Reconciling churches misunderstood


By Susan Major
Guest Columnist

During the recent session of the Mississippi Annual Conference, I became aware that many of my fellow delegates were confused about what a “reconciling” church is.

Some of the people I spoke with assumed that such a church would consist of a large number of homosexuals or that it would be a one-issue church, focusing entirely on “promoting homosexuality.” In my conversations I found that I was one of the few delegates who had ever visited a reconciling church; therefore, I’d like to share some of my observations.  

First, I can say that these congregations do not promote homosexuality; they do promote acceptance and understanding among all of their members. 

My initial contact with College Avenue UMC was in 2001 when I was in Boston for a conference. I was delighted to discover that there was a United Methodist church within walking distance of my host’s home. On the sign announcing times for its services, I noticed that the members called themselves “a reconciling congregation.” I had not heard of the reconciling movement before this visit and was curious about it.

So, what did I observe on that first encounter? What set their worship service apart from that of my church at home? Absolutely nothing. The liturgy and message followed the lectionary; the hymns and the order of worship were familiar; and I was greeted warmly, just as I hope a visitor is treated in my church. I observed that the congregation was integrated in terms of race, social class and generation. 

Furthermore, I could see from reading the bulletin that this church was actively involved in UMCOR and UMVIM projects. (As I have continued to visit them over the years, three times since my first experience, I have come to appreciate their commitment to mission. I learned this year, for example, that they have sent two Katrina-relief teams to Louisiana so far.) 

The bulletin also included the church’s vision statement: College Avenue UMC “is a church whose membership is dedicated to experiencing the Word of God, to receiving, learning, teaching, and sharing the Word in fellowship with Christ. We hope to open our hearts, minds, and doors in order to respond to the Word of God and the love of Christ in a way that reaches out in renewal, rebirth, in healing to all.” Certainly, I could find nothing in these words that I couldn’t embrace. 

It is important to understand that any United Methodist church can join the reconciling movement. There need not be even one known homosexual member for a church to affirm that it is open to all who wish to enter its doors. During my most recent visit, I witnessed a young family transfer its membership to College Avenue Church because, as the mother and father told me, they wanted to raise their children among such a loving, accepting community. 

In short, reconciling congregations are part of the United Methodist family and should be afforded the same rights and privileges of other groups within our denomination. 

 Major is a member of Oxford-University United Methodist Church and a lay member of the Mississippi Annual Conference.