An African American Church Welcomes Gay Members

Congregants at the Community Church of Washington, D.C.

Congregants at the Community Church of Washington, D.C.

It’s a snowy Sunday evening and the sun is setting in Washington D.C.

Pastor Aaron Jones-Wade and his partner First Gentleman Job Jones-Wade sit in a restaurant with church members and visitors following church services at the Community Church of Washington, D.C. (CCWDC). The church members and guests at the table eat, laugh and amuse themselves with social media. Pastor and First Gentleman Job make their rounds chatting with everyone.

The Community Church, under United Church of Christ (UCC), is known for being inclusive to all members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. Its mission is “to fight and eradicate social ills that oppress God’s children, preventing them from experiencing a fulfilled life.” CCWDC has a diverse congregation of black, white, hispanic, heterosexual and homosexual members as well. Pastor Jones-Wade recalls how being black and gay in church was an oxymoron. “Growing up I realized I was attracted to the same sex and I got told real quickly by my mother, that this is not right,” says Wade, hitting the table for emphasis.

Typically African American churches are conservative and often follow scriptures of the Bible, condemning homosexuality. However UCC has a history of supporting the LGBT community. In 2005, the UCC voted overwhelming during General Synod (a bi-yearly conference) for equal marriage rights for all. Yet unlike traditional religious dogma which is determined by church counsels, “no UCC hierarchy or body can impose any doctrine or worship format onto the individual congregation.” Thus some individual churches are divided on the inclusiveness of LGBT members.

The Community Church of Washington is like any other Christian church. Its oval shaped wooden doors open to reveal plush purple and gold trimming all around. These colors represent prosperity and wealth for CCWDC. Prior to the start of the church service, children are escorted to Sunday school downstairs in a classroom. Deacon Vernon Richardson assists with the youth ministry. “We have the kids watch a video about the Bible and they take a quiz,” he says. “They didn’t like it at first but after awhile they enjoyed what they were learning.”

Services begin with the ‘Call to Worship’ as Reverend Cleveland William gives his testimony into a microphone. He tells the congregation: “Trust in God, stand on truth and righteousness. God will deliver!” The congregation became melodically persuaded to praise and shout by the organ player who resembles a beautiful Donna Summer with long curls. Some congregants shake tambourines while others clap their hands as the services moves into “Praise and Worship.”

During the “Vision Statement/Passing of the Peace” portion of the service, Pastor Jones-Wade tells members to hug their neighbors and greet guests. Like moths dancing towards light, each member hugs and expresses appreciation with remarks like “God Bless you” and “Jesus loves you.” Pastor Jones-Wade acknowledges each visitor by blowing a kiss from afar saying “Thank You for coming. Do you feel loved? Do you feel welcomed?”

The service is full of inspiring selections from the choir, including a stirring rendition of “How Excellent.” The song has simple lyrics but it imparts so much emotion. Singers place heavy emphasis on the “ex” of the song. “How excellent is—“ the tenors, altos and soprano chime in separately, then together ask, “Thy Name?” The gospel along with scripture proves to be spiritually moving and persuasive.

As the service ends, Pastor Jones-Wade and his deacons walk to the entrance to hug church members and guests as they leave. First Gentleman Job also graciously hugs everyone around him in his stylish purple suit. Similar to the First Lady of a church, Job is a highly respected role model expected to dress and behave accordingly to CCWDC. “People look up to me in terms of my style and personality,” says Job.

The congregants were full of hugs and embraces, making the service seem more accepting and less judgmental than traditional African American churches. Under the leadership of Pastor Jones-Wade, all are welcome at CCWDC regardless of their race, gender or sexual orientation. The idea that God does not love you or accept you for being gay is becoming a fallacy, church leaders insist. First Gentleman Job says this assertively: “Jesus loves you for who you are and so do I.”

 

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