Augusta church celebrates 25 years of ministry to gays, lesbians

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A rainbow flag hangs from the front of the Metropolitan Community Church of Our Redeemer during Pride weekend in Augusta. There’s a basket of condoms in the fellowship hall, brochures on HIV/AIDS in the narthex, and resources for “coming out” on the church Web site.

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The Rev. Lisa Heilig delivers her sermon during a service at the Metropolitan Community Church of Our Redeemer in Augusta. The church is celebrating 25 years of "radically inclusive ministry" this weekend.  JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/STAFF
JON-MICHAEL SULLIVAN/STAFF
The Rev. Lisa Heilig delivers her sermon during a service at the Metropolitan Community Church of Our Redeemer in Augusta. The church is celebrating 25 years of "radically inclusive ministry" this weekend.

It’s a unique ministry offered for all people, founded in but reaching beyond Augusta’s gay and lesbian community, said the Rev. Lisa Heilig, the interim pastor. This weekend, the church celebrates 25 years of “radically inclusive ministry in the CSRA.”

The Rev. Nancy Wilson, the moderator and worldwide leader of Metropo­litan Community Churches, will speak at a 25th anniversary celebration Sunday. In January, Wilson, a member of the President’s Advisory Coun­cil on Faith-based and Neighbor­hood Partnerships, became the
first openly gay person to read Scrip­ture at a presidential inauguration event.

“We are honored to have her here,” Heilig said. “She’s an incredible social justice advocate. She’s been doing this work for 40 years and has some stories to tell.”

The Augusta church is part of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, an international denomination founded by a defrocked Pentecostal pastor in 1968.

For 44 years, the group has offered a “ministry of inclusion” to minorities, especially gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Today, there are nearly 250 MCC churches in 40 countries.

The Augusta church grew from a small band of less than a dozen to more than 60 under the leadership of the Rev. Jeff Pullium. He retired last May after 15 years as the church’s part-time pastor.

“We’ve grown and matured,” he said. “We started as a bunch of gay people who wanted to address their spirituality. We’ve become something more. Now, there’s a diversity
that says sexuality isn’t the only defining factor. We’re a church for all people.”

As the church begins the search for a new pastor, the congregation is setting its sights on what role it wants to play in Augusta.

“They’re very concerned about making sure people in the larger community know there’s a place they can come and worship any way that they are,” said Heilig, who was in seminary to become a United Methodist pastor when she fell in love with a woman, now her partner of 18 years.

It would surprise most people to learn that the congregation is “25 to 35 percent straight,” she said.

“It’s pretty much a mainline church. It’s a worship service,” complete with choir robes, prayers, music and communion, Heilig said.

“We do holy unions. Of course there’s nothing legal about it in Georgia and South Carolina, but to have a ceremony and a rite of passage and commitment to one another is meaningful,” she said.

The church offers baptisms for babies of same-sex couples and is the host of an annual World AIDS Day service. It used to be a site for HIV/AIDS testing and organized anti-bullying vigils in support of gay and lesbian youths.

It also participates in the ministries of the Downtown Coop­er­ative Church Minis­tries, gives to food pantries and “adopts” a nursing home each Christmas.

Some members report facing overt homophobia, and several declined to be interviewed or have their photograph taken. The church, however, has had few problems since settling into a former Lutheran church on Greene Street.

“It takes a lot of courage to walk through the doors and risk being seen,” said Dr. David Stepp, a researcher at Georgia Regents University and a founder of Augusta Pride. “They’re relieved to hear, ‘You’re good. You’re loved.’ ”

Some members were fearful when the church started holding events and making itself more visible in the community a few years back, Pullium said.

“People were like, ‘People are going to throw bricks through the windows,’ but they haven’t,” he said.

If there’s bullying or discrimination, it’s usually not from strangers, Heilig said.

“Often the bullying and abuse comes from their own families,” she said.

On a weekly basis, people contact the church with questions about what it means to be gay and Christian, or whether such a thing
is even possible, Heilig said. Their first question is usually, “Are gay people going to hell?”

“Here’s my answer: ‘Most of the gay people I know have already been to hell and back,’ ” she said. “If we look very carefully at what Jesus said, Jesus was much more concerned about what we’re doing right here, right now and how we treat each other now than where
we’re going to end up at some point in the future when we die.”

Ann Willbrand grew up Catholic. Fifteen years ago, she found the Augusta church.

