Local Congregation Votes on Welcoming GLBT Members
|by Fay Jacobs|
|On June 26, the Unitarian Universalist Church of Southern Delaware (UUSD) plans to vote on whether to make official that which has long been a tradition in the congregationan endorsement of a welcoming policy for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
The congregation, which meets in a new space on Marsh Road just off Route One on the way to Lewes will use the date of their annual meeting to take the vote that has been prepared for and anticipated over the past year.
Jean Charles, who moved to this area three years ago from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, has been head of the church building committee and also spearheaded this drive for diversity and inclusion. She will become president of the church board in July.
"Taking an official vote means that the welcoming policy is spoken outloud," says Charles. Other churches and denomination may accept gay congregants, but Charles says that the Unitarian Church encourages members "to be active and be out."
The vote also means that the church is taking a stand on this issue, where other churches may not.
The history of a the Unitarian Church welcoming GLBT congregation members goes back to 1987 when the Unitarian Universalist Association established the Common Vision Planning Committee. According to the UU website, the "committee found many negative attitudes, deep prejudices, and profound ignorance about bisexual, gay, and lesbian people, which resulted in the exclusion of bisexual, gay, and lesbian people from their churches."
As a result of these findings, the delegates of the 1989 UUA General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to initiate the Welcoming Congregation program to educate its members.
The program is voluntary for each congregation as they seek to become more inclusive.
Workshops are held and members are encouraged to tell their stories. Some of the workshops held in various congregations include topics such as How Homophobia Hurts Heterosexuals; Connections to Other Forms of Oppression; Gender Socialization and Homophobia; and Biblical Perspectives on Homosexuality.
Back in October, the local congregation hosted a workshop where people had the opportunity to ask questions and discuss the concept of becoming a welcoming church. Jean Charles presented a program about the need for diversity in the congregation at a Sunday morning service, and the author of this article was also invited to speak to the congregation members. Reverend Michael Smith has offered several sermons on the topic as well.
Charles, who retired from teaching prior to her move to the Rehoboth area met her partner seven years ago at a welcoming UU congregation in Lancaster.
"We had 900 members in that church, and went through the welcoming process in 1998. When I moved here, the church was a wonderful way for us to meet people and be involved in the community," says Charles.
UUSD has about 85 members "and is growing all the time." Charles says. Prior to moving to their new location this spring, the congregation met at the Lewes Middle School.
Following the June 26 vote, Reverend Smith and the congregation will prepare a report to the national Unitarian Universalist Association, noting their vote and the preparations leading up to it.
In the future, the congregation also plans to sponsor an Interweave chaptera membership organization affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association and dedicated to the "spiritual, political, and social well-being of Unitarian Universalists who are confronting oppression as lesbians, gay men, bisexual persons, transgender persons, and heterosexual allies."
This group, much like the church's covenant group, youth group and religious education group will be an official part of the congregation.
Jean Charles wants Letters readers to know that the church would welcome more GLBT people who are looking for a place to be "free in who they are and join a progressive and free-thinking congregation."
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 6 June 3, 2005