Half Moon Bay’s Community United Methodist Church will conclude voting next week on whether to become a “reconciling,” or fully inclusive, congregation.
The vote, which is expected to affirm the church’s commitment to supporting LGBTQ people and rights, comes as the international United Methodist Church reckons with a proposed split on the issue. On Jan. 1, new rules went into effect at the church’s international level that mandate penalties for allowing same-sex marriage and gay and lesbian clergy.
Half Moon Bay’s congregation, in line with most churches on the West Coast of the United States, has maintained its support of same-sex marriage and gay and lesbian members and clergy since 1972. That’s when the international United Methodist Church passed a motion at its quadrennial General Conference condemning homosexuality and declaring it “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
In response to the Jan. 1 enforcement changes, the California-Nevada region made a declaration of “safe harbor” to LGBTQ people. The internal conflict spurred the international church to work on mediation that proposed a permanent split within the church — the plan that is grabbing headlines nationwide.
“It has been a very long, ongoing debate within the United Methodist Church,” Half Moon Bay Pastor Lisa Warner-Carey said. “This congregation has always been welcoming of members of the LGBTIQ community.”
As news of the proposed split garners attention and a formal vote at the international level in May approaches, the timing of the local vote could send a statement. Warner-Carey said an early straw poll showed 96 percent of the congregation is in favor of inclusivity.
Members of the church can vote online or on paper at Sunday services.
“If you consider this to be your church home, then please vote,” Warner-Carey said.
Warner-Carey said the local congregation began to take steps to go through the formal process of becoming a “reconciling” congregation in response to the tightened restrictions passed last year. They brought in representatives from a national reconciling group and other church leaders to help formalize the process and have become more vocal and more willing to have uncomfortable conversations about the topic.
If the vote passes, Warner-Carey said the church’s support for LGBTQ people will remain the same as they work toward inclusivity in educational spaces like sermons and Bible studies. She also cited removing gendered participation in services and creating all-gender restrooms as inclusivity efforts they have made in the past.
“It means we’re committed to a learning process and we’re committing to do whatever we can in our local context to make the whole church be more welcoming,” Warner-Carey said.
Warner-Carey said that in the Half Moon Bay community, some people have declined to officially join the church, left the church or have withheld donations because the international rules against inclusion go against their values.
“I completely understand that,” Warner-Carey said. “The repercussions are that people stop coming here because they don’t know we’re welcoming.”
Warner-Carey said her decision to remain a pastor within the United Methodist Church has not been an easy one.
“You have to decide if you can make more difference from within the organization or without,” Warner-Carey said. “And so far, I’ve chosen to stay from within, but it’s been a tough decision at times.”