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11-16-05 Small New Bremen church takes big step over gay marriage issue

By Shelley Grieshop

  A New Bremen religious congregation has severed ties with their church over the issue of same-sex marriages.

  St. Peter United Church of Christ (UCC) has dropped the UCC affiliation following a nearly unanimous vote by members Sunday.

  The church's pastor, the Rev. Steve Wills, couldn't be prouder.

  "My people are elated over this," Wills said Tuesday. "They're reaching out in new ways, calling on others to be a part of our new direction."

  UCC church leaders, based in Atlanta, Ga., approved a resolution in July to grant equal marriage rights to all couples regardless of gender. The resolution didn't sit well with many local UCC members who are staunch conservatives, Wills said.  "We live in a very conservative community, spiritually and socially," he explained.

  Wills told The Daily Standard he's been upset with church leaders in the past for their liberal undertakings. The most recent action, adopting a resolution he and his congregation does not believe in, was the straw that broke the camel's back, he said.

  "I believe most of my congregation feels the homosexual lifestyle is a lifestyle of choice against the Bible and what the Bible teaches," he said.

  The New Bremen church and its 100 or so members is not alone in their sentiments and actions. The Versailles UCC and St. Paul's UCC in Piqua also chose to recently leave the denomination for many of the same reasons.

  Wills believes church leaders will feel the financial pain soon as contributions stop coming in from the dozens of churches which have pulled away or plan to in the near future. St. John's UCC of Archbold, who also voted out of the denomination this week, gave $72,000 last year to UCC's national coffers, Wills said.

  The New Bremen church now must look to its future and that means a lot of decisions need to be made, Wills said. Members must decide what denomination fits them best. They currently are leaning toward either the Evangelical Association, which is the roots of their heritage, or the Conservative Congregational Christian Church.

  "God will direct us, he's looking after us now," Wills said, adding services and activities are continuing as usual.

  From a legal aspect, the church must refile their non-profit status with a new charter and mission statement, he said.

  "There are a lot of questions to answer," Wills said.

  The change has been good, he said, leading many members to reassess where God is and should be in their lives, he explained.

  "He's still speaking to us," Wills added.


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