April 14, 1998
Contact: Linda Green Nashville, Tenn.
By United Methodist News Service
First United Methodist Church of Omaha, Neb., is planning an April 19 open house and rally to celebrate the community's diversity and openness.
Church members announced the event in an April 11 advertisement in the Omaha World-Herald. The ad expressed support for the church and invited readers to the event, which will be from 2 to 5 p.m.
First United Methodist Church has been embroiled in controversy since September, when its pastor, the Rev. Jimmy Creech, performed a union ceremony for two women. The service, held against the instructions of Nebraska Area Bishop Joel Martinez, led to Creech's suspension and a much-publicized church trial. Creech was acquitted on March 13 and reinstated as pastor.
Two weeks before the ad appeared, more than 100 Omaha-area churches bought their own newspaper ad in which they censured the union ceremony at First Church.
The April 11 announcement wasn't in response to the earlier ad, Creech said. The congregation already had been working on getting signatures of support, he said.
The latest ad was to acknowledge the positive response the church has received from the community, he said.
"The World-Herald has in its reports emphasized the negatives occurring in the congregation," he said. "It has not recognized the strong spirit in the church, the active participation of the members nor the support from the larger community. The ad was an opportunity for people to express where they stand."
The First Church ad was signed by members of the congregation and people of other faiths, along with several ministers and rabbis, organizations, and elected officials. U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey was among the more than 300 people affirming support for First Church in the ad .
Anne Boyle, a member of the Nebraska Public Service Commission and a Catholic, wrote a preamble to the advertisement.
"For as long as I am able to remember, Omahans have acted with intelligence, tolerance and understanding when solving important but potentially divisive issues," she said. "Some of the public comments and actions regarding First United Methodist Church are uncharacteristic for the people of our city. As the Christian community reflects on the meaning of Easter, there is no better time than now to forgive one another and to accept our differing views without fear of alienation.
"We, the undersigned, express support to First United Methodist Church-Omaha, its pastors, its members, and all of its nurturing ministries."
Produced by United Methodist News Service, official news agency of the United Methodist Church, with offices in Nashville, Tenn., New York, and Washington.
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