St. Paul church faces foreclosure after pastor backed marriage equality

Posted on 03 May 2012 at 10:05pm

Grace Community UCC, which lost 72% of members over support for gay rights and got $15K donation from Cathedral, still needs a miracle

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The Rev. Oliver White

Happily-ever-after is a plot device used in fairy tales to button up the story and leave the reader feeling that everything is right with the world.

Although our real-world stories sometimes have happy outcomes, they rarely fall into the “happily ever after” category. Real life is a little messier.

A few months ago I told a story about a church in St. Paul, Minn., that was struggling to keep its doors open after it took the courageous step of becoming LGBTQ-affirming and -accepting.

The Rev. Oliver White had signed onto the United Church of Christ resolution affirming “equal marriage rights for all people, regardless of gender.”

That got him a less than happily ever after. Seventy-two percent of his congregation walked out and left him and his church holding the bag — a big bag of debt.

That’s where the fairy tale aspect of the story starts. The Cathedral of Hope UCC here in Dallas came to the rescue and raised a whopping $15,000 to bring the equity loan payments for White’s church current.

That would have been a nifty story with a really nice happy ending, were it not for a couple of things.

First, the church is still looking at a loan with an exorbitant 23.5 percent interest rate, and worse still the lender wants a payment of $165,000 on June 1 or the church will owe $170,000 the following month and face foreclosure.

Meanwhile, the Rev. White and his congregation have been looking for a bank that will refinance the property and save their church.

Situated in the poorest neighborhood in St. Paul, Grace Community Church isn’t an appealing prospect for a bank. Although the congregation has shown they can sustain a decent monthly income, the banks would like to see a two- or three-year track record of fiscal responsibility, and that is not an option right now.

Secondly, the church has problems other than financial. Because of the publicity from their decision to be affirming of LGBTQ rights, and recent national notoriety brought on by the story in March of their surprise support, White has been barraged with a stream of threatening phone calls, vile emails and worse.

During a recent wedding held at the church, people drove by in the vehicle and shouted anti-gay epithets as shots rang out. Luckily no one was injured, and ironically it was a straight wedding.

As I have said previously, sometimes we in the LGBTQ community forget that those who stand with us for justice sometimes find themselves paying a price.

When I spoke with White, he lamented that his church was so distracted by its financial woes, yet he emphasized how important he felt his congregation’s position of equality was. It is a matter of justice, and that is something Oliver White is passionate about. He is also passionate about his church. It is a small beacon of hope in a pocket of despair. It is the heart of that small community.

After looking at the fundraising efforts of the Obama campaign, White was struck by an idea.  Perhaps seeking a large donation was a problem, but seeking very small ones, as little as a dollar a person might result in the real happy ending they are seeking.

The math is simple, if 200,000 people sent a dollar each, the problem would be solved. The reality is less simple, and the struggle for survival of a small justice-driven church in a predominantly African-American neighborhood of St. Paul is far from a fairy tale.

Just in case there is a chance for a “happily ever after,” the church’s address is Grace Community United Church, 986 Forest St., St Paul, MN 55106.

Might be worth a dollar or two to see how the story comes out.

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and board member of the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. His blog is at DungeonDiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 4, 2012.

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