United Church of Christ sues N.C. to allow gay marriages

uccIt’s the first time for a national Christian denomination to sue in favor of same-sex marriage, citing restricted freedom of religion. Currently, ministers who marry couples without a marriage license can face misdemeanor charges punishable by up to 120 days in jail.

On Monday morning, Holy Covenant’s denomination, the United Church of Christ (UCC), along with ministers of other Charlotte-area congregations including a rabbi, filed a lawsuit challenging state marriage laws for restricting ministers’ free exercise of religion. The UCC is also seeking preliminary injunction that would allow ministers to choose whether to perform a religious marriage. The case appears to be the first time a national Christian denomination has challenged a state’s marriage laws.

The lawsuit has been in the works since 2012, when North Carolina voters approved Amendment One, a constitutional ban on gay marriage, with 61 percent of the vote. State laws prevent ministers from performing weddings if the couple does not already have a marriage license, and so religious wedding ceremonies are at odds with the law even if ministers are not sanctioning civil marriages.

Earlier this spring, the UCC, the lead plaintiff, reached out to local congregations, including Holy Covenant, to ask pastors if any church members might be candidates to join the suit. Three other couples from other churches have joined the Smith-Cloningers, and the group is suing the state’s attorney general Roy Cooper as well as other county district attorneys and registers of deeds.

The effort is part of the UCC’s long history of social justice advocacy. The mainline Protestant denomination — President Barack Obama’s own church denomination in Chicago—has more than one million members and 5,100 congregations nationwide, including 150 churches in North Carolina, and the UCC general synod passed a resolution supporting marriage equality in 2005.

“For 40 years or more we have been seeking justice and equality for gay and lesbian people,” explains Geoffrey Black, president and general minister of the United Church of Christ. “This is the moment when we have an opportunity to seek justice and equality for gay and lesbian people, and so we are taking that matter very seriously.”

Smith and Cloninger are planning to have their religious ceremony at Holy Covenant in October no matter the outcome of the case.

“We’ve bought dresses, we’ve sent save the date cards, we’ve booked a reception hall,” says Smith, who along with Cloninger is a North Carolina native. “Nothing could make us happier than if we were able to have both a religious and legal ceremony with everyone that we love around us and our pastor legally able to officiate that ceremony.”

Nancy Allison, the pastor of Holy Covenant and an individual plaintiff in the case, is willing to face any repercussions that may come.

“I can’t imagine the law enforcement of North Carolina coming after a clergy person for doing their job, but if I were to be arrested for this, I would gladly face those arrest charges,” Allison explains. “I can do no other than move forward under my convictions.”

—  Steve Ramos

Cathedral of Hope names interim pastor

The Rev. James Mitulski

The Rev. James Mitulski

The Rev. James J. Mitulski will become interim pastor of Cathedral of Hope on Aug. 1. He has been a guest speaker at the church in the past.

Mitulski has 30 years of pastoral experience and has served churches in Berkeley, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.

He was a Merrill Fellow of the Harvard Divinity School and holds a bachelor’s degree from Columbia university, a master’s from Pacific School of Religion and an honorary doctorate from the Starr King School for Ministry.

Mitulski has dual standing with the United Church of Christ, and is ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the Metropolitan Community Churches.

Now that an interim pastor is in place, the process of searching for a permanent senior pastor will begin. A new committee is forming and applications have already begun arriving.

The interim pastor may not apply for the permanent position. His job is to guide the church through its period of healing and leadership transition after the resignation of its senior pastor, the Rev. Jo Hudson on April 21.

—  David Taffet

How the Cathedral of Hope saved a black church that nearly became a martyr for marriage equality

The Rev. Jo Hudson

In today’s Voice we have a column by local leatherman and regular contributor Hardy Haberman about the straight pastor of a predominantly African-American church in St. Paul, Minn., whose support for marriage equality cost him 72 percent of his flock and now poses a financial threat to the very survival of his congregation.

Haberman focuses on how the pastor, the Rev. Oliver White of Grace Community United Church, did the right thing regardless of the potential consequences when he voted in favor of a resolution supporting marriage equality at a United Church of Christ meeting in 2005.

Haberman reports that he got wind of White’s predicament when his own pastor, the Rev. Jo Hudson at Cathedral of Hope UCC in Dallas, issued an appeal on behalf of Grace Community UCC during a recent service.

On Thursday, Religion News Service and the Washington Post picked up this same story, shedding some light on the ensuing response from Haberman’s fellow worshippers at the Cathedral.

