Update, April 23:
Bering Church has voted to disaffiliate with the United Methodist Church (UMC) and become a United Church of Christ congregation.
Nearly 75 percent of Bering’s 500 members identify as LGBTQ. The church has fought for queer inclusion in the church since the early ’70s, despite the UMC’s ban on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ pastors.
During a Zoom meeting on April 18, 95 percent of the church’s membership voted in favor of leaving the UMC denomination and affiliating with the LGBTQ-affirming United Church of Christ.
“Bering Memorial United Methodist Church’s ongoing affiliation with the United Methodist Church is causing harm to LGBTQ+ persons, their families, and allies and to the witness of the Gospel,” a resolution by Bering reads. “The United Church of Christ is an open and affirming denomination in which Bering Memorial United Methodist Church can continue to live out its Wesleyan heritage and fully welcome and celebrate ALL people as made in the image of God in all their identities, including their sexual orientation and gender identity.”
The United Church of Christ will vote in early May to accept Bering into that denomination. The Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church will vote to accept or reject Bering’s move to disafiliate on May 31.
Read Bering’s resolution to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church and affiliate with the United Church of Christ below:
“Whereas, Bering Memorial United Methodist Church desires to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church pursuant to 2553 of the 2016 Book of Discipline for reasons of conscience regarding its provisions related to human sexuality; and
Whereas, the United Methodist Church has been discriminating against the LGBTQ+ community for 49 years and continues to do so in The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (2016), ¶¶ 161G, 304.3, 341.6, 613.19, 806.9, 2702.1(b); and
Whereas, Bering Memorial United Methodist Church’s ongoing affiliation with the United Methodist Church is causing harm to LGBTQ+ persons, their families, and allies and to the witness of the Gospel; and
Whereas, the United Church of Christ is an Open and Affirming denomination in which Bering Memorial United Methodist Church can continue to live out its Wesleyan heritage and fully welcome and celebrate ALL people as made in the image of God in all their identities, including their sexual orientation and gender identity; and
Whereas, the Administrative Council of Bering Memorial United Methodist Church has unanimously recommended the Bering Memorial United Methodist Church disaffiliate with the United Methodist Church and affiliate with the United Church of Christ;
Now therefore, be it resolved that:
Bering Memorial United Methodist Church shall disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church to affiliate with the United Church of Christ, effective upon release from the United Methodist Church and admission into the United Church of Christ, on or after June 2, 2021;
Be it further resolved that the Bering Church Administrative Council be authorized to take all steps necessary to effectuate this resolution.”
Bering Church, located in Houston’s Montrose neighborhood and currently affiliated with the United Methodist Church (UMC), may soon disaffiliate itself from that international denomination and become a United Church of Christ congregation, according to Rev. Diane McGehee, Bering’s pastor since 2017.
“The harm being done is too great,” McGehee says, referring to anti-LGBTQ United Methodist policies. “We don’t want to continue to be aligned with a denomination that is hurting people at the soul level. The Bible doesn’t teach that.”
The decision will be made by a vote of the church’s membership in a special Zoom meeting on April 18, following the livestream of Bering’s Sunday morning service. If two-thirds of the professing members present at the meeting vote to disaffiliate, the Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church would then vote to accept or reject the move on May 31.
The United Church of Christ (UCC) plans to vote in early May to accept Bering into that denomination. McGehee would then transfer her credentials to the UCC, which has a tradition of affirming its LGBTQ members and being fully inclusive.
McGehee notes that Bering has been fighting for LGBTQ inclusion since 1972. In February 2019, there was great hope that the UMC denomination would vote to change its anti-LGBTQ stance during a special international conference. That vote ultimately failed by a very slim margin. The denomination then toughened its punitive measures against UMC clergy who perform same-sex marriages, and continued to bar LGBTQ individuals from becoming UMC clergy.
“It was devastating,” McGehee recalls. “There was a huge backlash throughout the UMC.” In protest, Bering stopped paying a portion of their required UMC denominational apportionment.
At the 2019 conference, an exit plan was also approved that gave local pro-equality UMC churches the option to leave the denomination within two years and assume ownership of their physical property. McGehee adds that if Bering were to cut its UMC ties, the congregation would also be required to pay $250,000 by May 1 to fully fund the pensions of previous Bering pastors. Bering is currently raising funds to meet this obligation.
Last year, Bering dropped the words “United Methodist Church” from their communications. McGehee explains that Bering members do not want to be associated with a non-inclusive denomination, as nearly 70 percent of Bering’s 500 members identify as LGBTQ.
McGehee says that Bering would continue to be Wesleyan in its theology and worship, and to be governed by its active lay leadership. If the Texas Annual Conference approves the split, Bering would become the sole owner of its building and land, which the Texas conference now owns.
To prepare for Bering’s historic vote, McGehee led 16 Zoom “town hall” meetings to discuss the proposed split with Bering members. Each meeting was limited to 15 members so that everyone could have a voice.
To assist with the required fundraising, Bering held two “Free at Last” walks on March 20 and 21. Members were asked to walk for 49 minutes, which is one minute for each of the 49 years Bering has been supporting the local LGBTQ community. Members asked family, friends, and their social-media networks to donate in support of the plan to leave the United Methodist Church. They chose the dates to coincide with the arrival of spring and the beginning of new life—both in nature and in the life of the historically inclusive congregation.
Bering Church was founded in 1848 by German immigrants who were not welcomed in other churches. The church was originally located at Milam and McKinney in downtown Houston before moving to Harold Street in the Montrose area in 1926.
After the LGBTQ community began to take root in Montrose in the 1960s and ’70s, Bering became known as a congregation that welcomed its new neighbors. During the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, the church began a support group for people with HIV/AIDS and their loved ones. This was followed a year later by the founding of the Bering Community Service Foundation and the Bering Dental Clinic, which provided a lifeline to many Houstonians living with HIV/AIDS.
In 1991, the church voted to join the Reconciling Ministries Network, a United Methodist group that supports full inclusion of LGBTQ members. Bering does not currently marry any couples, gay or straight, inside its building, as a protest against official UMC policies stating that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching” and a “chargeable offense” for United Methodist ministers.
For more information on Bering Church, visit beringchurch.org.