The Rev. Ray Jordan was Central UCC’s first gay and first black pastor

DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer
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Central Congregational UCC Dallas on Royal Lane called its first gay pastor four years ago. He also happened to be the church’s first African-American pastor.

The next year, it called a second gay pastor. And with an upcoming vote on a merger with The New Church UCC, founded about five years ago by the Rev. Jo Hudson, Central soon may have lesbian clergy as well.

And that’s in a predominantly straight, white North Dallas congregation.

Central UCC was founded in 1902 in downtown Dallas and moved to its current location in 1959. The Rev. Ray Jordan was hired as associate pastor in 2014 and became senior minister when his predecessor resigned. Officially he serves as bridge pastor overseeing a search.

A year later, the church called The Rev. Allen Pope who is also gay.

Hudson founded The New Life UCC about five years ago after leaving Cathedral of Hope. Her church had been meeting in rented space until she and Jordan began talking about merging their congregations. Over the summer, the two congregations have been holding joint services and will vote on a union on Sept. 9.

Jordan said his church believes in extravagant welcome and went through the open and affirming process about 20 years ago.

Jordan was born in California’s Bay Area and moved to Arkansas as a young boy when his grandmother returned to her home state to take care of her elderly father. Because he was the only African-American male in his class, he said his childhood was lonely and isolated.

Jordan said his Little League coach was also the head of the local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. He remembers one time when he was bending over to tie his shoe, the coach kicked him so hard he fell over.

Jordan recalled that as a boy he often visited the house of a friend whose father was a police officer. One day Jordan was downtown and needed a ride home. He saw his friend’s father and asked him for a ride; the father, though, acted like he didn’t know who Jordan was and even asked him for ID.

Jordan was 14, living in a rural town. He had no ID. He said he had no explanation for the man’s sudden display of racism, when he hadn’t acted that way before, unless “maybe because there were other officers around?”

Another time, Jordan said, while attending a local event, he asked for a fork to eat his watermelon. The response, he said, was, “You mean you don’t eat it off the rind and tap dance?”

To add to the racism he dealt with as a boy, Jordan said he was also struggling with his awakening awareness of being gay. So, he said, he spent a lot of time alone and entertained himself by reading the encyclopedia.

Jordan said he attended a black United Methodist Church, and there he found acceptance. When he began preaching there, he said, “I was like a prodigy. The black church setting was affirming.”

Jordan spoke at different churches around Arkansas and even preached at a few in California, too. He got married at 19 and fathered three children. He enjoyed being married, he said, because for the first time in his life he was living what he called a normal life. And he loves having kids.

Despite marrying young, Jordan went to college and then moved to Dallas to attend divinity school at Southern Methodist University. He was surprised that other students in the school had no experience speaking from the pulpit.

He became the youth minister at a United Methodist Church in Lewisville. But then he came out and got divorced. He said the pastor at the church was “a company man” who told Jordan could continue with the church as long as he was an “unavowed” gay man — meaning as long as he remained closeted, and celibate.

That worked for a few months. But when Jordan decided to become an “avowed” gay, the head pastor told him, “My college roommate is gay, and he’s a UCC minister.”

Jordan said he held out for a Methodist convention in 2008 where he hoped the LGBT issue would be resolved. It wasn’t. In fact, the Methodist church is still debating the issue today.

He left the ministry. But, he said, that’s when “love changed my life.”

Jordan said he met a man who lived in another city and fell in love. What he realized, he said, was that if he was experiencing love, God had to be present.

Unlike those who feel oppressed by the Bible, Jordan said, “The Bible liberated me.”

So he went from what he called the fear of being gay to liberation from self-hate, guilt and shame.

It turns out Jordan wasn’t as alone growing up as he thought. His best friend from his youth is gay, too, and now lives in Austin. And Jordan’s brother came out and now works for Prism Health in Dallas.

What surprised him was his father’s attitude.

“Both my boys are gay?” he said his father once asked. When Jordan’s mother told him, “Yup,” his father said, “Well, they’re ours. I guess I’ll just have to love them.”

When Jordan returned to ministry as an ordained UCC minister, he simply applied for an opening at Central. What attracted him to the congregation was the way congregants embraced a couple of transgender church members. And when the church’s members learned he was gay, Jordan said gay and lesbian members introduced themselves and other members told him about their gay or lesbian children or other relatives.

Beyond that, he said, his sexual orientation hasn’t been much of an issue at the church.

The fact that Jordan is gay hasn’t been much of an issue for his children, either, he said. Two are in college now, and one is a student at Booker T.

When his daughter was a student in Mesquite, one boy gave another boy a valentine. When a friend of hers made fun of the boy, she told her, “You’re not my friend anymore.”

Jordan said that although he rarely talked to his children about being gay, he was glad his sense of social justice had rubbed off on them.

Hudson reaffirmed that and said he has a great sense of social justice.

Reflecting on the upcoming vote, she said working with Jordan has been a pleasure. The two have known each other since he was considering looking for a job within the UCC and she was a pastor at Cathedral.

She said her church lost its lease after Memorial Day in 2017. She called Jordan for help, and he offered their church. Her church met at 9 a.m. and Central held services at 11 a.m.

The early worship service wasn’t working well for her congregation, Hudson said, because of how far many members were traveling. That’s when the pastors began experimenting with joint services.

“It was nice having a full sanctuary on Sunday morning,” she said.

She said the two churches’ memberships compliment each other — hers with a young vitality and his with a wonderfully rich history; hers with more LGBT and Latinx members, his with more African-Americans.

“It’s a nice blend,” she said. “I think we’ve done a good job coming together.”

Hudson said she doesn’t like to think of the two churches coming together as a merger where anyone loses any of their identity. Instead, she talks about “uniting, where we come together with all of our gifts.”