AU clergy ordained by Methodist Church despite discrimination
Reverend Joey Heath-Mason welcomes all to his services
American University Reverend Joey Heath-Mason was ordained at the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church this past summer.
Heath-Mason has been at AU since 2016 and was coming up on his ordination deadline in 2021. If he was not ordained by 2021, Heath-Mason would return as a regular member of the church and his clergy status would be removed.
He said this decision came as a surprise considering he has been passed over for ordination previously, due to his sexuality. Heath-Mason is openly gay and married – he even has a rainbow flag cross tattoo.
Heath-Mason said he was so surprised that he asked the Bishop, “There's no taking this back right?”
This decision stood out to some as a statement by the Baltimore-Washington Conference. Despite the fact that AU and many local churches are open and affirming, earlier this year, the National United Methodist Church voted to strengthen homophobic language in church teachings and maintain the ban of gay clergy within the international organization.
“I think it means that this conference in the United Methodist Church has chosen a path of holy resistance to an unjust system,” said Ellie Crain, the intern for AU’s Methodist church.
“There were definitely moments where emotionally it put me in some low places, because I see the work I'm doing and if not for my sexuality and my marriage there would be no issue,” Heath-Mason said. “What matters to me is that I get to continue to do this, it comes back to showing up here on campus, and being there for students and being able to create community and create space.”
Elyse Halpern, a sophomore and the president of the United Methodist Student Association, said Heath-Mason used to have to wear his stole around his waist before he was ordained.
“The first day I came back and saw it around his neck it was super exciting,” Halpern said.
After college, Heath-Mason felt a call to ministry in 2009 and started at Wesley Theological Seminary, next door to AU, where he graduated with a Master of Divinity degree in 2012. He served local churches for a few years before being appointed to serve the AU community.
Heath-Mason said that while facing discrimination is never easy, he hopes that he can help create a space for other members of the LGBTQ+ community.
“For students particularly of faith who’ve been rejected by their faith or been told that they're not welcome or not allowed to have their faith because of their sexuality and gender identity, they’ll see that even when the church says that, no one can take your faith away from you,” Heath-Mason said. “I've now made it through and that's great, but I need to keep fighting so others can follow behind.”
Halpern says that Heath-Mason always starts his services with a welcome message: “Welcome from wherever you come from, and welcome from wherever you’re going after this and welcome from wherever you find yourself right now, because everyone is welcome, because this is God's place.”
“He’s not just saying it to say it, he means it,” Halpern said.
At AU, Heath-Mason focuses on building a community for students where all are welcome. This semester, he began a dinner open to all called “Sunday Supper Club.” Heath-Mason makes a home-cooked meal for any and all students to enjoy after services on Sunday evenings.
“It is really just for anyone to come, the only agenda is coming and sitting at the table and sharing the meal,” Heath-Mason said.