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The recent outreach effort to Mormon gays and lesbians in one Seattle LDS congregation was a "tremendous success," with attendance swelling to three times the usual number, according to participants.

The overwhelming turnout for the Oct. 19 meeting at the Washington Park LDS Ward was the result of a widely distributed letter from that congregation's bishopric, inviting less-active members to come to the special service.

"There is a large community of members, gay and straight, who have yet to meet each other," the letter read in part. "Please come join us. Your faith and your fellows need your strength, your testimony and your unique perspective on our gospel. You will be valued and welcomed as a part of our ward family."

Molly Bennion, who is the women's Relief Society president in the Washington Park Ward and spoke at the gathering, noted that many people stayed after the service for a "linger longer" — a kind of greet-and-eat event — and some asked if they could attend that Mormon ward instead of their own.

"I heard nothing negative from the regularly attending members," Bennion wrote in an email. "Most seemed genuinely delighted and proud to be in our ward."

Aaron Brown, who serves on the LDS stake (regional) high council in the area and was instrumental in organizing the meeting, deemed it "simply stellar. A home run from start to finish, featuring talks by [Bennion], the bishop and a lesbian member of the stake."

All three sermons were "superb," Brown wrote in an email, but the latter member's talk "was truly the highlight."

The lesbian member spoke "so plainly, so matter-of-factly, and so movingly about her identity as a gay Mormon," said Brown, who oversees LDS public affairs in north Seattle. "It was probably one of the most spiritual meetings I've ever attended, and I know many, many other attendees felt similarly."

At the end of the service, one of the co-directors of Seattle's Mormon public affairs, along with a former LDS stake president, conversed at length with an older, African-American gay couple, one of whom said he was a lineal descendant of Green Flake, one of the first black men to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The gay man said he hadn't been in a Mormon meetinghouse for 46 years, Brown reported, but was intrigued by the invitation.

Members told Brown they recognized how "groundbreaking" the meeting was, he said in the email, and "were so grateful to have been there to witness it."

Peggy Fletcher Stack