Pilgrim Church, which quit the United Church of Christ last year because of theological differences that reached a boiling point over homosexuality, has joined the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches.
The West Toledo church was among more than 60 churches that left the UCC after its national synod approved a resolution in July, 2005, endorsing same-sex marriages.
This week, the NACCC's national headquarters announced that Pilgrim has been accepted as a full member.
"It's nothing that we rushed into," said the Rev. Lawrence Cameron, Pilgrim's pastor since 2000. "We appointed a team of folks that looked at several different denominations and associations and they interviewed several national leaders and of those, it came down to three different congregational denominations."
The committee ultimately recommended joining the NACCC, headquartered in Oak Creek, Wis., and Pilgrim's members unanimously approved the affiliation at the church's annual meeting in January, Mr. Cameron said.
The association has 416 member churches in 39 states, including four others in the Toledo area - First Congregational, Mayfair-Plymouth, Alexis, and Central Park Congregational Churches.
All churches in the NACCC are self-governing, with the association providing an opportunity to advise and consult other local congregations when desired. The national office collects no fees and does not infringe on individual churches' autonomy.
The organization's Web site, www.naccc.org, states that the national headquarters has "no spiritual or temporal authority over member churches or individuals," and that it is "a body purposely designed to have no power."
Pilgrim, 1375 West Sylvania Ave., was founded 90 years ago as a Congregational Church, a forerunner of the NACCC. It joined the United Church of Christ in 1964.
Mr. Cameron said Pilgrim is determined to "remain faithful to the historical, biblical orthodoxy of Christianity" and believes the UCC "had become revisionist at best, and heretical at worst."
The two major reasons for Pilgrim's choice of the NACCC are that the church's roots are Congregational and that the association does not issue resolutions or statements, Mr. Cameron said.
"The national body does not make statements that the local churches may or may not agree with," Mr. Cameron said.
That will avoid putting Pilgrim in the awkward position in which it found itself after the UCC's national synod passed the resolution on gay marriage, something that Mr. Cameron and a majority of Pilgrim's members strongly opposed.
Although the resolution was nonbinding, Mr. Cameron said the public still associated Pilgrim with the national synod's stance.
"It's guilt by association," one Pilgrim member said after the church voted to leave the UCC in January, 2006.
Pilgrim's vote to drop out of the UCC passed by the slimmest possible margin - just one vote more than the required two-thirds majority.
A number of longtime members of Pilgrim quit the church after the tension-filled vote and Pilgrim now has an average attendance of about 200 at Sunday services, Mr. Cameron said.
Pilgrim's membership in the NACCC is sponsored by First Congregational Church of Toledo in the Old West End and its pastor, the Rev. Larry Vriezelaar.
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