UMC edges toward historic split over LGBTQ inclusion. This church showed the way.

by Msnbctv news staff


(RNS) — When Asbury Memorial Church in Savannah, Georgia, introduced its disaffiliation from the United Methodist Church final yr, Asbury stated in a press launch that it believed it was “the primary church within the USA to depart the United Methodist denomination on account of its unequal therapy of LGBTQ folks.”

The church’s declare factors to the sense of historic justice many United Methodists really feel within the denomination’s proposed break up over LGBTQ points, awaiting a vote delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

However United Methodists’ debate over sexuality didn’t start with the ban on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ ordination the denomination’s world decision-making physique reaffirmed at its 2019 particular session. It has been a subject at each quadrennial Common Convention since 1972, when delegates edited the E book of Self-discipline to name homosexuality “incompatible with Christian instructing.”

And Asbury Memorial isn’t the primary church to disaffiliate from America’s second-largest Protestant denomination over its official stance towards its LGBTQ members. Earlier than the present wave of church buildings disaffiliating from the United Methodist Church, there was Neighborhood of Hope in Tulsa, Oklahoma.


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Neighborhood of Hope’s story begins earlier than its founding pastor, the Rev. Leslie Penrose, 69, had thought a lot about LGBTQ points. Or about ministry.

Whereas touring in Central America within the mid-Eighties, Penrose met a homosexual man who informed her he felt a name to ministry he couldn’t observe due to his sexuality, she stated. His story raised so many questions for her that she enrolled at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, hoping to search out solutions.

The Rev. Leslie Penrose was the founding pastor of Neighborhood of Hope in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Photograph courtesy of Leslie Penrose

A semester into her research, a nurse at a neighborhood hospital requested if Penrose can be prepared to go to a younger man dying of AIDS who was scared and alone.

“Oh, don’t even hassle. My church has already informed me I’m going to hell,” the younger man informed Penrose when she stopped by, she recalled. She informed the person she didn’t imagine that and requested if they may discuss.

She ended up visiting him virtually day-after-day till he died weeks later, then holding a memorial for him at a park at his associates’ request, she stated.

After that, Penrose stated, “swiftly, issues simply exploded.” A physician working with HIV/AIDS sufferers invited her to do some chaplaincy work in his workplace. She talked with them, baptized them, made hospital calls — “something that may assist them be much less anxious about what was happening of their life,” she stated.

A lot of them started attending the Memorial Drive United Methodist Church in Tulsa, the place she had begun working as affiliate pastor after her ordination in 1986. There didn’t appear to be some other clergy within the space ministering to folks with HIV and AIDS, she stated.

The primary two or three homosexual males had been welcomed, she stated, however as soon as they started to fill an entire row of seats throughout providers, “the church acquired actually threatened.”

The Community of Hope Church communion table in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The congregation used a Broken Made Whole chalice, left. Photo courtesy of Leslie Penrose

The Neighborhood of Hope Communion desk in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The congregation used a Damaged Made Complete chalice, left. Photograph courtesy of Leslie Penrose

The pastor on the time allegedly despatched a letter to at least one couple telling them they couldn’t drink out of the water fountains, go into the kitchen and youngsters’s Sunday college school rooms or serve the homeless ministry — “simply this brutal, horrible instance of what it meant to be the church,” Penrose stated.

(The previous pastor couldn’t be reached for remark, and messages left at Memorial Drive United Methodist Church weren’t returned.)

In 1993 — with a candle and chalice to their title, and the assist of Bishop Dan Solomon, who headed the Oklahoma Convention of the United Methodist Church on the time — Penrose and 16 others began Neighborhood of Hope at one other United Methodist church in Tulsa, an outreach from the church to “folks on the margin.” About half of the congregation was LGBTQ, she stated, many dwelling with HIV or AIDS.

Solomon and Penrose drew inspiration for Neighborhood of Hope from the “base communities” every had encountered in Central and South America — small teams grounded in liberation theology that had been writing their very own liturgies and doing justice work.

“Throughout the years, we realized fairly rapidly easy methods to do liturgy that may assist us survive each time we got here to church, having any person else die — that form of simply huge overwhelming grief that was occurring within the early ’90s,” she stated.

