Oakfield will not be holding a Community Worship Service this Sunday, normally a feature of its "Labor Daze" celebration, because the issue of gay marriage has caused a rift between churches there.
The Community Betterment Committee's Labor Daze officials, after discussions with Mayor Rick Pastecki and others, opted to cancel the 10:30 a.m. service at Triangle Park on Sunday to avoid any possibility of a "brouhaha," said festival co-chair Donna Dwyer.
The service has been part of the holiday weekend line-up for 24 years -- until now.
The situation devolved from a letter to the editor published in the Daily News on May 22 written by Rev. Larry Eastlack of Oakfield United Methodist Church. It stated that while most evangelical leaders are encouraging their congregations to oppose the "Marriage Equality Act," he differed. The legislation has been passed in several states and New York is considering it, too.
Eastlack's letter said that although most Christians believe homosexuality is incompatible with Biblical teachings, "I believe it is possible to stay true to your religious convictions, whatever they are, and still support legislation that would allow homosexual persons to enjoy all the rights and responsibilities that come with matrimony."
The reverend was unavailable for comment, but his letter created a veritable firestorm in the community and it's still smoldering.
The brigade against his views is led by fundamentalist pastors at Oakfield Community Bible Church, led by Bill Smith, and Mark Perkins, who leads the Oakfield Alabama Baptist Church. They've been coordinating the Community Worship Service for the past several years and wanted to exclude Eastlack from the Community Worship Service this year specifically because of his now publically known views on gay marriage.
(Leaders' "participation" amounts to sitting among other local church representatives and listening to a guest speaker's sermon. Cal Kern, president and general manager of a Christian sports team called Niagara Power Baseball, was scheduled this year.)
They asked to sit down with the reverend and Perkins said they, including Eastlack's associate Dave Phelps, discussed their views cordially and the meeting ended with Eastlack's decision not to participate if that meant creating more strife.
A letter prepared Aug. 10 by Perkins and Smith -- which amounts to an ultimatum to disavow gay marriage or else be shunned -- was given to Eastlack afterward "almost as an afterthought," said Perkins to emphasize the amiable tone at the meeting's conclusion.
The letter rejects the notion of gay marriage as a civil rights issue and the idea that homosexuality is determined genetically. It cites Scripture on the issue and urges Eastlack to change his stance, with this caveat:
"...our Elders have stated that having you take part (in the Sept. 6 service) would send a message to our community and respective congregations that 1. We are in agreement with your stance or 2. We are willing to pretend that unity exists."
The Labor Daze Community Worship Service was heretofore ecumenical in nature, according to residents. But Perkins said the public Sunday service is not supposed to be "a social feel-good message."
"It's meant to send a clear, Biblical Gospel message to people there who might not attend church or otherwise hear it," Perkins said.
The mayor finds the whole thing ugly.
"My personal feeling is that it just saddens me down to my soul," Pastecki said.