By Jessica Connor
COLUMBIA—A third United Methodist group in South Carolina has officially opened its arms to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Christians.
The Dawsey Sunday School Class of Washington Street United Methodist Church, Columbia, has become a member of the Reconciling Ministries Network, an unofficial caucus of United Methodists who support full inclusion of all God s children regardless of sexual orientation.
The Dawsey class joins the Grace Sunday School Class, also at Washington Street, as well as Dunean UMC, Greenville, as the three reconciling churches or communities within the RMN in this state. As part of its new status, the class has produced a welcoming statement, calling itself a caring, courageous and open community of Christian seekers.
The abundant examples as seen in Jesus unqualified love inspire our efforts, the welcoming statement reads. In the spirit of this vision, the Dawsey Class recommits itself to a ministry with love for all people. Hence, we celebrate the diversity and uniqueness of every individual regardless of race, ethnicity, culture, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, family configuration, economic condition, educational background, any physical or mental capability, as well as any other marginalized groups. We profoundly embrace the view that each person is created in the image of God and is worthy of God s love and grace. As an inclusive community, we welcome all people to join us in our faith journey toward greater love, kindness, understanding and mutual respect.
The class spent a year and a half in a discernment process, exploring God s will and voice in their desire to become a reconciling community. This process included a book study, dialogue with members of another reconciling community, a pastoral lecture focusing on the spiritual needs of gay and lesbian persons, and open and honest discussion of many issues pertaining to homosexuality.
Early on in our study, it was pretty clear to most of us what the outcome should be for our class and our society, said Rick Hepfer, president of the Dawsey class. I trust the rest of us know that everyone s feelings on the issue were, and still are, respectfully and thoughtfully heard. It s really the inclusiveness that, for me, makes the class a richer and fuller experience.
The Rev. Tom Summers, a retired United Methodist pastor, has been a member of the Dawsey class for six years and fully supports the decision.
The decision of the Dawsey Class to become an inclusive reconciling community truly brings life and authenticity to the United Methodist motto of ˜open hearts, open minds, open doors, Summers said. The biblical principles of equality, compassion and welcoming indeed are lived out in such openness for all of God s children “ gay or straight.
More than 550 churches, Sunday school classes, campus ministries and other UMC groups have identified themselves as reconciling. For more information on the RMN, visit www.rmnetwork.org.