Word of the Week

Pride Week: Baptist Preacher Style

The way I see my job-- its role is often to take the mission of the church into places where it might not otherwise go especially when it comes to hanging out with folks who have few (if any) positive experiences with a church or a pastor. It's an area of ministry that I find myself doing more of than I would have ever imagined six years ago when I graduated seminary but I love it!

This past week, being Pride week in DC, I had two opportunities to do just this. Pride week, for those of you who might not be familiar, it's a week of celebration. It's a great opportunity to rally, gather affirmation and to bless a group of people who have often been bullied, alienated and not given the respect they deserve for their contributions to our society.

Even more so, in a faith context, when so many literal interpretations of scripture have been taken out of context to encourage a message of hate or even worse the standard, "hate the sin, love the sinner" motto toward our LGBT brothers and sisters, there's so much peace work to be done by churches. It's a wonderful outreach opportunity to say that not all churches are what you think!

So, when I was asked by Kharma Amos, the pastor of MCC Northern VA to speak a word about progress made in the Baptist church toward the LGBT community at the Northern VA Interfaith Pride service on Wednesday night, I was glad to attend. Such would be a new experience for me, and I wondered if a Baptist pastor had ever been asked to be on the program before?

Though the style of prayer and worship was a bit different to what I am accustomed and I was astonished to find that I was the only clergy who was willing to say the name "Jesus," (really what is so bad about Jesus, I wondered? He's the most inclusive loving guy I know), I enjoyed making new friends in the gathering. It was wonderful to be warmly received.

When time came for me to give my remarks about what Baptists are doing in the area of equality for the LGBT community, I could simply talk about my own experience. I told about how an internship at an open and affirming Baptist church helped guide me to seminary many years ago. I told of how some Baptists have been united in the welcoming and affirming movement for years, especially those found within the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists to which Washington Plaza is a supporting congregation. I talked about how having an "all are welcome" stance has been such a blessing to our local church both for the gay and straight members-- for it is good to simply be together and realize we have more in common than we might first think. Being gay is just a non-issue.

The shock of all shocks were the looks of disbelief I got from the crowd when I talked about a church open to gay members in Reston, Virginia of all places! It was as if I was speaking about something that folks never thought possible and my good news was that it had already happened. One woman was crying.

After the service, countless folks came up to me and wanted to share stories about "when they used to be Baptist" or "when the Southern Baptists went crazy" and in receiving all of these words of encouragement, I looked at our music director also attending gathering and said to him, "You've been right all this time. There's so many people out there who have no idea that we exist and are elated to know!"  I ran out of business cards because I was passing out so many!

The same sentiment was true when a group from Washington Plaza hosted a booth at the Capitol Pride street festival on Sunday downtown DC. Though our booth somehow got mixed into the "children's area" away from the main traffic of Pennsylvania Ave. we met with a steady group of participants as we gave them our sticker: "Whosoever Means You" with our church name and website. There were several folks with the same blank stares on their faces as they saw the word, "Baptist and Accepting" in the same sign. Such began some interesting conversations for sure.

I'm so proud to be a part of a congregation which isn't afraid to say that you can be Christian and gay at the same time, saying the good news of Jesus is not exclusive. I'm proud to be the pastor of a Baptist church whose desire is to learn how to welcome any who find us and those who don't know they need us quite yet.

I look forward to the day when churches like WPBC, are not unusual, but the norm.