Turns out, although White sent letters seeking financial assistance to 40 UCC congregations across the country, he got only three responses — one for $500, one for $600 and “a miracle donation from Dallas.” The donation from the Cathedral, raised during two services on the same Sunday, totaled $15,000 and has allowed Grace Community UCC to keep its doors open, at least for now.

The Cathedral, commonly referred to as the world’s largest gay church, also happens to be UCC’s fourth-largest congregation.

Below is a snippet from the WaPo piece, which you can and should read in its entirety by going here:

—  John Wright

Funeral scheduled for Albert Mata

Tim Brookover and Albert Mata

Albert Mata, the long-time partner of Houston GLBT Community Center president Tim Brookover, passed away on Monday, Feb. 20.

Albert was a vivacious man. I could always tell if Albert was at an event. His laughter would echo through the room the second I entered, inevitably emanating from the a tight circle of conversationalists over which he was holding court. Sweet, kind and a little naughty, Albert’s energy and gentleness will be greatly missed.

Services for Albert will be held at Bethel United Church of Christ (1107 Shepherd).

Visitation – 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, February 24, 2012
Memorial Service – 4 p.m., Saturday, February 25, 2012

—  admin

Community rallies to support GLBT Community Center President

Tim Brookover

Last fall Tim Brookover, a long-time Houston LGBT activist and current president of the Houston GLBT Community Center, made public that he was undergoing treatment for cancer. Throughout his treatment Brookover has remained the vibrant advocate for LGBT people that Houston has always known him to be (he even started a cancer support group at the center). Brookover recently ended his employment in the office of Houston City Council member Sue Lovell and applied for disability.

While his application is pending the people of his long-time church home have decided to help. Bethel United Church of Christ (1107 Shepherd) will host a spaghetti dinner to raise funds for Brookover’s expenses this Sunday, Feb. 12, at noon. Ticket’s are $10 and include beverages and speghetti. RSVP via facebook.

—  admin

Local briefs • 02.03.12

OUTreach Denton hosts  dinner

OUTreach Denton will hold a Valentine’s dinner and fundraiser at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 14.

“We are excited about having an LGBTQA event in Denton for once,” said the Rev. Pam Wat of the Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

OUTreach Denton and Seven Mile Cafe are partnering to create a romantic, fun and philanthropic evening.

Wat promised “a delicious Italian meal, beautiful music and warm hospitality at one of Denton’s newest restaurants.”

Seven Mile Cafe is at 311 W. Congress St. Half of the proceeds will support LGBTQA programming and resources in Denton including the newly formed LGBTQA youth group. The cost is $30 per person and reservations are required. To RSVP, email OUTreachDenton@gmail.com. Seating is limited. Soft drinks are included. BYOB.

…………………………

Cathedral marks 5 years with UCC

To celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Cathedral of Hope as a United Church of Christ congregation, UCC General Minister and President the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black will come to Dallas to preach on Sunday, Feb. 5 at the Cathedral.

Cathedral of Hope, the fourth-largest congregation of the UCC, officially became a member of the denomination on Feb. 4, 2007.
Jo Hudson, senior pastor of Cathedral of Hope, recalled the day, saying: “When all the i’s had been dotted and all the t’s crossed, after the official words of welcome had been spoken, and we all felt good about the service we had just shared, the Voices of Hope choir and our orchestra led us in the anthem How Great is Our God. I thought the roof was going to come off the church.”

The relationship between Cathedral of Hope and the UCC has been great for both the congregation and the larger church, the Rev. Hudson said.

“What has stayed the same are our shared core values of compassion, inclusion and liberation, our hope and our faith in Jesus,” she said. ”What changed was that the UCC welcomed all at once the largest influx of LGBTQ members in the history of a mainline U.S. church. And, in the ensuing months, Cathedral of Hope saw a double-digit percentage increase in the number of heterosexual worshipers on Sunday morning. Our God is a great God, indeed!

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 3, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

Cathedral of Hope marks 5 years with UCC

To celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Cathedral of Hope as a United Church of Christ congregation, UCC General Minister and President the Rev. Geoffrey A. Black will come to Dallas to preach on Sunday, Feb. 5 at the Cathedral.

Cathedral of Hope, the fourth-largest congregation of the UCC, officially became a member of the denomination on Feb. 4, 2007.

The Rev. Jo Hudson

Jo Hudson, senior pastor of Cathedral of Hope, recalled the day, saying: “When all the i’s had been dotted and all the t’s crossed, after the official words of welcome had been spoken, and we all felt good about the service we had just shared, the Voices of Hope choir and our orchestra led us in the anthem How Great is Our God. I thought the roof was going to come off the church.”