Sitting in a circle of folding chairs within the church basement, the fledgling congregation wrestled with what it meant to be the church, attracting students from the Jesus Seminar, a motion that tried to reconstruct a historic view of Jesus.

These students had turned “more and more satisfied that the church was studying the gospel out of concern, as a substitute of out of affection,” in response to Penrose.

Amongst them was Bernard Brandon Scott, who had taught Penrose in seminary. Penrose requested Scott to talk to Neighborhood of Hope about Jesus’ parables, which he had written a “quite massive” guide about, Scott stated. He selected what he referred to as the “principally misunderstood” parable of the leaven, and the congregation instantly caught on that Jesus’ phrases “would attraction to the outcasts and the unclean.”

Bernard Brandon Scott adds his handprint to the Companion Wall at the Community of Hope Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Photo courtesy of Leslie Penrose

Bernard Brandon Scott provides his handprint to the Companion Wall on the Neighborhood of Hope in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Photograph courtesy of Leslie Penrose

Scott, a Catholic, was struck by how wealthy the Scripture turned within the context of that neighborhood. He was supposed to talk to the congregation for 4 weeks. He stayed for eight years, he stated.

“I spent my complete life learning the New Testomony and early Jesus actions, and that, to me, is what precisely went on in these communities. It’s that form of therapeutic that occurred. And, , I couldn’t think about something occurring like that in a conventional parish,” he stated.

He realized, too, it was one of many few locations the place he — a straight white man and college member “used to getting my manner” — was within the minority. His eyes always had been opened to see issues in new methods.

“All the things was upside-down. The values had been very totally different,” he stated.

Neighborhood of Hope began volunteering with homeless and home violence shelters and organizing mission journeys to Nicaragua and Guatemala. Members devoted half of their choices to mission work.

“With the ability to do one thing for others as a substitute of at all times being the one which was in want and sick and wounded and damaged was actually, actually vital to them,” Penrose stated.

Because the congregation grew, it welcomed new members by laying arms on them. “At the moment, AIDS was such an untouchable factor that the contact actually turned a sacrament to us,” Penrose stated.

Several members of Community of Hope church during a mission trip in Oklahoma in the early 1990s. Photo courtesy of Brad Mulholland

A number of members of Neighborhood of Hope throughout a mission journey in Oklahoma within the early Nineties. Photograph courtesy of Brad Mulholland

Brad Mulholland, a part of the core that began Neighborhood of Hope, remembers how “taboo” it appeared when Neighborhood of Hope allowed him to serve Communion. Now 57, he had been recognized with HIV at 21 and informed he had two years to reside, he stated. 

Mulholland had grown up within the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and his accomplice, Mark Vickers, was raised Pentecostal, however at the same time as they had been shedding associates each week, navigating “ache and loss and meds and docs,” he stated, they couldn’t discover a religion neighborhood that may settle for them — till they met Penrose. 

The holy union ceremony of Brad Mulholland, left, and Mark Vickers Community of Hope in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Photo courtesy of Leslie Penrose

The holy union ceremony of Brad Mulholland, left, and Mark Vickers at Neighborhood of Hope in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Photograph courtesy of Leslie Penrose

Shortly earlier than Vickers died of AIDS, the couple celebrated their “holy union” at Neighborhood of Hope.

“That congregation simply blossomed, not solely with folks dwelling with HIV and AIDS, however with folks that had been historically not welcomed in church,” Mulholland stated. “It actually empowered myself and lots of others to form of be the church — what we at all times needed to be within the church.”

However he additionally had been on the receiving finish of that letter asking LGBTQ folks to not drink from Memorial Drive’s water fountains, he stated.

And the church that hosted Neighborhood of Hope in its basement requested the congregation to depart after a church member witnessed two males kissing within the car parking zone, in response to Penrose. The church couldn’t be reached for remark.

Neighborhood of Hope’s apply of holy unions for same-sex {couples} additionally turned “very controversial,” Penrose stated. She was requested to not put on her gown throughout the ceremonies, then to not put on her stole, then to not pronounce {couples} “husband and husband” or “spouse and spouse” or to bless their rings.

