Leaders of five gay and lesbian groups working at getting mainline Protestant congregations "to put the G word" on their welcome mats gathered for the first time to discuss common efforts in publishing, education and planning national events.
In the last six years, the grass-roots movement has "reconciled" more than 200 local congregations in the Methodist, Lutheran, Congregational, Presbyterian and Unitarian traditions with their homosexual members.
"We're not trying to start a new church," said one organizer. "The purpose of the meeting was to share what things were working for the different programs and how to support each other. It's a dual effort. Everyone's committed to sharing what they learned with the gay and lesbian community and with the church at large," said Brian Knittel, a co-organizer of the meeting in Chicago last month.
"It's an amazingly difficult step for congregations to take, to publicly and openly affirm and extend a welcome to all gay men and lesbians," Knittel said.
Of the five programs represented at the Chicago meeting, only two are officially recognized and supported by their denominations, the Open and Affirming group of the United Church of Christ and the Welcoming Congregation Program of the Unitarian-Universalist Association.
The other three programs, which have no formal association with their denominations, are More Light, in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); the Reconciling Congregation Program, in the United Methodist Church; and the Reconciled-in-Christ program in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, headed by Knittel.
Leaders agreed to work toward designating a nationwide interdenominational "Reconciling Day of Worship," and plan a future national assembly of the local churches that would formally and openly embrace lesbians and gay men.