The people of Two Rivers United Methodist Church, which was organized in 1833 as the first Christian church in Rock Island County, will celebrate Reconciling Sunday in worship on June 25, at 9:30. This worship service will celebrate the passing of a welcome statement that affirms LGBTQ+ people and commemorate the church’s joining the Reconciling Ministries Network.
The Reconciling Ministries Network welcome statement is as follows:
“We celebrate God’s gift of diversity and value the wholeness made possible in community equally shared and shepherded by all. We welcome and affirm people of every gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation, who are also of every age, race, ethnicity, physical and mental ability, level of education, and family structure, and of every economic, immigration, marital, and social status, and so much more. We acknowledge that we live in a world of profound social, economic, and political inequities. As followers of Jesus, we commit ourselves to the pursuit of justice and pledge to stand in solidarity with all who are marginalized and oppressed.”
The Reconciling Ministries Network is a group of individuals, classes, small groups, and congregations who affirm LGBTQ+ people, support marriage and ordination rights for all people, and have pledged to work for liberation and intersectional justice for all people.
“The vote has made it official, but we have been a welcoming congregation for years,” said Pastor Robb McCoy. “This is about making a public declaration of who we always have been.”
“I have been an ally since I was 16 and my best friend came out to me. When I discovered that he would not be fully welcomed in my church, I began my quest for equality within the UMC,” said Music Director Mark Swessinger. “When the results of our vote were announced, tears filled my eyes and my heart rejoiced. Finally, our doors were open to the LGBTQ community. One church at a time, the Church of Jesus will embrace his teaching and love all people for who they are. My heart is full.”
Two Rivers Church is the fifth congregation in the 87-county Illinois Great Rivers Conference to join RMN. There are at least two other churches in Rock Island who have made a similar statement of welcome in past years.
“We’re not unique. Although the general noise from Christianity is one of rejection toward LGBTQ+ people, the voice of Christ still welcomes all,“ McCoy said. “I can love Jesus, love the Bible and still affirm my LGBTQ+ siblings because loving another person is never a sin.”
The people of Two Rivers Church began having conversations in January around inclusivity. The goal in January was not to join RMN, but to explore the issue and allow prayer and the Holy Spirit guide their direction. After a long process, a final vote was held on June 11, and the support for becoming a Reconciling Church was overwhelming.
“As a queer Christian, born and raised a United Methodist, having my church home publicly declare their love and inclusion, their commitment to stand up for and protect the LGBTQ community, and align with social justice, has provided such relief I didn’t know I needed,” said Viminda Schafer. “It has lifted a weight off my shoulders knowing that I can freely walk into this church and be safeguarded against stigma and discrimination.”
Two Rivers Church is the oldest Christian church in the Quad Cities. Known for decades as “Old First,” the church in downtown Rock Island has hosted a free community meal on Saturdays for over 20 years. They work closely with World Relief in supporting immigrant and refugee families. The writing workshop Young Lions Roar is also housed at Two Rivers Church, and poets from the program will participate in the Reconciling Sunday celebration.
“’Do all the good you can,’ is an unofficial motto of our church, and I am so proud to be the pastor of people who put this into practice for the sake of Christ,” said McCoy. “We love Rock Island so much, and our mission is to do all the good we can for the people of Rock Island, the Quad Cities, and the world. I hope that we can make our community a little more welcoming, loving, and just.”
The Reconciling celebration will be on Sunday, June 25 at 9:30 a.m. There will be a cake and refreshments time for conversation immediately afterwards. Guests are invited to wear their pride and rainbows as a message on Psalm 23:4.
The full Two Rivers Church Welcome Statement is as follows:
“From the beginning of the Jesus movement, followers of Christ declared that there is no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, nor is there male and female. We, the people of Two Rivers United Methodist Church join in this movement of the Holy Spirit and declare that we celebrate the diversity of our neighborhood and the world.
“We welcome and affirm people of every gender identity, gender expression, and sexual and affectional orientation, who are also of every age, race, ethnicity, physical and mental ability, level of education, family structure, and of every economic, immigration, marital, and social status, and so much more. We believe that the body of Christ is more vital in its ministry when the whole diversity of the human family may enjoy full participation and leadership in the Church.
We welcome all who have known the pain of exclusion or discrimination in the Church and society, and acknowledge the pain caused by the exclusionary policies of the United Methodist Church. We will continue to work toward a more inclusive Church and invite you to join us in following Jesus Christ on the Way, marked by greater hospitality, kindness, justice, peace, understanding, and mutual respect.”