Ultimately, she stated, one other clergy member filed a proper criticism towards her within the United Methodist Church. The Oklahoma Convention stated it couldn’t touch upon confidential personnel issues.

Months later, Penrose stated, “I wrote a letter and stated, ‘You realize, I’m bored with losing time and vitality and inventive thought preventing after we might be placing that into some healthful form of ministry.” She left the United Methodist Church in 1999 and joined the United Church of Christ, the one denomination she stated was overtly affirming of LGBTQ folks on the time.

Neighborhood of Hope quickly adopted its founding pastor to the UCC.

“We had been very indignant, extremely harm,” Mulholland stated. “For thus many people that had been thrown out of the church or not welcomed to the church in any respect, after which to be part of it after which requested to depart once more, it simply opened enormous wounds.”

Community of Hope Church members participate in a World AIDS Day march in the 1990s. Photo courtesy of Leslie Penrose

Neighborhood of Hope members take part in a World AIDS Day march within the Nineties. Photograph courtesy of Leslie Penrose

Solomon, now retired, stated he had moved to a different convention earlier than Penrose left the denomination and doesn’t bear in mind Neighborhood of Hope’s holy unions. However the former Oklahoma bishop remembers Penrose’s integrity and compassion for individuals who had been marginalized for any cause.

“If we’re devoted to the gospel, we wish to reside our religion in relationship to marginalized folks,” Solomon stated.

Neighborhood of Hope continued to thrive till Penrose’s retirement in 2007. “As a historian of faith, I might say the problem was they didn’t know easy methods to survive a charismatic founder,” Scott stated.

At its last service, Penrose returned to offer the sermon, preaching about stardust. Stars give mild for a very long time, she stated, and after they die, they don’t fade and disappear, however explode and unfold stardust throughout the universe.

In the identical manner, she stated, Neighborhood of Hope’s members have unfold far past the Tulsa space. Scott nonetheless will get questions concerning the chapter he wrote concerning the ministry in his 2001 guide “Re-Think about the World: An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus.” Penrose now leads a nonprofit referred to as JustHope that creates partnerships to fight systemic poverty In Nicaragua.

“It continues to reside in its personal little manner and to offer folks hope and encouragement,” Penrose stated.

It confirmed that Christianity “doesn’t work in a context of privilege. Actually, it’s a faith for the marginalized,” she stated.

LGBTQ advocates react to the Traditional Plan being adopted at the UMC General Conference on Feb. 26, 2019, in St. Louis. RNS photo by Kit Doyle

LGBTQ advocates react to the Conventional Plan being adopted on the United Methodist Church Common Convention on Feb. 26, 2019, in St. Louis. RNS picture by Equipment Doyle

A lot has modified within the a long time since Neighborhood of Hope first met in a church basement.

For one, stated Amy Laura Corridor, affiliate professor of Christian ethics at Duke Divinity Faculty, in each United Methodist convention and congregation, there are extra people who find themselves overtly homosexual or lesbian. There are extra individuals who have kids or nieces and nephews who’re in same-sex relationships.

“Extra individuals are out, thank God and thank all of the organizations and people who’ve been loud and proud,” Corridor stated.

That adjustments the dialog. However, the professor stated, she’s undecided but the way it will impression the result of the denomination’s subsequent Common Convention assembly in August 2022, the place United Methodist delegates from throughout the globe are anticipated to vote on a proposal to separate the denomination over its disagreements about sexuality.


RELATED: United Methodists reschedule assembly — and determination on splitting — once more


When he thinks about what the denomination can study from Neighborhood of Hope’s story, Mulholland stated, it’s this: “Open your doorways and discover out what you’ll be able to study. It’s highly effective stuff.”

Penrose is just not shocked that the talk over LGBTQ Christians continues to be raging throughout the United Methodist Church — however she is appalled, she stated.

“The church is meant to be on the forefront of those sorts of points, not dragged kicking and screaming,” she stated.

However the former pastor stated she doesn’t imagine Neighborhood of Hope’s efforts had been wasted.

“In my extra hopeful moments, I believe we actually did study that all of us actually are all damaged and made complete collectively, that all of us have components of brokenness, and making an attempt to heal collectively is much more productive than making an attempt to resolve who’s too damaged to be current,” she stated.



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