Pastor hails church's acceptance

November 21, 1996


Staff Writer

A church that ministers to gay and lesbian people will be invited to join the Washington County Council of Churches after council members decided Wednesday that the church met the membership requirements.

"The decision has been made. Some people are uncomfortable with that decision but it has been made, in a very messy fashion as I expected it would," Rabbi Charles P. Rabinowitz, president of the Washington County Council of Churches, said at the end of the meeting.

The pastor of New Light Metropolitan Community Church, the Rev. Robert L. Griffin, who was not at the meeting, said later that the decision made him " extremely happy."


"It's a milestone for our church in Hagerstown," Griffin said.

The church, which is open to everyone, was established in February and meets Sundays at 3 p.m. at the Hagerstown Unitarian Universalist Church building at 465 N. Potomac St., Griffin said.

Attendance ranges from between 30 and 60 people each Sunday, he said.

The council was poised for a vote on a motion to admit the church when some of the 22 council members meeting at the Congregation B'nai Abraham synagogue on West Baltimore Street questioned whether the vote was even necessary under the council's constitution.

The membership motion had been made in September by Trinity Lutheran Assistant Pastor Christopher J. Chantelau and had been tabled for two months, according to Rabinowitz.

"I think this motion is out of order," Trinity Lutheran Church Pastor David M. Buchenroth said Wednesday. "I don't think the vote needs to even be taken."

Buchenroth then made a motion that the original motion was out of order and an hour-long discussion followed on proper procedure and constitutional issues.

Chantelau tried to withdraw his membership motion but was told he couldn't because the person who had seconded it wasn't present.

At one point in the discussion Rabinowitz joked, "I'm the Talmudic scholar here and you're confusing me."

Rabinowitz noted that the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, the denomination to which New Light belongs, has official observer status with both the national and world councils of churches.

"Our constitution governs us. There is nothing in our constitution that precludes this group" from joining the local council, Buchenroth said.

"I'm trying to do this in a fashion that fits our constitution," Rabinowitz said.

He said he wanted the membership issue, which has prompted "burning letters" to him, resolved so that it wouldn't have to be tabled for a third month.

Of the 18 voting members present representing 14 houses of worship, 15 voted for Buchenroth's motion, which effectively allowed the New Light church to join the council without a membership vote.

One member opposed the motion and two members abstained.

Another motion to send a letter to New Light inviting the church to join the council and pay membership dues passed 12-3, with three abstentions.

The members also decided to set up a committee to review the council's constitution and by-laws.

The membership section of the constitution was changed last May to include not only churches "who recognize the Lordship of Jesus Christ" but also "any other faith communities who express through actions of their official body their desire to be a part of this cooperative venture."

The change in wording allowed the B'nai Abraham congregation, which had paid dues to the council for 40 years, to become a member, Rabinowitz said.

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