WHITEWATER — A historic Protestant congregation in Whitewater has declared its resolve to be fully inclusive of all people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or any other personal or social characteristic.

This intention has been formalized in the church’s new welcome statement as the result of an overwhelming response of members and participants to a challenge facing the third largest religious entity in the United States, the United Methodist Church.

The United Methodist Church claims the ministry of John Wesley in 18th Century England as its inspiration. Wesley battled with the Church of England, of which he was a member, over the inclusion of the working class in the religious life of the nation.

Now his descendants in the United Methodist Church — a denomination that includes about 5 million of its 11 million members who are residents from outside the United States — are at odds over the inclusion of people of varying gender identities and sexual orientations.

The denomination will hold its quadrennial General Conference in Minneapolis in May, and many are predicting that the denomination will fracture over the issue.

The members and participants of the First United Methodist Church of Whitewater decided not to wait for the delegates to decide.

At the insistence of the senior high youths active in the church, a proposal was put before the congregation to declare its devotion to be inclusive. The youth insisted on saying, “All means all!” Of the almost 200 children, youth and adults who took part, the affirmative votes were overwhelming. That support prompted the church council to declare it is a “Reconciling Congregation,” making it a member of an informal nationwide network within the denomination.

Some people volunteered why they voted “yes.” “I am totally in favor,” said one. Another simply said, “It’s about time.” A third voted in favor, but added, “I still have questions.” A young girl who has two mothers said, “Because I want to keep coming here.”

In announcing the overwhelmingly positive vote in the Dec. 8 worship services, Lynn Binnie, chair of the task force, said, “Being a Reconciling Congregation does not refer to a single issue but to our faithful commitment to be reconciled to one another in all matters, without demanding that there be unanimity. We’ve always known that we are a welcoming congregation, but there are people in the Whitewater area who have heard about the stance of our denomination and who, as a result, believe that they would not be truly welcome here. As a Reconciling Congregation, we are making a public statement that God welcomes all and so do we.”

The church’s welcome statement may be found on the homepage of its website: fumcwhitewater.org

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