Some Memories by Marilyn K. Nicely

 

The history of LGBT justice issues at St. Stephen’s belongs to all of us. As I look back I think of all of the support and encouragement that has come from church member allies. It began with the Challenges and Choices Sunday School Class study of homosexuality in the late 1990’s. Then the whole church joined the discussion in a series of round tables with speaker presentations. Everyone was cautious or even afraid. Did we want to become the “gay church?”  Would St. Stephen’s cease to be a family church?  

 

To investigate what being more inclusive would mean, the Gay/Lesbian Task Force was formed whose members worked very hard to discern how to follow through with the opinion held by many church members that we should specifically define the meaning of “inclusive” in our mission statement to include sexual orientation in order to really be “more inclusive”. A survey questionnaire was distributed and it showed that church members had many concerns, which church staff worked to address (especially our Pastor Craig Stinson). We proceeded after two votes to amend the language of our mission statement to include sexual orientation and added several other categories such as “ethnicity, race, color, ancestry, national origin, religion, age, gender, physical or mental ability”. I remember particularly the wording suggested by Roger Frech, “without regard to the divisions that have been used to separate God’s family.”

 

After the vote in favor of the mission statement, the Administrative Council created the Gay/Lesbian Ministries Committee. As a Ministry, it had voting membership on the Council. I was the first chair of the Committee. An early goal was simply to be present as a witness to the faith community that all people are welcome in God’s way and that St. Stephen’s is a safe place for all to worship. In the midst of these beginnings, Dianne Peters was appointed as our new pastor in 1999. Dianne was very supportive and arrived shortly after the mission statement had been amended. She was instrumental in making possible the transfer of YOTSO (Youth Open to Sexual Orientation) from being a PFLAG organization to becoming a St. Stephen’s youth group. This change made it possible for this support group to continue to exist under the church umbrella.

 

When I was no longer able to chair the Committee, Jennifer Wilson and David Burns took over its leadership. After Mary Jo’s passing in 2002, I returned to chair the committee and later Steve Davis joined me as co-chair of the Committee. It truly has been a journey. From fear of being a “gay church,” we have had 80 of us marching in the Gay Pride Parade and have been top fund raisers for the AIDS Walk. Amy Venable was appointed as pastor in 2007. Both Dianne and now Amy stepped forward to be the official representative of our church to the clergy in other denominations and to the public where many are not sympathetic to the path chosen by our congregation. As we realized that the Committee’s name was not inclusive, we requested that Administrative Council approve its name change to Reconciling Ministries Committee.

 

Steve Davis has provided leadership and organization skills to help us be not only an accepting church, but also to be engaged in advocacy. Three years ago the Reconciling Ministries Committee proposed an amendment to the mission Statement to include “gender identity” as a first step in becoming an official Reconciling United Methodist Church. After the Committee had made opportunities for church members to learn about and discuss the proposed change, the Administrative Council voted that the church would affiliate with the national organization, Reconciling Ministries Network, and thus officially become what we have been for a long time—a Reconciling United Methodist Church.