At the September 1982 meeting of Affirmation: United Methodists for Lesbian/Gay Concerns in Boston, the idea of “developing a program in which local churches will declare their support for the concerns of lesbians and gay men” was approved at the business session. Mark Bowman, D.J. Porter, and Perry Wiggins agreed to develop a plan. The model of the More Light Program, begun in 1978 by the Presbyterians for Lesbians and Gay Concerns, of a local church adopting a statement affirming lesbians and gay men and inviting their full participation in the life of the local church, was adapted for United Methodist congregations.
Discussion about the need for “reconciliation” between The United Methodist Church and lesbians/gay men at a November 1982 meeting of Affirmation’s General Conference Task Force inspired the name “Reconciling Churches.” This was modified to “Reconciling Congregations” in order to clearly emphasize that this would be a local church network. At the September 1983 Affirmation meeting in Baltimore, Mark, D.J., and Perry presented a plan that set the stage for who RMN is today.
Beth Richardson and Mark Bowman served as volunteer co-coordinators in the developmental stage of the Reconciling Congregation Program (RCP). The first brochure describing the program and the first resource paper, “How to Become a Reconciling Congregation” were written and published.
The May 1984 General Conference in Baltimore amended the Book of Discipline to state that “no self-avowed, practicing homosexual shall be ordained or appointed in the United Methodist Church.”
In the early morning following the vote on the ordination ban, about a dozen Affirmation members gather outside the Civic Center in Baltimore and passed out brochures to General Conference delegates and visitors inviting their congregations to become Reconciling Congregations (RCs), in essence to dissent from the unwelcoming policies approved by The UMC.
Within one month, two congregations voted to become RCs. They were symbolically located on both ends of the U.S.: Washington Square UMC in New York City and Wesley UMC in Fresno, California.
There were 9 Reconciling Congregations at the end of that first year.
Soon, the group began to publish a quarterly magazine to address a particular theme on lesbian/gay concerns in the Church, disseminate worship/devotional aids, advertise a resource listing, and share news from the movement.
The first issue of Manna for the Journey was published, “sketched a conceptual framework and a theological context for the RCP,” and “provided resources for those who choose to be reconcilers.” One thousand copies were printed as an “act of faith.”
Thanks to the enthusiastic, generous response of the initial subscribers, the second issue, “Living and Dying with AIDS,” was published in the fall. Being one of the first magazines to devote extensive attention to the growing AIDS epidemic, this issue sells out quickly.
In 1986, supporters in the Northern Illinois Annual Conference make history by proposing a resolution to its June session to become a “Reconciling Conference.” The resolution is adopted. The Wisconsin Annual Conference adopted a resolution suggesting that its local churches consider becoming RCs.
In 1987, the first national convocation of RCs, “Empowering Reconciling Ministries,” drew 120 persons from the 22 RCs and other friends to the United Church of Rogers Park. Filmmaker Marshall Jones interviewed participants and recorded moments from this convocation, soon turning this footage into “Casting Out Fear,” the first-ever known video on LGBTQ+ struggles in Christian church settings.
That year, three more annual conferences – California-Nevada, New York, and Troy – voted to become “Reconciling Conferences.”
By the following year, the RCP’s expansion began to produce “growing pains.” A joint meeting of the RCP Advisory Committee and the Affirmation Coordinating Committee is held in January to address these program needs. That meeting resulted in decisions to expand the RCP Advisory Committee to 8 persons and to provide a half-time national staff. The 1988 UMC General Conference in St. Louis provided the opportunity for a strong RCP witness.
The RCP took “Casting Out Fear” to the 1988 General Conference in St. Louis in May 1988 and screened it every day at lunch time in a hotel meeting room. Word spread, and by the end of General Conference, the room was packed. This was the when the denomination learned of the RCP. The video played a major role the next few years in building the movement.
Also in 1988, a fall retreat by the Evangelical Renewal Fellowship in the California-Nevada conference announced the formation of “Transforming Congregations,” modeled after the RCP but seeking to change homosexuals into heterosexuals.
In 1989, Affirmation’s Long-Range Planning Committee recommended that the RCP become more autonomous. The decision to incorporate the RCP as an independent nonprofit corporation was approved at the September Affirmation meeting.
RMN consisted of 43 Reconciling Congregations at the end of the 1980s.
In 1990, 200 members and friends gathered for the second convocation in San Francisco in February. A first-ever youth program draws five youth from Reconciling Congregations around the country. The RCP is incorporated in the District of Columbia in July, and the first official board meeting is in Philadelphia in August.
Soon afterward, the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns votes unanimously (with 2 abstentions) in October to become a “Reconciling Commission,” the first such action taken by a national UMC board or agency.
Commitment services for gay or lesbian couples became a hot issue following a Washington Post story about Dumbarton UMC adopting a policy affirming such services. The local bishop declared that Dumbarton’s policy contravened his interpretation of UMC law. The resultant publicity brought a similar action against University UMC in Madison, WI, which had adopted a similar policy in 1986.
In 1992, RMN relocated its headquarters to Irving Park UMC in Chicago. That year, the Wesley Foundation at UCLA became the first Reconciling Campus Ministry.