The relationship between Cathedral of Hope and the UCC has been great for both the congregation and the larger church, the Rev. Hudson said.

“What has stayed the same are our shared core values of compassion, inclusion and liberation, our hope and our faith in Jesus,” she said. ”What changed was that the UCC welcomed all at once the largest influx of LGBTQ members in the history of a mainline U.S. church. And, in the ensuing months, Cathedral of Hope saw a double-digit percentage increase in the number of heterosexual worshipers on Sunday morning. Our God is a great God, indeed!”

As part of the fifth Anniversary festivities, Cathedral of Hope announced that in July it will present the Rev. William R. (Bill) Johnson, vice president for Member Relations with the UCC Council for Health and Human Service Ministries, with its annual Hero of Hope Award. In 1972, the Rev. Johnson became the first openly gay minister to be ordained by a mainline U.S. church. During that weekend, July 20–22, CoH will also host the “Hope Initiative Weekend,” a conference on church leadership and effectiveness. Details on registration will be announced soon.

—  David Taffet

CoH raises funds for Little Blue Schools mission in Mexico

‘Substantial gift’ from Skyeward Bound Ranch puts event total near $20,000; money will help build new kitchen, classroom near Nopalera

CHECK PRESENTATION | The Rev. Dawson B. Taylor, executive minister of Cathedral of Hope, accepts a check from Jimmy Pockrus and Dalace-Skye Duvall of Skyeward Bound Ranch at the “Prawns And Praise” fundraising event for the Little Blue Schools program in Reynosa, Mexico. The money is the first gift of a multi-year commitment and will go toward building a kitchen and several school classrooms. (Phoebe Sexton/Cathedral of Hope)

FROM STAFF REPORTS
editor@dallasvoice.com

Officials with Cathedral of Hope of the United Church of Christ announced this week that the church raised nearly $20,000 with it’s recent “Prawns and Praise” benefit concert for CoH’s Little Blue Schools mission project in Reynosa, Mexico.

The total includes what church leaders called “a substantial gift” from Skyeward Bound Ranch, a non-profit charitable organization for special needs and terminally ill children.

The money will be used to build a new kitchen and a school classroom in the Nopalera area of Reynosa, a community of poor residents living along a drainage canal where there is no running water or electricity, church officials said.

CoH pastor the Rev. Jo Hudson said CoH volunteers began working on the Reynosa mission efforts 10 years ago, starting by building a 13×20-foot, one-room, tin-roofed building to serve as a school and community center. Since then, 10 additional building projects, such as restroom facilities and meeting rooms, have been completed in Reynosa.

The mission work in Reynosa is now referred to as “The Little Blue Schools” project and is administered by the CoH Miracles in Mission Ministry.

“We’re demonstrating how a community can come together, pooling resources and working side-by-side with folks of very different backgrounds, understandings and faith beliefs,” said Hudson. “We’re out to show Cathedral of Hope’s profound belief that Christianity is a faith of extravagant grace, radical inclusion and relentless compassion.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 30, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Celebration Church kicks off capital campaign

Church campus will add space for meetings, dinners, recreational facilities, gardens, columbarium

Carol West

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Celebration Community Church in Fort Worth kicked off a $1.3 million campaign this week to build a community center that will be named for the Rev. Carol West.

West said that the church needs the additional space because the current facility is too small.

“When we get together for a dinner, we can’t all be seated,” she said.

The current fellowship hall seats about 130.

When West was hired 13 years ago, the church had a membership of 37. But that soon changed.

“We hit the ground running with programming,” West said, and the church grew rapidly.

Celebration bought the current church building, at 908 Pennsylvania Ave., from St. John’s Evangelical and Reformed Church in 2001, after St. John’s merged into a nearby United Church of Christ.

Today, more than 550 people belong to the nondenominational Celebration Church.

Pam Ibbotson, a church board member working on the capital campaign, said that $100,000 is already in the building fund and that another $250,000 needs to be raised before construction starts. She said the church members are hoping that will be within the next year.

“It’s hard to predict how long it will take,” Ibbotson said.

The balance of the construction budget will be funded through pledges.

Tom Guerin, of Jepsen Guerin Architects of Dallas, drew plans for the new building that will be attached to the fellowship hall.

After the plans for the project were drawn, the church hired Nan Faith Arnold as project manager. They met Arnold, who is co-chair of the Black Tie Dinner board of directors, through the annual fundraising event.

