the NUMC pulpit.
For now, I appeal to you to keep Craig and Linda in your ongoing prayers. The coming days will continue to be extremely difficult for them. I also invite you to warmly receive Rev. Mark Dicken back into your midst, and to lift him in your prayers as he leads your congregation in this uneasy season. Mark has a great love for this congregation, and I have full confidence in his ability to serve at this critical time.
I welcome your prayers for the NUMC staff, and for your Staff-Parish Relations Committee, as they navigate the process of transition to the next chapter of pastoral leadership. I also want to express my appreciation to the SPRC, and especially to Chairperson Leann Beaven, for their faithfulness in the unenviable task placed upon them. At numerous times in recent months there has been an understandable demand for information, while I appealed to them to maintain the confidentiality that their work demands. It hasn’t been easy for them.
Again, I recognize there will be more questions, and the answers that come will often be unsatisfactory to many. I readily acknowledge our imperfect efforts to Do No Harm, and I appeal to your sense of grace. As we move into the season of Advent, a time of inviting God to prepare a way through the wilderness, I will continue to lift you in daily prayer, trusting that God’s promises are true and that Christ will come into our midst once again.
Mitch Gieselman, Superintendent South and Southwest District, Indiana United Methodist Church