LGBT History Month
St. Stephen’s Reconciling Story
(As printed in the Oct. 4, 2011, Shield Newsletter)
Sunday marked the beginning of LGBT History Month, a nation-wide celebration of the lives and achievements of the LGBT community. The Reconciling Ministry Committee has created a bulletin board in the loggia which introduces LGBT Americans you may or may not have heard of. There were many to choose from, and the biographical sketches will change throughout LGBT History month. We hope it will be a place to browse each October Sunday morning. This Shield article outlines St. Stephen’s history and our shared story of welcoming ALL. In other weeks, we will remember the contributions of some special St. Stephen’s leaders, LGBT and straight allies, whose contributions and leadership we celebrate.
On May 2, 1999, St. Stephen’s passed a resolution to make an addition to its mission statement to welcome and affirm all people without regard to differences, including sexual orientation. The journey had begun 2 ½ years earlier when the Challenges and Choices Sunday School Class planned a several-week focus, The Church Studies Homosexuality. Three months later, the class had moved from an educational “head” focus to a powerful “heart” sharing of personal story. Soon, the class was inviting ALL of St. Stephen’s family to join the conversation!
The Administrative Council sponsored four church-wide discussions on homosexuality and the church in April/May of 1997. Sessions included individual reflection on personal feelings and open conversations about differences, the sharing of personal story by family members of LGBT persons, and visits from Dr. Brandon Scott of Phillips Theological Seminary who talked about the Bible and homosexuality and a representative from the national Reconciling Ministries Network who introduced the mission and work of RMN.
A Gay/Lesbian Task Force was established to help St. Stephen’s continue the conversation. This group educated itself, explored curriculum resources on homosexuality, surveyed the attitudes of church members with a five-page questionnaire, offered another all-church workshop led by Dr. Victor Paul Furnish, a professor at Perkins School of Theology, and decided on a “consensus” approach to reaching a decision. The hope was that all voices and feelings would be listened to and valued, and the church would model inclusiveness in its decision making.
In November 1998, a church-wide vote to achieve full “consensus” failed with a handful of individuals indicating that “they could not live with” such a decision. In the spring of 1999, the Administrative Council voted to revisit the proposed change in the church’s mission statement using a regular majority vote this time. At this meeting on May 2, nearly half of the voting members of the congregation were present, and the resolution passed by a large majority. Other Administrative Council action included invitations to PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and YOTSO (Youth Open to Sexual Orientation) to hold their regular meetings at St. Stephen’s.
Living Out Our
St. Stephen’s continued to live out this statement of inclusion in our church, embracing a “Theology of Welcome” and offering people of all sexual orientations a place to worship and be celebrated as active members of a progressive faith community. Three pastors have nurtured the journey, Rev. B. Craig Stinson, Rev. Dianne Peters and Rev. Amy Venable.
2006 - First Reconciling Group at St. Stephen’s
On Sunday, November 5, Challenges and Choices Adult Class signed a “statement of reconciliation” formalizing their decision to be a “reconciling group” in connection with the Reconciling Ministries Network of the United Methodist Church. Other individuals also signed the statement. “We, the members of the Challenges and Choices Sunday School class at St. Stephen’s UMC in Norman, OK, in keeping with the global mission statement of our church – to welcome and affirm all persons without regard to any of the divisions which have been used to separate God’s family such as ethnicity, race, color, ancestry, national origin, religion, age, gender, physical or mental ability, and in particular, sexual orientation – seek to join the Reconciling Ministries Network of the United Methodist Church. We are ALL invited to God’s table. Period.”
2008 – An Official Reconciling Congregation
In August 2008, St. Stephen’s became an official member of
the Reconciling Ministries Network and amended the mission statement to also
include “people of all gender identities”. Led by our Pastor
and our Reconciling Ministries Committee, co-chaired by Steve Davis and Marilyn
Nicely, St. Stephen's works for full participation and acceptance of ALL people
St. Stephen’s family is moving beyond our walls as advocates for and models of “A Theology of Welcome” for our United Methodist family. We find ways to actively, openly, and intentionally tell the story of St. Stephen’s inclusive welcome of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. As members of the Reconciling Ministries Network, St. Stephen’s continues the work of “Creating space at the table for all God’s children, mobilizing United Methodists of all sexual orientations and gender identities to transform our Church and world into the full expression of Christ’s inclusive love.”
(Researched and remembered by Kay Antinoro, updating our historical document “Can We Discuss This & Grow As A Church?,” 2000.)