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New England's largest UCC church breaks away over gay issues

New England's largest UCC church breaks away over gay issues

Citing a difference in beliefs over homosexuality, the largest United Church of Christ church in New England has decided to break away from its parent group and return to the independent status it had for most of its 369-year history. Nearly 90% of members of the First Church of Christ in Wethersfield, Conn., voted in favor of leaving the UCC Sunday. The vote was 510-59 in favor of breaking away. Leaders of First Church say the UCC has embraced homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and other ideas that do not conform to their views of the Bible. The congregation held hands and sang a hymn in the sanctuary of the church's historic meetinghouse after the vote. A similar vote last year failed by a slim margin. Pastor J. Jey Deifell Jr., who voted to remain in the UCC last year, voted to leave the main group Sunday, saying he saw "no hope" that he and other conservative pastors could effect change. "I was hoping that we could make some changes from within, but I was frustrated because, like other conservative pastors, I felt unwelcome, prejudicially barred from participating in the life of the church," Deifell said. The United Church of Christ is a nonhierarchical denomination with a general synod that meets every two years and is governed by a state conference made up of delegates from each of the member churches. Each church conducts its affairs autonomously under the philosophy that the United Church of Christ "speaks to but not for" its churches. First Church voted to join the UCC in 1961. Of 257 churches now belonging to the UCC Connecticut Conference, 24 are what is known as "open and affirming," meaning that they accept homosexuality and give recognition to committed same-sex couples. First Church is the third in the state to leave the denomination in the past decade. The Reverend Davida Foy Crabtree, conference minister of the UCC Connecticut Conference, said Sunday that she was saddened by the vote. "We continue to be as committed as we ever have been to inclusiveness of many perspectives within the United Church of Christ," Crabtree said. "One of the freedoms of UCC is for churches to make their own decisions, and we honor their decision. We continue to believe we are one in Christ."

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