A few years back we decided as a congregation that we did not need to simply be “inviting”, but we needed to be self-consciously “welcoming” as well. Thus began our journey to become a Reconciling Congregation.
The already diverse members of our church community participate in all areas of our church life as team leaders and chairs, liturgists and team members. About three years ago, we decided we needed a more clear way to say that our congregation, as a part of the larger General Conference of the United Methodist Church, truly has “Open Hearts, Open Minds and Open Doors.” We believed at that time and still do, that an affiliation with the Reconciling Ministries Network was the next step.
We wrote articles about our intention to seek affiliation in our newsletter. Members of our Inclusive Ministries Team had opportunities to give sermons in which we could focus on our welcome statement (“God, as known to us in Jesus Christ, welcomes all. So do we. We seek to be a caring and inclusive community. All people of any race, ethnic identity, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, economic status, religion or life situation are welcome here.”) and its meaning to us. Our pastor at the time, Rev. Tom Tate also made a mindful effort to regularly deal with hospitality and inclusiveness in his sermons. The Inclusive Ministries Team went before the Church Council on several occasions to outline their direction. Announcements were made in worship services about becoming a Reconciling United Methodist Congregation. Inclusive Ministry team members were available following services talking about some of the ambiguities of official positions of the United Methodist Church that affect the openness and welcoming of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered persons. We have made statements about offering full welcome to LGBT persons because this remains the one group which feels expressly unwelcome owing to the polity treatment of the General Conference of the UMC. We invited the congregation to join together in the journey to become a Reconciling Congregation by affiliating with the Reconciling Ministries Network. The response in our congregation was uniformly positive. There was no organized and no apparent undercurrent of opposition. About seventy-five members of our congregation (approximately 20 percent of membership, active and non-active) signed the petitions presented by the Inclusive Ministries Team. A letter of request was presented in its entirety to the Church Council and was approved for submission. We were then approved as a congregation to become affiliated with the Reconciling Ministries Network.
We believe this was a positive beginning on our journey to becoming a United Methodist Church where we can all (meaning ALL) be proud of our membership.