Story and Video by Patrick Scriven
On Friday, over 100 people gathered on the lawn outside the United Christian Church in Renton, Washington to pray and thank God for the brave witness of the small faith community.
Recent acts of vandalism against an LGBTQ-friendly display on its property have drawn attention to this church and continuing acts of violence and intimidation against the LGBTQ community and its allies. The display which included six doors reads, “God’s doors are open to all!”
The ATF and FBI are investigating the vandalism, which involved explosive materials, as a potential hate crime. By the time of Friday’s vigil, the doors were already back in place with a new addition reading, “Love Wins.”
Several United Methodist clergy and laypersons were among those in attendance at the event with Greater Northwest Area Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky encouraging support on social media. Another advocate, the Rev. Paul Mitchell, pastor at Vashon United Methodist Church (UMC), also urged colleagues to attend.
Rev. Mitchell was at the vigil supporting his ecumenical colleague from Vashon, Rev. Leigh Weber who is covering pastoral care at United Christian Church while their pastor is out of town. “It’s important for my congregation and the community it’s in to know that I stand in solidarity with my beloved queer siblings,” wrote Rev. Mitchell. He was also moved to support “Rev. Cynthia Meyer, who was formerly United Methodist, and who I met just last week.”
Rev. Meyer, a pastor in the United Church of Christ, had been an elder in the UMC serving in Topeka, Kansas before being put on an involuntary leave of absence by Bishop Scott Jones in 2016 after revealing to her congregation that she was in a committed relationship with another woman.
For laywoman, Nancy Berry of First UMC in Bellevue, it was important to be at the vigil because of her church’s long-standing stance as a Reconciling congregation and because she lives in Renton. She planned to march in the Seattle’s Pride Parade alongside other United Methodists later in the month and shared that the church’s pastor would be teaching on how the Bible had been used in hateful ways to “exclude and harm, especially our LGBTQ-siblings.”
Lyndall Foulds, a member at Fairwood Community UMC in Renton, also expressed that she was there because it was her community. While her congregation was also reconciling having rainbow flags and ribbons around their church, she said, “we’ve never put something as large as these colorful doors declaring that God’s door is open for everybody.”
For Rev. Katie Ladd who pastors in nearby Seattle, recent travails in the UMC offered a different motivation. “We’ve got a lot to atone for in the Methodist Church … this [discrimination] is something that is everywhere, it’s just hidden better in some places than others.”
Rev. Jenny Partch, serving at Highline UMC in Burien, was present because she understands how important it is to the local church to know that the broader faith community supports it. Rev. Ladd struck a similar note, offering, “our baptismal vows bring us into connection with everyone resisting evil and injustice.”
At this moment in the life of their denomination, United Methodists in the Pacific Northwest are finding renewed purpose in their engaged support of the LGBTQIA community, and in situations like this, solidarity with ecumenical and interfaith groups seeking a common cause.
Patrick Scriven is a husband who married well, a father of three amazing girls, and a seminary educated layperson working professionally in the church. Scriven serves the Pacific Northwest Conference as Director of Communications and Young People’s Ministries.