On a cold and rainy Sunday afternoon, more than 200 people gathered at First United Methodist Church to offer prayers for the church as it struggles with the issue of homosexuality.
Beneath the beautiful lantern ceiling and ring of glass angels in the 1895 sanctuary, retired Bishops Richard Wilke and George Bashore reminded participants that Jesus Christ commands us all to love one another.
"We need to work side by side, loving each other, perhaps then the miracle of understanding will emerge," Bashore said at the May 2 service.
Wilke gave a sweep of the history of the United States from the 1930s to the present time to illustrate how much has changed.
In the 1930s, all the preachers were men; in the ’40s and ’50s, all the people attending seminary were white; in the ’80s, people started "coming out of the closet," he said.
"At the 1984 General Conference, I supported a petition on ‘fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness.’ I have had a lot of different opinions in my life."
Since that time, Wilke said he has spent time talking to homosexuals, psychotherapists and others, and "I have learned it is not good to live alone."
"He spoke of a letter he received from a member of one of his congregations that expressed the pain and suffering of a Christian gay person.
"Why would anyone choose to live a life that leads to such abuse?" the man asked in the letter.
Bashore said he is not cheering this 2004 General Conference.
"We are divided. There is no shalom and there can be no fulfillment until all are fulfilled," he said.
Bashore said the world needs to see an alternative to violence. "The world needs to know we love, we bless and we do not curse each other."
Bishops William Morris and Mary Ann Swenson led the service in liturgy and communion.
The Western Pennsylvania task team on homosexuality and unity of the United Methodist Church organized the Service of Hope. The team of about a dozen church members formed three years ago when legislation on homosexuality was before the annual conference.
"We decided we needed to find a way to stop the hatred and talk to one another," said the Rev. David Keller, pastor at First United Methodist Church.
*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer.
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