Kansas City, Mo. Couples no longer will be able to exchange wedding vows at one Kansas City Methodist church, which has decided to stop performing traditional marriage ceremonies because a church rule prohibits such services for gays and lesbians.
The last traditional wedding at the Trinity United Methodist Church in midtown Kansas City is scheduled for spring and will take place as planned.
Instead of traditional marriage ceremonies, the church will offer special worship celebrations for couples that do not include wedding vows, said the Rev. Sally Haynes, the church's senior pastor.
Trinity's policy, which was approved by 92 percent of the congregation in a vote, will allow the church to treat all its members equally and remain a part of the United Methodist Church, Haynes said. About 30 percent to 40 percent of Trinity's 275 members are gay or lesbian, Haynes said.
She said the issue arose last year, when two same-sex couples asked if they could have holy unions performed in the church. The United Methodist Church's Book of Discipline states that gays and lesbians are entitled to the same basic human and civil rights as all people, but church rules prohibit same-sex unions from being performed in its churches or by its ministers. Four years ago, the church approved a definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman.
The same-sex couples thought it was unfair that heterosexual couples who were not members of the church could get married, although gay or lesbian members who tithe could not.
Bishop Ann B. Sherer, who presides over United Methodist churches in the Kansas City area, praised the church for ministering to underserved populations.
"We want them to stay within the United Methodist Church and within the guidelines of our discipline. They have indicated that they will stay within those guidelines," Sherer said.
Sherer said Trinity was the first United Methodist church in Missouri to institute such a policy, though she had heard of similar policies elsewhere.
Jamie Rich, director of the Lesbian and Gay Community Center of Greater Kansas City, said more congregations might follow in Trinity's footsteps.
"I'm very heartened by any congregation that puts the best interest and beliefs of its people first," Rich said.