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Published: Saturday, 6/9/2007

Fair, service to highlight gay, lesbian resources

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE RELIGION EDITOR
Welter Welter
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A Toledo gay-rights advocacy group is planning a "resource fair" and an ecumenical worship service tomorrow to inform the community about existing efforts to make mainline Protestant denominations more welcoming and inclusive for gays, lesbians, and transgender people.

"The denominations as a whole have not been open and affirming, but there are subgroups within each of them that are seeking to make their congregations more welcoming," said Kim Welter, executive director of EqualityToledo..

Among the reform groups promoting changes in mainline denominations are Reconciling Ministries, with the United Methodist Church; Starfish Ministries, with the Lutheran Parent Support Club; Our Whole Lives, Unitarian Universalist; Lutherans Concerned, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and More Light Presbyterians, from the Presbyterian Church (USA).

"Sometimes people don't even realize that these kinds of materials are available," Ms. Welter said.

Those groups will be represented tomorrow at the resource fair, starting at 2 p.m. at Trinity Episcopal Church, One Trinity Plaza, at the corner of Summit and St. Clair streets.

The Rev. Cheri Holdridge, pastor of Central United Methodist Church, sees the resource fair as an opportunity to educate people about the programs and efforts already under way.

"As the pastor of a church that has been welcoming to gay and lesbian folks for over 20 years, I realize there's been only a handful of churches that have been welcoming in Toledo," Ms. Holdridge said. "I am hopeful and encouraged that in the next 5 to 10 years many more churches will join us. And I think the ministry fair on Sunday afternoon is a great opportunity for churches to learn about resources and partnerships that are available to them."

The fair, which will also provide food, music, and activities for children, will be followed by an ecumenical service led by the Rev. Kelly O'Connell, rector of St. Mark's Episcopal Church, and Jim Bischoff.

EqualityToledo, which has about 300 members, was founded two years ago to promote civil rights for gays, lesbians, and transgender individuals.

The group recently began reaching out to the church community, Ms. Welter said.

"We want to connect ourselves with friendly churches because it's a playing field that was empty for so long," she said. "For so long, gays, lesbians, and transgender people stayed away from religion, and we need to get on the playing field."

Ms. Welter said some pastors who are supportive of EqualityToledo's efforts have been afraid to speak up publicly, but that if their churches get involved from a grass-roots level the clerics are more likely to get involved.

She also noted progress being made in churches that reject condone gay marriages and the ordination of openly gay clergy.

"The votes are getting closer and the conversations less acrimonious," she said, citing one local church's recent debate on gay marriage. "They actually had a good conversation. It's a slow but progressive thing."

EqualityToledo is not seeking to impose its values on any religious group, she added.

"It's not our intent to force any church to do anything it's uncomfortable with. But we think they should be able to make up their own minds," Ms. Welter said. "If they want to be welcoming and inclusive, we certainly want to support that. But we wouldn't want to force anything."

Contact David Yonke at:

dyonke@theblade.com

or 419-724-6154.



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