FLOYD LEE LOCUMS STORIES

Pride on Peachtree

by Kelly Starkey in Community Impact, Locums Lifestyle, Our Story, Our Style 22/06/2018

Pride on Peachtree

A personal story of acceptance and understanding.

In the early 90s, I moved to Atlanta, GA, to pursue the “big city” lifestyle. Atlanta, at the time, was a city in transition for LGBTQ+. The gay community was becoming more active—organizing, marching and speaking out for their rights. As I found my footing in my new locale, the gay community was grounding itself in what would be a decades-long fight for justice.

One day, when I was downtown in the heart of it all, I stumbled onto Saint Mark United Methodist Church. I don’t remember why I chose to walk in, but I did. The pastor, Dr. Mike Cordle, hooked me from the first sermon. Being a brand new transplant, I related to his appeal for inclusion and belief in the need to look out for one another. Vibrant as his message was, not many people were receiving it—as the church only had 200 members and was in drastic need of revitalization.

Little did we know that revitalization would come from outside.

Each year, the Gay Pride Parade would pass our church doors. But in the era of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” not many communities—or churches for that matter—had evolved on sexual orientation, the gay lifestyle, or how gay marriage and God could live side by side.

Saint Mark was not one such church. True to form, Dr. Cordle encouraged our congregation to open our doors as wide as possible and say, “All are welcome here!” Not all shared our openness.

As we were hanging around, handing out water to the marchers, the First Baptist Church across from us on Peachtree Street was actively protesting. As one can imagine, that split caused a scene for years and drew quite a bit of media attention.

Until one day, that slow burn of acceptance on one side, and rejection on the other, turned into something different; something miraculous. Saint Mark began getting new congregants: people from the parade, young families like mine that believed in Jesus’s message of acceptance, and many more. What had been a struggling, almost-closed church barely covering its expenses swelled to over 1700 people.

The church said, “All are welcome” and kept its promise. Saint Mark became a haven. It gave LGBTQ+ members who believed in God—but were not accepted in the church they grew up in—a place to recommit themselves to worship and unconditional love.

For me, I can say Saint Mark was spiritually one of the most amazing experiences. Personally, I got married and baptized my first son there. But more communally, I helped others get to church when they were wheelchair bound, worked in the Women’s Shelter we opened, and connected others who may have been down-and-out with a job and place to stay.

All of this was possible because of the influx of members from Gay Pride. That annual parade gave Saint Mark a chance to show its mettle. To spread God’s love in a way that let others be heard. And to know how to welcome those different from you into your heart.

I invite everyone to celebrate Gay Pride this month and all the wonderful contributions the LGBTQ+ community has made. We are certainly stronger as a community because of them.

http://www.stmarkumc.org/the-courage-to-welcome/

 

Sincerely,

 

Natasha Lee