Written by Connie Larkman
As many religious conservatives break from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) over the ordination of gay ministers, a small California parish that believes the church has done too little to accept homosexuality has become a member of the United Church of Christ.
West Hollywood UCC, a previously Presbyterian, diverse ONA congregation, was granted standing May 12 when the Central Association of the UCC's Southern California Nevada Conference received the church.
The 57-member congregation is believed to be the first church to leave the Presbyterian fold to join a more liberal church under a so-called "gracious-dismissal" policy devised by church elders to avoid contentious lawsuits over congregations seeking to leave the denomination.
Questions about homosexual ordination and same-sex unions have deeply divided the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and its 2 million members, along with other mainstream Protestant denominations in the United States.
“It's like being released from an abusive relationship,” said the Rev. Daniel Smith, who has led the West Hollywood congregation since the 1980s. "We're ready to be set free."
The Rev. Tom Eggebeen, who served as chairman of a Presbytery group that negotiated the terms of West Hollywood's dismissal, said the parent church remained a hostile environment for gays and lesbians.
"I'm heartbroken that West Hollywood left,” said Eggebeen. “I'm even more heartbroken that after 40 years of blood, sweat and tears, we aren't farther along the road.”
The Presbyterian Church (USA) allows its ministers to bless gay unions, but prohibits them from performing same-sex marriages.
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Also in the Central Association of the Southern California Nevada Conference, New Beginning Congregational Christian UCC in Long Beach, Calif., is a new Samoan congregation planted by birthing Samoan congregations.
On March 20, Tom Provencher, moderator of Lost Altos UCC, convened a short informational meeting of the congregation after worship to meet Pastor Time (pronounced “Tim-may”) Laufili and the leaders of his new-church start.
For the first 90 days, New Beginning is using the Los Altos UCC sanctuary, fellowship halls and classrooms.
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In just one year, the Community Church of Washington, D.C., has grown from a core interest group to more than 60 members.
Led by the Rev. Aaron B. Wade, “the Community,” as it is known in the area, began operations on March 6, 2011 –– one year to the date after the first organizational meeting of the church was held. In June 2011, the church was received into the UCC.
Wade hopes that the church can help restore vision to the city's 5th Ward (“Ivy City”), which has been somewhat abandoned in recent years.
The church has held community meetings to introduce others to the church, and informal committees have been organized to ensure outreach to the community, lifting up youth and young adult development, education, HIV/AIDS prevention/support and economic development.