Towards a Welcoming and Inclusive Church
The History of the Institute for Welcoming Resources
When looking for the roots of IWR, look no further than Mark Bowman and Ann B. Day and the welcoming church programs that they have led. Mark is the founder of Reconciling Ministries Network (United Methodist) and Ann was the spearhead of Opening and Affirming Program (United Church of Christ).
These two pioneering programs, founded in the early 1980's were joined in cooperative efforts by More Light Presbyterians, Open and Affirming Ministries (The Christian Church/Disciples of Christ), Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists, Reconciling in Christ Program (Lutheran Churches/North America), Affirming Congregation Programme (United Church of Canada) and Supportive Congregations (Brethren/Mennonite). Together they published an award winning journal, Open hands. This was followed by the publication of the study program, Claiming the Promise, and a volume of worship aids, Shaping Sanctuary.
Together in 2000 they sponsored the largest gathering of welcoming church supporters ever. After the highly successful WOW 2000 gathering in Dekalb, Illinois, the leadership of the cooperative welcoming programs decided a formal organization was needed to facilitate the growing movement.
Howard Bess, an American Baptist, and Peter Barbosa, an active member of the United Church of Christ, led the effort to bring the organization into reality. IWR was incorporated in 2002 under the name Welcoming Ministries Incorporated and attained its 501(c) (3) federal tax exempt status A seven person board of directors was drawn from the sponsoring welcoming programs. Six programs became the formal sponsors of IWR.
The first board of directors met together for the first time on August 5-6, 2002, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The board elected Dr. Michael Adee, Field Organizer for More Light Presbyterians, as its first president.
In January, 2003, the board of directors decided to do business under the name Institute for Welcoming Resources.
In 2003, GALA - Gay and Lesbian Acceptance (Community of Christ) became the seventh sponsoring organization.
The board of directors invited Arthur Butler to be the organization's first executive officer. Mr. Butler is a retired school administrator and an ordained elder in the Community of Christ living in Independence, MO. He was the executive officer from January 2004 to March 2005. Under Mr. Butler's leadership, IWR received a major organizing grant from the Carpenter Foundation.
IWR was, at that time, financed through sponsorship gifts from the seven sponsoring programs and sponsorship gifts from individuals.
In March 2005, the Rev. Howard Bess, an ordained American Baptist minister from Palmer, Alaska, and author of Pastor, I'm Gay, accepted the position of Interim Executive Officer. Rev. Bess added the weekly IWR News Service to the resources offered on the IWR web site, WelcomingResources.org, and continued to steer IWR in the forefront of the welcoming church movement.
In July 2005, the Rev. Rebecca Voelkel became the executive officer of IWR. Rev. Voelkel is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. She previously served as the Interim National Coordinator for the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns and as pastor of Spirit of the Lakes UCC. Under the leadership of Rev. Voelkel, IWR established its current headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
After many months of discussion, the IWR board endorsed merging with and becoming a program of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. IWR, as a separate corporation, was formally dissolved in February 2006. Rev. Voelkel continues to lead IWR as program director and the IWR board now constitutes an advisory board to the program.