D.C. Baptist church chooses lesbian couple as co-pastors

Posted on 11 Jan 2017 at 11:12am

Maria Swearingen, left, and Sally Sarratt. (Photo courtesy of Sandra Auman via Calvary Baptist Church, as per RNS)

There have been a lot of “never thought I’d live to see the day” moments over the last few years. But this … . To me, this may be the most stunning of them all. Calvary Baptist Church in downtown Washington, D.C., has named a lesbian couple as its co-pastors.

Sally Sarratt and Maria Swearingen were presented to the congregation during worship services on Sunday, Jan. 8. They begin their new job on Feb. 26.

Religion News Service, in a story by Lauren Markoe, quote a church spokeswoman as saying she didn’t know whether “a gay couple leading a church was a first for Baptists.” I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say yes; yes, this is a major first.

I grew up in the Baptist church. I will tell that the people in the church I attended were, and still are, overall some of the best people you could ever hope to meet. But they are Baptists, and the idea of openly LGBT pastors just isn’t in kosher in the Baptist teachings — at least not the teachings I grew up with in Deep East Texas and that still reign there.

Markoe’s story for RNS describes Calvary Baptist as a “progressive” Baptist church. Shoot, I remember when being a “progressive Baptist church” meant not condemning people for getting divorced and then remarrying.

But it’s a brave new world out there, and even as D.C. prepares for the inauguration of the Cheeto in Chief, this story tells me there is hope, still.

Here are a few more tidbits from Markoe’s story:

  • “We look for the best people in the world and that’s who they were,” said Carol Blythe (of Swearingen and Sarratt). “We’re very excited.”
  • Calvary Baptist is 155 years old. It severed ties with the Southern Baptist Convention in 2012 because of disagreements with the SBC over several issues, including the SBC’s stance on homosexuality.
  • Calvary Baptist is still affiliated with the American Baptist Churches USA, the Alliance of Baptists, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the District of Columbia Baptist Convention.
  • Sarratt and Swearingen come to Calvary from Greenville, S.C., where Sarratt was associate chaplain for behavioral health in the Greenville Heath System and Swearingen was associate chaplain at Furman University.
  • The women met in the First Baptist Church of Greenville, and were both ordained there after it adopted and implemented a nondiscrimination policy in 2015.
  • Sarratt, who holds an MBA from the University of Virginia, left the corporate world after she felt called to ministry and obtained her master’s in theological studies from Emory University.
  • Swearingen, who is fluent in English and Spanish, earned a Master of Divinity from Duke Divinity School, where she won an award for her preaching.

• Calvary Baptist was founded by abolitionists who broke away from another Baptist church where congregants had refused to pray for Union soldiers during the Civil War.

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