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The Wednesday lunch group from Two Rivers United Methodist Church, an openly LGBTQ-affirming congregation, met at Wasabi restaurant on Daniel Island Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019 and used a puzzle, which was missing one piece, as an illustration for their lesson. Wade Spees/Staff

Months after the United Methodist Church voted to tighten LGBTQ restrictions, youth and young adults in the church remain optimistic about their future with the denomination.

Nationally, reports surfaced about a Methodist confirmation class of eight teenagers who refused to join the church based on the denomination's decision to uphold its ban on ordaining LGBTQ clergy and same-sex weddings.

Methodists in South Carolina said they haven't heard of anything similar happening locally. But while UMC youths and young adults intend to remain with the church, they said they are clinging to values centered around inclusion.

Elias McCall, 16, attends St. Andrews Parish UMC in West Ashley where he participates in youth groups and mission projects.

McCall, who said he supports same-sex marriage and openly gay clergy because "we are called to be loving and accepting," said he was shocked by the General Conference vote in February. But he said he's optimistic that the church will eventually change its stance and added that the denomination doesn't dictate a person's beliefs.

“A church vote doesn’t determine whether or not you’re going to get into heaven," he said.

The UMC 2016 Book of Discipline's stance that the church "does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching” was in place when McCall was confirmed just over a year ago.

McCall said he considered at the time not going through the confirmation because of the policy but ultimately decided to go through the process. He said he agrees with the teens who refused to be confirmed because of the church's LGBTQ policies, as long as they discussed it with their parents and pastor before making a public display.

The denomination's policy hasn't deterred college-aged worshippers either, even those on tract to enter the ministry.

Morgan Byars, 22, a recent graduate of the College of Charleston and a member of Two Rivers Church in Charleston, will attend Candler School of Theology this fall in preparation to serve as a Methodist minister.

If the denomination eventually splits over the LGBTQ vote, Byars said he'd side with the LGBTQ-affirming sect.

While pastoring is likely several years down the road, he has thoughts about how he'll address the conversation within his own ministry. LGBTQ conversations have become politicized and they should be recentered around the Gospel message of God freeing people from the destruction of sin, he said.

He said the Fruit of the Spirit, nine biblical attributes that include love, joy and peace in the Book of Galatians, are evident in LGBTQ relationships.

"It seems to be totally in line with God's desire to restore humanity back to himself," Byars said.

Several congregations released statements following the February vote, stating they won't change their views. Leaders from Two Rivers Church said church leaders "will not falter in our commitment to equity and inclusion for the people of God."

While day-to-day functions at local churches haven't changed much, ministers noted youth ministries have been impacted.

At Lexington UMC, church leaders decided not to have formal teachings on LGBTQ topics in youth groups when, after the denomination's vote, parents questioned what children would be taught, said the Rev. Elizabeth Murray, youth minister at the church.

She said church leaders have encouraged parents to share those beliefs with children at home.

Moving forward, she said youth should begin thinking theologically about issues in today's world, such as sexuality, immigration and gun control, adding that young members should not allow politics to inform their Christian identity.

"This is a very formative time for youth to be thinking through what they believe," she said. “It’s exciting, but it's also scary.”

Follow Rickey Dennis on Twitter @RCDJunior.

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