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Published April 24 2012

Moorhead church exhibit features stoles of those unable to minister due to sexual orientation

MOORHEAD – A display at the First Congregational United Church of Christ here is touching on a controversial topic in the religious community.

The church is featuring 75 stoles, out of a collection of more than 1,000 based out of Minneapolis, that represent individuals of different Christian denominations and other faiths who are not able to minister because of their sexual orientation or identity.

The display was brought to Moorhead by the church’s Christian Education Board on the seventh anniversary of the congregation’s decision to become “open and affirming,” the Rev. Mark Pettis said.

That designation, Pettis said, “indicates that we welcome and affirm and celebrate each person who comes to our congregation regardless of sexual orientation.”

In this way, the display fits in with the church’s overall mission.

“It’s an important piece of our identity,” Pettis said. “It goes along with many other aspects of how we engage the world and how we understand the gospel message of God’s love for all people.”

Board Chairman Eric Espinoza, who is gay, said the stoles help break two common stereotypes – that churches aren’t welcoming or accepting of the gay community, and that gay people don’t have a role in the faith community.

“It shows that gay people fill all kinds of positions in society, including people who are called to serve a church as a pastor,” he said.

Even though it’s a divisive and controversial topic, especially among churches and congregations, Espinoza doesn’t expect the display to get much negative reaction from the Fargo-Moorhead area.

“I don’t know of any of those kinds of reactions,” he said. “And I think that says a lot about our community – that it’s a welcoming and friendly place.”

The stoles will be on display at the church through Sunday. The church is open from 8 a.m. to noon on weekdays.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535

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