United Methodist Church is set to have its quadrennial General Conference in Portland next week, where the issue of inclusion of LGBT people and their ordination in the denomination will be discussed.
The conference scheduled from May 10-20 is expected to attract thousands of members to commemorate the work done by the church, and to review the policies including acceptance of gay clergy within the church ranks.
The UMC has its presence around the world, and each region selects delegates to represent their church in the conference. In 2016, a total of 864 delegates will be sent to Portland, and an additional 2,500 members are expected to attend the event.
At present, the UMC formally regards homosexuality as being incompatible with Christian doctrine. The denomination's policies are hinged on the Book of Discipline, which states that, "self-avowed practising homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church."
It is the only mainline Protestant denominations which has not permitted openly gay clergy.
The delegates at the UMC conference operate in much the same way as American congress to deal with church's internal politics. The representatives sit together and form a committee to review church initiatives and other proposed amendments to the rulebook, which is then followed by debate and votes on new propositions.
On May 1, 15 clergy members and candidates wrote an open letter to the denomination, disclosing that they were LGBT people.
"We are compelled now to speak out and tell the whole truth of who we are to the wider church," they said in the letter. "Ministry requires honesty, courage, integrity."
"We teach our Sunday school children to speak truth. We challenge our congregations to see Jesus in 'the least of these.' We mirror God's welcome at our communion table."
"The UMC demands that we not tell our truth about who we are in order to be in ministry. It requires us to pretend we can excise the parts of ourselves that are LGBTQI, and to present a distorted version of ourselves to the world - all in order to avoid being hunted down and kicked out for being 'self-avowed practicing homosexuals.' It does violence to our souls. It is the very opposite of the integrity that is foundational to ministry," the letter states.
They come from a region comprising churches from New York, Long Island, and Connecticut. Leaders from that area have previously rebelled against the church's policy of not accepting gay clergy. They had announced that they will not consider sexual identity of members before allowing them to be ordained as pastors and ministers.
Earlier this year, proceedings were initiated against a UMC pastor from Kansas after she came out as a lesbian and admitted that she had a relationship with another woman.
The church was set to put Rev. Cynthia Meyer on trial, according to the written code espoused in the Book of Discipline. However, she was told that if General Conference amends the rules, she would be able to continue her ministry as a pastor. But, if the conference did not change the rules, she would need to step down from her position, or withdraw from the denomination and form an independent church.