By John Wright – Staff Writer

Church’s national pastor says satellite churches are part of United Church of Christ’s plan to grow denomination

The Rev. Michael Piazza

Already known as the world’s largest gay church, Dallas’ Cathedral of Hope is eyeing new campuses in cities from Los Angeles to Orlando that could dramatically increase the congregation’s influence and membership in coming years.

The first of the Cathedral’s new campuses was launched Jan. 13 in a building previously occupied by Trinity Presbyterian Church in Oak Cliff.

Representatives from the Cathedral of Hope, which has about 3,500 members, said the new campuses ultimately would decide whether to remain part of the church in Oak Lawn or become separate entities.

The Cathedral’s plans are part of an effort by the United Church of Christ, the denomination the church joined last year, to start 250 new congregations by 2011.

“This isn’t a case of where the Cathedral of Hope wants world domination,” said David Plunkett, a spokesman for the Cathedral of Hope.

“There’s a need out there for liberal, progressive congregations, and if we can help start them, regardless of who they become, then that’s great. That’s what the UCC wants, and that’s what we want.”

In addition to Los Angeles and Orlando, other possible sites for new campuses of the Cathedral include Houston, Atlanta, Chicago and Jacksonville, Fla., according to Plunkett and the Rev. Michael Piazza, the church’s dean and national pastor.

“Who knows where it will stop?” Piazza said, adding that he’s actively engaged in conversations with interested parties from several of the cities. “Every time I turn around, somebody’s wanting to do something.”

Piazza cited a desire among gay and lesbian Christians to assimilate into mainline denominations as one of the factors fueling the parties’ interest. The UCC, which has nearly 6,000 congregations, passed a resolution supporting equal marriage rights for same-sex couples in 2005. The Cathedral of Hope is the fourth-largest congregation in the denomination.

Dave Schoen, who’s over new church development for Cleveland-based UCC, said about 100 congregations have left the denomination in response to the resolution. However, Schoen said UCC also has added more than 80 of its nearly 6,000 congregations in the last few years.

“Congregational multiplication like the Cathedral of Hope is doing is just the best way to get new churches started,” Schoen said. “We have lost congregations because of our stance on marriage equality, and that’s unfortunate. It takes a while for a new church to develop and to catch up with the loss of other congregations, but ultimately that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

The new campus in Oak Cliff, which will host its first Sunday services on Easter, won’t be the first church spawned by the Cathedral south of the Trinity River.

Eleven years ago, a group of Cathedral members started Promise Metropolitan Community Church. That was before the Cathedral’s 2003 split with the Universal Federation of Metropolitan Community Churches, the now-40-year-old gay and lesbian denomination.

Jon Haack, founding and current pastor of Promise MCC, said he doesn’t view the Cathedral’s new campus as a competitor for his churches. Haack said there are differences in worship style and theology between the Cathedral and Promise MCC.

“At some level, we welcome them coming to Oak Cliff in that it draws more attention to what’s already here,” Haack said of the Cathedral.

“I don’t think any of us would claim to be reaching all of the LGBT community.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 18, 2008консульрекламные агентства ульяновск