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A Rapid City congregation is challenging the United Methodist Church's bans on same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ pastors.

At an annual gathering held over the weekend in Bismarck, voting members of the Dakotas Conference of the UMC overwhelmingly approved a resolution pledging to work toward the abolition of the ban. The measure was introduced by Richard Wahlstrom, a member of the Canyon Lake United Methodist Church who said that the UMC's recent strengthening of restrictions on LGBTQ inclusivity need to be addressed.

"I wanted South Dakota and North Dakota to make a statement, a statement that all people are not only children of God and welcome in our churches but deserve to marry the person who they are committed to,” he said.

Delegates to the Dakotas Conference, which comprises 245 congregations and has more than 35,000 members in both Dakotas, passed the resolution by a vote of 220 to 136. They cast their votes a little more than three months after delegates to the global church approved a proposal called the Traditional Plan, which affirms an anti-LGBTQ stance and has divided churchgoers nationwide. Among its unpopular provisions is one that punishes clergy who perform same-sex weddings by suspending their pay for a year's time.

The plan was favored by a faction of more conservative delegates from the United States who allied themselves with those from Africa and the Philippines. In the wake of its approval, Brett Roes, a teaching pastor at the Canyon Lake church, said grassroots movements that oppose the plan have sprung up across the country. 

That Canyon Lake would join in standing against the UMC's decision has generated some excitement among its congregation, some of whom Roes said identify belonging to the LGBTQ community.

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"It’s a point of hope at a time when there hasn’t seemed to be a lot of hope in our denomination,” he said.

Despite passing through the Dakotas Conference with 62 percent support, Roes acknowledged that the pro-LGBTQ resolution will likely be met with objections from some congregants. He added that nearly every congregation is made up of individuals with differing political and social views, although his is "pretty good at loving each other and loving the folks in our community."

Wahlstrom, a 20-year member of Canyon Lake who served as Rapid City's finance officer from 1990 to 1995, said he felt confident that the resolution would succeed because South and North Dakotans are more progressive than is commonly assumed.

“In a way, I wasn’t surprised because this is an issue of how we treat people,” he said.

The UMC general conference scheduled for May 2020 will be attended by delegates from the Dakotas whom Wahlstrom said favor LGBTQ inclusivity and will advocate for it. The Traditional Plan is slated to take effect on Jan. 1.

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— Contact Matt Guerry at matthew.guerry@rapidcityjournal.com

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