In response to comments made by the pastor of Pioneers Church, the leaders of Elizabeth Street United Methodist Church (ESUMC), on behalf of our congregation, feel compelled to share our story. Although we are only half a mile from this new church start-up on Geer Street, it appears we are worlds apart when it comes to our values and faith practices. For those who are not aware, ESUMC became the very first “reconciling” church in the Carolinas 20 years ago! Congregations that affiliate with the Reconciling Ministries Network (rmnetwork.org) embrace a commitment to achieving LGBTQIA+ justice and full inclusion in the life and ministry of the United Methodist Church, both in policy and in practice. This means that we are an inclusive congregation, where all are welcome to come and encounter the transformative love of God just as they are. We are a diverse body of people, every one of which we consider to have the same glorious worth and value. And, we advocate to advance justice and inclusion for all LGBTQIA+ people in the United Methodist Church and beyond. To be clear, our goal is not “tolerance.” On the contrary, ESUMC is led morally, spiritually, and operationally by LGBTQIA+ people, persons of color, and women.
We can’t think of a single instance when excluding people because of their sexuality, race, ethnicity, religion, or gender was a good idea. We are confident this is not a winning formula in a society, and especially not in a place of worship! At ESUMC, our Christian faith is grounded in hope and deep respect for every person, whether they look like us, act like us, or are members of a church or not. We believe that freeing ourselves from the yoke of judging others enables us to more fully experience the grace of Jesus and, as a result, love others more deeply. This not only impacts how we treat each other in the church; it urges us to reach out to persons in our neighborhood and community. Although we are a relatively small congregation, we are mighty in our commitment to serve and be with those around us. ESUMC has long-standing relationships with Urban Ministries of Durham, Families Moving Forward, and the Freedom House Recovery Center. We are one of the top supporters of the Durham CROP Walk. We facilitate a food distribution program that serves 100 families each month. We’ve had drag shows and vaccination events at our church. Our church building is home base for community organizations like Recovery Community of Durham, A Certain Work, and the Religious Coalition for a Non-Violent Durham.
Diversity is our lifeblood at ESUMC! We are encouraged by it … invest our hope in it … humble ourselves to enable it to shape our lives. We want to experience something different in our church than what we often encounter in the larger world. Equally honoring and valuing the worth of each person is the fullest way that we know how to live into our Christian faith! Thus, we are sad to learn of remarks that have been made that hurt members of our church and remind them of a long history of being treated as somehow less than others. All we can say is, “That’s not right!” It just isn’t. ESUMC will continue to stand for something different. Durham has changed a lot in 20 years. We, too, have grown at ESUMC during the two decades since we made a commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community. We hope the Durham community can appreciate how we are different from some other places of worship that are less welcoming, and know that we will continue to support and love all people in our congregation … and especially our LGBTQIA+ members this day.
The author is a pastor at Elizabeth Street United Methodist Church in Durham.
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