Largest UCC church in New England votes to become independent

Posted: Friday, June 11, 2004

WETHERSFIELD, Conn. (AP) Citing differences over homosexuality and other issues, the largest United Church of Christ congregation in New England has voted to break away from its denomination.

Members of the First Church of Christ in Wethersfield voted 510-59 Sunday to leave the national church and return to the independent status the congregation had for most of its 369-year history.

The liberal, 1.3 million-member United Church of Christ began ordaining openly gay clergy in 1972. Leaders of the Wethersfield church said this stand and others affirming homosexuality do not conform to their views of the Bible. Conservatives believe Scripture bans gay sex.

A similar vote at First Church last year failed by a slim margin.

Pastor J. Jey Deifell Jr., who voted to remain in the UCC last year, voted to leave this time, 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.

Twenty-four of the 257 churches that belong to the denomination's Connecticut Conference 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.

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