As I reflect on the last six months, I can only say it was the grace of God that has kept me and kept my mind.
It was only God's love that kept my wife and I covered.
After disclosing my sexual orientation to the church where I was the senior pastor and sharing that I had married a woman, my best friend, I wasn’t sure where I would be in life, in ministry, or in the world. Not quite a month later, I resigned from my position as pastor of the church because of differences some had in the congregation about my decision to marry a woman.
There are some persons in the church who have since spoken with me, told me they loved me, told me they missed me, and stated that anytime I am back in Detroit they would love to see me. In the end, we left Detroit at the close of 2013 and weren't sure where we would settle. As we explored possibilities, my wife and I prayed and sought God’s direction on where we should settle.
It was important to live in a marriage equality state, a state where there were laws in place to protect against hate crimes towards LGBT persons, a place that had laws regarding those who were LGBT with children, and a place where there were laws in the workplace protecting LGBT individuals. Maryland is the state we chose. We both had been Maryland residents and have family and colleagues in the area. We knew how progressive Maryland and D.C. are and knew it was a good fit.
When my wife and I moved to Maryland, we began to talk with other clergy about my vision to pastor again.
I could not leave the church because I am the church. I could not leave God, because when people see me, they see the God in me. I could not abandon my destiny, because God was speaking each day, telling me I was being pushed towards my destiny.
It has been six months of evolving for me. It has been six months of my wife and I trusting and believing in God to meet every need that we have. It has been six months of trial, tribulation, turmoil, and triumph.
When leaving my job, I left my income. When leaving Detroit, I left all of my political connections and community recognition. As this chapter of my life has ended, I realize that God sometimes has to bring you back to where you started. I was licensed and ordained to ministry at my home church in Washington, D.C., and we have now received spiritual support for our ministry from the affirming churches and pastors in D.C. and Maryland.
God has brought me back to where I accepted my call to ministry.
I cannot give up on what I know God has created and anointed me to do. As I prayed about the church, I continued to hear God tell me that I have to change church. When thinking about a name for a new church, God asked what I would be doing for the people. My mission is to liberate the people, while also empowering them. Out of this reflection, the name Empowerment Liberation Cathedral (ELC) was born, with the motto "We Have Changed Church."
God told me to look within and see how I could think outside of the box. One of the things I intentionally wanted to do was be in touch with all of the persons who wrote me after I came out, including people who read my story and appealed to me to come to their city and pastor. I wanted to have arms that would reach them, because I knew I could not physically be in every city in the U.S. It was because of this outpouring of Christian love that I started a conference call Bible study called "Word Wednesday," a study that anyone in the world can join at 7:30pm EST each Wednesday.
On the call I give the scriptures for discussion and talk about the Bible lesson just as I would in the church on Tuesday or Wednesday night. At the end of the call, we take prayer requests and questions. We will stream our services every Sunday for persons across the country to watch as well through our YouTube channel and ibroadcast.tv, and will also offer virtual memberships to anyone who desires to be a member of ELC.
I realize the importance of reaching Christians all across the world.
Those who have left the church due to doctrinal error and mis-education by churches as they grew up may still love God, love Jesus, and have a desire to be connected with a church. ELC wants them to be connected to us—we will welcome every person who needs a church home. Persons can go on our website and complete the membership form to receive an email welcoming them as a member of ELC.
Our Grand Opening worship will be this Sunday, May 4, 2014 at 12:30pm in Silver Spring, Maryland, and will have the theme for our opening, "HATS, HANDBAGS, & HEELS." I believe we are truly changing church—we intend to give congregants a spirit-filled, fiery worship with stirring music, powerful prayers, and even some drama and praise dance, while staying committed to a 1 hour service each Sunday.
ELC is a social justice driven church and will be intentional about our ministry impacting policy and laws that will affect our communities. We are a church of intersectionality, where we celebrate each person for who God has created them to be and where we connect. We are an affirming, radically inclusive, welcoming church that celebrates those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, heterosexual, and non-conforming. We don't discriminate in any way.
It has been a struggle to get support for this vision.
Some days it feels like people don't want to see an LGBT pastor/bishop rise from being knocked down. Some days it feels like people who know God is speaking about giving and sowing a seed in this ministry (ELC) are walking in disobedience and defiance because they don't want to see me rise from the ashes. But through this struggle, we have been blessed to have the pastor of Church of the Ascension open their doors to us, allowing us to utilize their sanctuary for this year. Rev. Dr. Joan Beilstein heard the vision I had, knew my story, and was willing to create a space for us to worship, and we sincerely thank her for her kindness.
As pastor/bishop, I can truly say that in spite of everything, still I rise! I have risen above those who have tried to keep me down. I have risen above my own doubt of if God would still use me. I have risen above all of the naysayers and those in the religious community throwing scriptures erroneously towards me.
I have risen above those in the community who have tried to tear me down with all of their preaching and teaching about me in their churches and conferences. I have risen above those who have turned their back on me, turned their back on my wife, turned their back on my children and my ministry. I have risen above that and now walk in freeness. Still I rise!
I now walk in the light, authenticity, and true joy and power, given by God.
I am thankful that God did not allow me to die in my disappointment with the church and with God's people. Still I rise!
God raised me to continue the work and to walk in my destiny! Thank God!
I have now risen from the ashes! Still I rise!
Image via The Gazette (Maryland)