(RNS) — The final days of 2019 are typically a time for celebrations and congratulations. But for some United Methodists, the closing days of the year may also hold a note of anxiety.
On Jan. 1, the country’s second-largest Protestant denomination will usher in new, stricter standards barring LGBTQ United Methodists from ordination and marriage. Those bans, voted on by the global denomination in February, include new penalties for clergy violating the rules.
Three days before they go into effect, First United Methodist Church of Dallas, a venerable 172-year-old downtown institution, will take the bold step of offering a special service reaffirming marriage vows — heterosexual and same-sex.
A diverse congregation of 1,800 members, with 700-800 in attendance most Sundays, First United Methodist is not an attention-grabbing church. It does not affiliate with the Reconciling Ministries Network, an organization that seeks the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the United Methodist Church. But neither does it take a hard line on sexuality. Its members span the theological and political spectrum from conservative to centrist to liberal.
Which makes the ceremony reaffirming wedding vows especially noteworthy.
Senior pastor Andy Stoker said it was the recommendation of a commission he assembled shortly after the denomination’s vote to clamp down on LGBTQ inclusion.
That commission, consisting of eight lay members and the senior pastor, met weekly and held several listening sessions with church members to assess their views on sexuality. It recommended the wedding celebration, and the church council approved it.
“It’s not a wedding; it’s a worship service,” Stoker said. “I will…