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26 Years of Welcoming Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Persons

reconciling symbolVictories for gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual rights over more than a quarter century are not enough for Dumbarton United Methodist Church. At its 26th anniversary service of being a Reconciling Congregation, the ground-breaking church in Georgetown chalenged attendees to push for more. “The World Is About to Turn” was the theme of the Feb. 10 service at 11 a.m., in which Dumbarton looked back at the progress made since the congregation became one of the few to openly welcome people who had  been ignored or rejected by most other religious congregations.

Since then, the church has been at the forefront of the Reconciling Movement and for getting other churches to embrace equality. In 2010 it became the first United Methodist church in Washington, DC to openly conduct marriages of people of the same gender despite the parent denomination's ban on such weddings.  With Dumbarton as an example, dozens of other pastors and congregations in the U.S. have followed suit. The church will also celebrate the legal steps made in several states in November to accept such marriages

But that is not enough for the progressive church. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people still suffer discrimination in the workplace and are bullied at schools. They are still denied equal rights and benefits in many areas, including marriage in most states and federally.

For the 10 a.m. adult education program before the service, nationally recognized educator/activist Sally Sparks discussed “Transcending Gender,” exploring the meaning of sex and gender and the differences between the two.

The guest preacher was the Rev. Vicky Starnes, who in April will begin serving as senior pastor of Epworth UMC in Rehoboth Beach, Del., the only Reconciling Congregation in the Peninsula-Delaware Conference.

The decision to become a reconciling congregation 26 years ago was undertaken thoughtfully and prayerfully. When the church first considered the issue in 1985, only 15 United Methodist congregations in the U.S.  were part of the Reconciling Ministries Network, a far cry from the more than 450 now. Over 18 months, each committee of the church considered the issue. Seminars and Bible studies were held. Meetings were arranged with parents to address their concerns.

A year later, the church published Ann Thompson Cook's And God Loves Each One, a resource for dialogue about the church and sexual orientation, which sold out quickly, was reprinted, and is still being distributed today. Over the years, more books were published: a Spanish language version, Dios nos ama por igual, and a book on gender diversity, Made in God's Image., as well as a book about talking with children about sexual orientation, All God's Children, by Melany Burrill (now distributed at  Meanwhile, dozens of church members have helped educate other churches considering reconciling status and have provided leadership since the founding of the Baltimore Washington Area Reconciling Methodists (BWARM).

The church went through a similar process in welcoming transgender persons. According to Cook, "You really can’t overstate the leadership that Dumbarton has provided in opening up churches throughout the country to accept, welcome and invite gay and transgender people and their families... all of whom still encounter too few churches that live up to their claim of truly welcoming all people."

Georgetown Patch article on the service (similar to this Website post)