In celebration of its 10th anniversary, RCP invites Tim McGinley, minister of music at Broadway UMC in Indianapolis, to write an original musical drama. A performance company is recruited from around the country. “The result is HOME: The Parable of Beatrice and Neal.”
In 1995, a group of students at United Methodist Student Forum reacted to continued homophobia in Church by forming Methodist Students for an All-Inclusive Church (MoSAIC).
In 1996, Traditionalists undertake a major national mail campaign with misinformation about the RCP. Resolutions calling on Reconciling Conferences to rescind their Reconciling status fail.
Five hundred RCP members and friends gathered in Atlanta for the fifth national convocation, Come to the Table, in 1997.
In 1998, a diverse group of 90 RCP activists from across the U.S. spent Labor Day weekend in a Visioning Retreat at an upstate New York campground. This spirit-filled gathering laid the foundation for the RCP’s campaign for the General Conference 2000: “Wide is God’s Welcome: Extend the Table.” Retreat participants pledge over $100,000 toward the campaign.
The initial phase of the “Wide is God’s Welcome: Extend the Table” campaign is launched in 2009 as sixty RCP activists from twenty-one annual conferences are trained in five jurisdictional Mesa (“Table”) meetings to implement the campaign in their conference. A “Reconciling Cookbook” with campaign ideas is published. “Wide is God’s Welcome: Extend the Table” posters and buttons are on display at annual conference sessions.
The sixth national RCP convocation, “Proclaiming Jubilee” was held in Denton, Texas. This was the first convocation in the South Central Jurisdiction.
By the end of the decade, RMN was 162 Reconciling Congregations, 24 Campus Ministries, and 9 Communities.
For the first time at the 2000 General Conference, parents wore badges stating “My Child is of Sacred Worth.” In addition, United Methodists of Color put forth a statement for inclusion. Soon afterward, United Methodists of Color for a Fully Inclusive Church (UMOC) and the Parent’s Reconciling Network (PRN) were formed as extension ministries of RMN.
The Soulforce witness included Jimmy Creech, Rev. Jim Lawson, and ecumenical partners. Over 200 were arrested Wednesday of the second week of General Conference.
Reflecting emerging vision and structure, RCP changes its name to Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN).
In 2001, Reconciling United Methodists and friends gather in Tacoma, Washington for “Revival!,” the sixth national RMN convocation.
The General Commission on Interreligious Concerns and Christian Unity held listening posts on homosexuality around the country as mandated by the 2000 General Conference. Marilyn Alexander, the Executive Director of RMN, Rev. Gil Caldwell of UMOC, and Sue Laurie of RMN testify in Cincinnati. They were joined by John Calhoun of Affirmation and Kathryn Johnson of MFSA.
In 2004, Rev. Karen Oliveto performed the first legal same-sex marriage in a church at Bethany UMC in San Francisco. Rev. Oliveto conducted eight same-sex services during this legally open time in February in San Francisco. A complaint was filed and resolved.At the 2004 General Conference, RMN’s witness is Watermarked: A Ministry of Assurance. It focused on the radical equality that baptism promises, which necessitates removal of exclusionary language. Daily “Remember your Baptism” fonts were placed at the doors. Hundreds of supporters wore the rainbow stoles introduced by the Parents Reconciling Network.
In 2005, RMN held Hearts on Fire!, the eighth national convocation features inspired worship, Bible study, workshops and opportunities to meet with extension ministry groups. Reconciling Ministries achieves a higher level of visibility as part of the United Methodist family as we were hosted by Lake Junaluska, the headquarters of the Southeast Jurisdiction, and as we benefited from the participation of several United Methodist bishops.
The Judicial Council Ruling 1032 accelerated the pace of congregations and communities seeking to publicly declare a Reconciling welcome. RMN also filed amicus briefs on behalf annual conferences seeking to live the reality of open membership and inclusion in opposition to 1032.
In 2005, RMN also introduced a new logo. The rainbow flames that lit up the Hearts on Fire convocation now give full color to our inclusive message in new brochures, literature, banners and more.
In 2007, RMN held its ninth national convocation: Faith, Hope, Love. The program emphasized community building and training for activism within United Methodist contexts. As Reconciling has become more visible in various settings – Judicial Council, UMW Assembly, UM Student Forum, GBHEM listening post, Christian Educators Forum, Annual Conferences and so forth – we hoped for a grace-filled transition into a United Methodist Church that holds each baptized child as dear.
In 2008, The UMC met in Fort Worth, TX, under the banner of “A Future With Hope.” Reconciling United Methodists proclaimed hope in Christ, envisioning “One Family Tree” that thrives as persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. In coalition with MFSA and Affirmation, RMN provided an excellent legislative team to inform and support delegates.
In 2009, Justice and Joy attracted over 500 individuals to celebrate RMN’s 10th convocation and 25th anniversary In the Rocky Mountains at Estes Park, RMN especially welcomed our international leaders from Uruguay, the Philippines, Nigeria and Zambia.
By the end of the decade, RMN was composed of over 300 Reconciling Ministries.
2010s and Beyond
The 2010s and beyond saw rapid expansion of the Reconciling movement, including the presence of Reconciling Ministries on four continents and over 40,000 Reconciling Individuals around the world. To stay up-to-date with what’s happening in the Reconciling movement today, become a Reconciling Individual and sign up for our email updates.