Arnold worked with them on another project: Members purchased a building in the same block as the church and donated it to the church. The building was renovated into Barron House, a full-time counseling center that now employs eight counselors.

Arnold served as project manager for that construction as well.

Arnold said that the new building will add 7,200 square feet of space and will be attached to the fellowship hall.

“It blends in with the existing structure and makes it more aesthetically pleasing,” Arnold said of the design for the expansion.

The main church building, built in 1950, has historic landmark status and will not be touched.

Meeting rooms, restrooms, storage and food pantry space will be added.

“There will be a wonderful lobby and a place for people who need to be dropped off,” West said.

The church has been collecting canned goods and distributing them mostly to other organizations that either have meals programs or their own pantries. Ibbotson said that often when a pallet of cans had been delivered in the past, the problem has been where to store them. The new building will solve that problem.

Another feature that will be added is a columbarium, a storage space for cremated remains. Arnold said that because those remains must be permanently stored, the church came up with a good master plan for the entire property.

She said that construction plans are still in the preliminary stage, but she expects the columbarium to begin with 40 to 80 niches for cremated remains.

Ibbotson said that they didn’t want to lose part of the community lawn, which the church uses for a number of outdoor events throughout the year. Garden and lawn space are provided in the master plan as well as additional parking.

Celebration Church has become a popular meeting place for the Fort Worth LGBT community, and Ibbotson said that several things prompted the LGBT community to meet at the church.

“When we became affiliated with Black Tie Dinner, we gained visibility in Fort Worth,” she said.

She said that West’s involvement in city matters, especially after the 2009 Rainbow Lounge raid, and her participation in police diversity training brought new recognition to the church.

The church has gained such attention in Fort Worth that Mayor Betsy Price spent the last Sunday before the election at Celebration Church, West said.

West doesn’t take personal credit for the  church’s growth and prominence.

Instead, she said, “We have a very generous congregation.”

The church has awarded 30 scholarships to area students who are not Celebration Church members. They have donated tons of food to about 50 different Fort Worth organizations that distribute food and serve meals. And they offer meeting space at no charge to LGBT groups like Fairness Fort Worth and other community organizations like Tarrant Dialysis.

And when the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission and the Fort Worth Police Department needed a safe place to meet with the LGBT community after the Rainbow Lounge raid, the church was the meeting place, with West on hand to offer a calming voice.

West said that when the Barron House property became available, a group of members pledged $100 a month to buy the building and paid it off in five years. She sees similar generosity from the congregation in making the current plan possible.

The church has purchased most of the property in the block. West said that when they demolished one building she described as “the crack house,” they set up bleachers for the congregation to watch. The bulldozer driver said it was the first time his work had ever received a standing ovation.

West said that the church has an active group for younger adults in their 20s and 30s. She would like to see a Fort Worth branch of Youth First Texas, and she would like to offer rehearsal space to QCinema’s live performance group.

With additional space, the church can grow to become an even stronger hub of the community, West said.

Ibbotson said it was time for the congregation to move forward with its expansion plans — “not just for the congregation, but for the community,” she said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 2, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Elmhurst College becomes 1st to ask about sexual orientation

Circle Hall at Elmhurst College

Students who identify as LGBT might qualify for scholarships, can be directed to campus groups, president says

Associated Press

ELMHURST, Ill. — Elmhurst College in suburban Chicago has become the first in the country to ask students directly on admissions applications about their gender identity and sexual orientation.

The application asks: “Would you consider yourself to be a member of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) community?”

Students who answer “yes” may be eligible for a scholarship that will pay up to a third of tuition, said Gary Rold, the college’s dean of admissions. The information also will help officials direct incoming students to services and groups that could help them on campus, Rold added.

“Increasing diversity is part of our mission statement,” Rold told the Chicago Sun-Times. “This is simply closing the loop, in many ways, of another group who has a very strong identity. It may not be race and religion, but it’s an important part of who they are.”

The question will appear on applications for students hoping to start in the fall of 2012. Like questions about race and religion, answering is optional and will not affect admissions decisions.

Elmhurst College is a private, liberal arts college that has 3,300 undergraduate students. It is affiliated with the United Church of Christ.

“It is kind of a pleasant surprise that Elmhurst College in Illinois is the first campus to ask an identity question,” said Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, a national nonprofit group. “Some of the leaders in college admissions have done similar stuff but never asked the question.”

Information from: Chicago Sun-Times, SunTimes.com.

—  John Wright