Bold Witness and Stories of Resurrection

| March 16th, 2024

Dear Beloved Community,

Yesterday morning, I gathered with over 150 folks for an optional workshop at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina’s Annual Gathering. Called “10 Stories: The Experiences of 10 Churches Who are Becoming Communities of Hospitality for LGBTQ+ Folks,” our workshop included a panel of the senior pastors from these aforementioned churches who talked about our churches’ experiences.

The workshop bore the fingerprints of so many in our church – Pastor Amy, Mary Kaylor, and Scott Hudgins in particular – and was full to the brim with witness to God’s expansive love. That a legion of participants packed into the chapel of First Baptist Greensboro was no accident. Our larger Baptist community is hungering for meaningful conversation about how their churches can offer intentional hospitality for this intentional community of people. 

There were countless expressions of hope among those who gathered and more beautiful words from my pastor friends than I can begin to capture in this article today. But pastors and congregants alike, our love for God was endless: God’s word revealed in scripture, God’s Word revealed in Jesus, and God’s wide, expansive creation revealed, in part, in human form. This conversation became a time of worship. The Spirit of God was stirring, and we joined our Baptist siblings from around the state in this sacred space. 

I had the joy of moderating this discussion, and thought I’d share with you the remarks I offered to participants as we began:

Good morning! I’m grateful that all of you are here today.

If you’re wondering how 10 pastors will tell stories in one hour, well… you just wait! And if you don’t think an hour of preacher-talk is enough, we’ve each got a 20 minute sermon in our back pocket and several verses of “Just As I Am” for an altar call if we need it.

As I said, we’re here today to share stories from our churches’ experience of being communities of hospitality for LGBTQ+ folks. Our churches are not all in the same place: some of us have long been inclusive, others of us have more recently made this public confession, and a few of us are having the conversation right now.

I trust you’ve come, not because you’re wanting to fight about the inherent dignity and belovedness and image-bearing of our LGBTQ+ siblings within the body of Christ – that’s not up for debate here – but because you’re curious about those stories too.  Perhaps you’ve felt a holy nudge to hold space in your church for conversations about sexuality and gender, but don’t know how to get started. Perhaps one of your congregants has shared with you about their gay son, or their nonbinary grandchild, or their own identity, and you are confused about what to do next. Perhaps you feel consumed with fear for all the implications that a conversation like this has on your church’s membership, or budget, or future, or unity. Sometimes just having a conversation about having this conversation is a step we perceive too difficult to take. 

And yet. I don’t dare speak for a bunch of Baptist preachers, but let me speak with their grace. We are here, because we have been changed by the presence of Jesus Christ and the Spirit’s awakening breath. We understand that matters inflaming our hearts are an invitation to examine God’s heart, and we find the heart of God is a heart of bold love and boundless compassion. We understand that clarity is fundamentally about hospitality, and clarity doesn’t have to compete with cooperation or fellowship. 

Our panel is full of friends you will learn from day, including:

  • Amy Andrews | Senior Pastor, Cedarbridge Baptist in Greenville
  • Chris Chapman | Pastor, First Baptist in Raleigh
  • Mack Dennis | Senior Pastor, First Baptist in Asheville
  • Dennis Foust | Senior Pastor, St. John’s Baptist
  • Emily Hull McGee | Senior Pastor, First Baptist on Fifth in Winston-Salem
  • Nathan Parrish | Pastor, Peace Haven Baptist in Winston Salem
  • Alan Sherouse | Senior Pastor, First Baptist in Greensboro
  • Bob Setzer | Pastor, Knollwood Baptist in Winston Salem
  • Michael Usey | Lead Pastor, College Park Baptist in Greensboro
  • Chrissy Williamson | Senior Pastor, Greystone Baptist in Raleigh

I have four thick questions for our panelists to speak to, and we will try to leave room at the end for questions and resource-sharing. You’ll hear us reflect on these questions, but as you do, I hope you’ll hear beyond our witness. For the stories of my church, First Baptist on Fifth – of God’s expansive love that welcomes, affirms, and celebrates all people in the fullness of who they are – are the stories of my people: of Amy and Karen, of Ash and Zack, of Kim and Cindi and Nathan and Will and Cyrus and Amber and Bethany and … well, I could go on, but then I’d have to start singing “Just As I Am”! My understanding of God, and my church’s understanding of itself is incomplete without them. The refuge and healing and belonging they have found in our church has made it nothing short of holy ground. 

So in the spirit of bold witness and stories of resurrection, let’s begin.

Together in God’s work of Love,

Pastor Emily