“Gays and lesbians will lead the church’s great revival.” I heard these words several years ago, spoken by an MCC minister in Atlanta. These words may well be prophetic given the extraordinary number of mainstream churches now dealing with gays and lesbians in their congregations.
In this issue we are exploring the struggles and blessings that these churches have experienced as they open their doors to gay and lesbian Christians. It’s interesting to see the similarities between these congregations, as well as the differences.
One similarity that is the most astounding is that all of these churches have benefitted greatly by welcoming gays and lesbians. Since they have become welcoming churches, they have grown. They have seen their ministries flourish in ways they never thought possible. The influx of gays and lesbians has brought with it a renewed vigor to do God’s work in the community.
Dr. Mike Cordle, pastor of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Atlanta, sees a direct link between what he calls his church’s “renaissance” and their move to bring gays and lesbians into the sanctuary.
The other churches stories described in these pages tell the same story. Given the chance, they all would do it all over again.
But, the transitions have not come without a price, and some pain. Each of these churches has faced challenges from their denominations. Some have been disfellowshiped from associations or kicked out of their denominations all together. They have found little institutional support for the bold moves they have made.
The issue has cost some churches long time members and has caused ill will between long time friends. It has also opened the eyes of some people who never thought they would have to deal with this issue. Many say they feel blessed to know the gays and lesbians who have come through the doors of the church and count them among their dearest friends.
The members and leaders of the churches sense they are taking the lead in a historic battle. The church is never quick to change, but these churches are showing great courage. As Dr. Cordle observed, “The civil rights movement really took off when white people began to stand up in defense of blacks. I believe more straight people, with no hidden agendas, need to stand up for gays and lesbians. Then they’ll be change.”
We can only hope more mainline churches will take up the challenge offered by these brave congregations.
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.