Cantor Sherry Allen, from left, Beth El Binah President Josh Manes, with Northaven’s pastor, the Rev. Eric Folkerth. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Northaven congregation members say they are ‘heartbroken’ over the move

DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer
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After 17 years as pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, the Rev. Eric Folkerth is being transferred to The Woods United Methodist Church in Grand Prairie.

Folkerth is the longest-tenured pastor at Northaven, which was founded in the 1950s. Remaining at one congregation that size for that long is unusual in the Methodist church. However, his passion for equality is part of what prompted the move.

Northaven chair of the Board of Trustees Nan Arnold called Folkerth’s move “bittersweet.”

“I’ll miss him,” she said. “I consider him my friend, and it’s hard to see him go.”

But Arnold is confident about the congregation’s future. Folkerth will be replaced by the Rev. Marti Soper, and Arnold said, “She’s going to be great.”

About 12 years ago, with Folkerth at the helm, the Northaven congregation constructed a new building. Arnold acted as contractor, and she said there was lots of teamwork that went into that effort.

Also, during his tenure, Northaven became a reconciling congregation and a Black Tie Dinner beneficiary. For his work toward LGBT equality, Folkerth won Black Tie’s Ray 2017 Kuchling Award for service to the community.

Although same-sex weddings are forbidden by the Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline, a number of congregations — including Northaven and Oak Lawn UMC — have decided to perform them. Next February, a conference will meet to discuss a proposal to allow each church and minister to decide whether to perform same-sex marriages.

But Folkerth didn’t want to put all of the reason for the decision to move him on one issue.

“There comes a time where I’ve stayed too long,” Folkerth said. “I love this church way too much to let that happen.”

He said new leadership would help the church grow.

As for his new church, Folkerth said, “They believe I’m a good fit, especially for growth in the contemporary worship service.”

He said she was looking forward to serving The Woods, because it’s one of the most diverse, multi-cultural congregations in the conference.

“I was very clear,” he said. “My commitment to social justice was part of my life, values and Christian ministry well before coming to Northaven.”

Folkerth spoke in favor of gay clergy in 1993. When there was an opening at Nothaven, he was a natural fit. Northaven has a history of welcoming “the stranger.” When the LGBT community found itself unwelcome at other Methodist churches in Dallas in the late 1980s, Northaven opened its doors, before the idea of reconciling congregations was commonplace within the Methodist Church.

Folkerth is active in refugee issues in Dallas and has regularly offered programming with the Muslim community. He also opened the doors for fellow Black Tie Dinner recipient Congregation Beth El Binah, a Jewish Reform synagogue founded by LGBT community members, to make its home in the church.

After the U.S. Supreme Court issued its marriage equality ruling, Folkerth walked a thin line between equality for all of his church’s members and the mandates of the church. On Marriage Equality Day in 2015, he joined the celebration at Cathedral of Hope. But when a couple married with a dozen other clergy on the pulpit, Folkerth stepped off, because of his denomination’s mandate.

Last year, the church voted to conduct weddings in the main sanctuary at Northaven. Although no announcements were made about those marriage ceremonies and the intent was never to flaunt it in the face of other Methodist churches, a complaint was filed with the diocese against Folkerth for violating church policy. The complaint was settled, but Folkerth was warned not to continue performing marriages, so earlier this year he agreed to a transfer.

The Woods in Grand Prairie is not a reconciling congregation. Yet.

LauraMae Sorkin George, minister of youth and communications at Northaven, said she is “so sad” over Folkerth’s departure, but she added that she is also excited for the pastor. She said his new church is a growing congregation, and Folkerth would be a good match.

“He’ll have the opportunity to meet and influence new people,” she said. “He’ll bring a sense of vitality to the church,” and a sense of social justice.

“He’ll help it grow in new directions,” she said.

Several years ago, Folkerth welcomed Congregation Beth El Binah to make Northaven its home when construction at Resource Center, where the synagogue had met for more than 20 years, forced a move.

The friendship and cooperation between the two congregations have grown since the move as the two congregations have worked together on social justice issues.

“Beth El Binah was treated very well by Eric,” said the synagogue’s religious leader Cantor Don Croll. “He loved the fact that we pray in his building. We’ll miss his humor, humility and ability to speak extemporaneously. We wish him luck and hope he’ll come visit.”