103-year-old East Dallas congregation becomes third church in Dallas-Fort Worth to join advocacy group welcoming people GLBT people

Andy Smith, lay leader for Grace United Methodist Church, notes the church welcomed GLBT people for years before joining the Reconciling Ministries Network.

Grace United Methodist Church has affiliated with the Reconciling Ministries Network, making it the third church in Dallas-Fort Worth to join the organization.

The group works to encourage the participation of people of all sexual orientations and gender identifies in the United Methodist Church. The two other area churches affiliated with the network are St. Stephen United Methodist Church in Mesquite and Northaven United Methodist Church in North Dallas.

About 210 churches across the nation are affiliated with the network.

The Rev. Chuck Cox, senior pastor of Grace, said the affiliation was long overdue. The church’s administrative council approved the affiliation by an 11-to-1 vote on Jan. 11.

“There’s been a long lag time between the readiness of the church to do so and actually doing it,” Cox said.

Cox said the 260-member East Dallas church has welcomed GLBT people for many years.

“I guess I’ll be surprised if it has a big impact because we’ve been open and a welcoming church to the GLBT folks for a decade and a half,” Cox said.

Cox said the bishop for the United Methodist Church’s Dallas area had forbid congregations from voting on affiliations with the network since a 1999 Judicial Council ruling that had condemned the practice. St. Stephen and Northaven voted on their affiliations prior to that ruling, he said.

The appointment of the more lenient Bishop Rhymes Moncure in 2004 opened the door for a vote on the affiliation, Cox said.

Andy Smith, lay leader for Grace, said church leaders and congregation members had contemplated the affiliation for a long time.

“A lot of preparation and discussion had gone on around it,” Smith said. “I think when it came down to a vote, it was something everyone knew about and were pretty confident would pass.”

Smith said the church has been welcoming to all since he began attending services there in 1996.

“Certainly it’s a place that’s been known to be very welcoming,” Smith said. “We just went on the record as officially being part of the Reconciling Ministries Network.”

Smith said Grace is a growing church, and he hopes its affiliation will help people looking for a church home to find one.

We certainly welcome anyone who wanted to check us out on the basis of this,” Smith said.

But foremost the church’s leaders and congregation wanted to speak out about equality in religion.

“It is a statement about our church and principles of faith and our belief that all persons should be treated equally,” Smith said.

Grace United Methodist Church in Old East Dallas is recognized as one of the best examples of Gothic Revival architecture in Dallas.

Cox noted that in previous decades many churches made strong statements against segregation and discrimination against women, helping bring about change.

“Grace Church is proud to be identified with churches who call for an end to discrimination against our neighbors who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or trangendered,” Cox said.

Cox said he doubted the affiliation would cause a dramatic growth in the church.

“I would be so delighted if this had a huge impact on our growth, and I’ll be happily surprised if it does,” Cox said.

Grace is a 103-year-old congregation in Old East Dallas. It sponsors the Agape Medical Clinic, a legal clinic, a pre-school for non-English speaking children and Grace Miracle Works. It is also the rehearsal home of Turtle Creek Chorale and host to the Creations of Faith, the North Texas Refugee Center and the Center for Survivors of Torture. The church building is known to be one of the best examples of Gothic Revival architecture in Dallas, and it has city, state and national historic markers.

For information visit www.graceumcdallas.org.

For information about Reconciling Ministries Network visit www.rmnetwork.org.

E-mail webb@dallasvoice.com

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, June 23, 2006.
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