Members of the United Methodist Church of Westport and Weston this week voted to state their "faithful disagreement" with the denomination's stance on homosexuality and voted overwhelmingly in favor of becoming a congregation that welcomes the gay and lesbian community.
In adopting the resolution last Sunday to become a "Welcoming Church," congregation members pledged "the full access to our rituals and sacraments to all persons and families," including marriage, according to the Rev. Edward C. Horne, pastor of the Westport church for the past 12 years.
He said some Methodist churches adopting the welcome church philosophy "haven't gone that far," meaning that same-sex couples cannot be married in their churches.
"We decided we would," he said. Horne said he would treat a homosexual couple the same way he would treat any couple. "We welcome all people and affirm people of all different lifestyles," he added.
Horne said he has not been approached by a homosexual couple who want to be married in the Westport church, "but I would certainly be open to it," he said.
"Our church has not changed who we are," said Jerry Eyster, chairman of the church council. "We simply formalized our status Sunday when we voted to become a Welcoming Church, publicly extending a hand to all God's children. If you love God and all your neighbors, then give us your hand."
The congregation came to the decision following an extensive period of dialogue and discussion among its members, Horne said.
Horne said the issue was raised by congregation members at their annual church meeting in the fall after two same-sex marriages by Methodist clergy sparked national controversy.
In one, a pastor was brought "to trial" by the church and disciplined for having performed a marriage ceremony for his gay son, said Horne. That pastor was eventually defrocked, he said. Another former pastor, a retired dean of Yale Divinity School, also made headlines when he also performed a marriage for his son, who wed another man. No action by the church was taken against, him, said Horne. "Our bishop said, in the end, he would not bring him to trial," he said.
Horne said that some in his congregation of 400 struggled with the fact they would be breaking with top church leaders on the issue, but, in the end, they decided to take a stand -- the vote was 94.6 percent in favor of adopting the welcoming resolution.
Asked if he feels there might be repercussions for the Westport congregation for its decision not to comply with church dogma, Horne said, "Though we attempt in all ways to be loyal Methodists, there comes a point when obedience to the Gospel supersedes obedience even to the rules of the church.
"We do not say this lightly, but we believe God is leading us to extend a loving welcome to those who too often have been excluded or marginalized by the church," he said.
Horne said the Westport congregation wants to make sure "the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) persons know that they will find a safe space" at the church.
"In essence we are saying that all people will be given equal status and invited to full inclusion in the life of our church," Horne said. "We don't ask everyone to think alike; we ask them to love alike."
For more information about the United Methodist Church of Westport and Weston, visit www.westportumc.org.