“I was feeling a need to reconnect,” said Willbrand, a retired professor at the University of South Carolina Aiken and a faculty adviser of its Gay Straight Alliance.

“Every sermon is about God’s love and acceptance,” Willbrand said. “It’s a welcoming church. It’s an inclusive church. Nobody’s going to walk out after a
service and feel bad about themselves. We proclaim a ministry of God’s inclusive love.”

That’s intentional, Heilig said.

“It’s an amazing thing to be able to stand up every week and be able to say, ‘Every­one is welcome,’ ” she said.

CELEBRATION SERVICE

WHAT: The Rev. Nancy Wilson, the moderator and leader of Metropolitan Community Churches worldwide, speaks at the 25th anniversary service of the Metropolitan Community Church of Our Redeemer

WHEN: 11 a.m. Sunday

WHERE: Metropolitan Community Church of Our Redeemer, 557 Greene St.

LEARN MORE: Call (706) 722-6454 or visit mccoor.com.

MCC HISTORY IN AUGUSTA

OCT. 24, 1987: First organizational meeting held

NOV. 29, 1987: First service held in the Convent of St. Helena in Augusta

APRIL 21, 1991: The Rev. Joe Whitley becomes the church’s first pastor

NOV. 17, 1992: The church moves to 609 Shartom Drive and Debbie Rutledge is chosen as lay leader of the congregation

APRIL 1993: Jeff Pullium becomes lay leader of the church

1996: Services move to the Ramada Hotel

MARCH 1997: The church relocates to 924 Greene St.

NOVEMBER 1998: Pullium is named pastor

MAY 2000: The church moves to 311 7th St.

FALL 2000: The Metropolitan Community Church of Augusta officially changes its name to the Metropolitan Community Church of Our Redeemer.

SEPT. 29, 2003: The church purchases its current building at 557 Greene St.

MAY 2012: Pullium retires and the church begins the search for a new pastor

Comments (47) Add comment
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allhans
23765
Points
allhans 03/23/13 - 03:40 pm
4
7
Our people, especially the

Our people, especially the young, are being taught that if you don't give them what they want, then you are mean, you are restricting their choices...the gay thing has become socially acceptable because they are being taught (often sublimely) that this is "freedom"..they have never been taught what freedom is all about......that morals have meaning...that lack of morals have consequences....do we really want a God-forsaken country all because some think they have the "right" to do as they please.
May God save us from ourselves.

palmetto1008
9782
Points
palmetto1008 03/23/13 - 04:07 pm
2
2
We ARE free from the
Unpublished

We ARE free from the constraints of religious dogma...get used to it.

Herenow2say
107
Points
Herenow2say 03/23/13 - 04:14 pm
4
0
Evidently

The MCC Church has its work cut out for it.

Bantana
2071
Points
Bantana 03/23/13 - 04:19 pm
0
1
Is it a sin against the

Is it a sin against the teachings of Christ, to be in a long term same- sex relationship if there is no sexual activity between the two parties?

Bantana
2071
Points
Bantana 03/23/13 - 04:26 pm
6
1
herion, horses and little boys?

Why do some folks continue to confuse pedophilia with homosexuality?

scoopdedoop64
2395
Points
scoopdedoop64 03/23/13 - 04:51 pm
5
2
Have to say it

These dear people have been so deceived. They believe they can remain in their sin and still be saved. This woman pastor is telling people what she and others want to hear but she is a false prophet and her path leads to destruction. How can she compare the hardships that come with homosexuality with hell. there is no such thing as hell on earth. Jesus said hell was a place of torment, eternal fire, etc. Have you ever burnt your finger? That's what hell is all over your body. Its no party and you're friends won't be around you wanting to party. These truly are the last days,
" For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry." 2 Timothy 4:3-5

PghSteelersFan
140
Points
PghSteelersFan 03/23/13 - 04:53 pm
4
0
It is interesting to see all

It is interesting to see all the comments with Bible verses in them. Most of the verses are just one or two verses without the previous or following verses being mentioned.
In the era now called BCE formerly BC most people couldn't read much less write. They communicated events by telling stories. The Bible, especially the Old Testament is a journal of those verbal stories written long after the event occurred or the person lived. The New Testament is a collection of journals and letters.
To 'cherry pick' a verse or two without the previous verse and the following verse for an occasion or to bolster a personal opinion is not how the Bible should be used. You don't read your child a bedtime story but skip from 'In a land far away there lived a Princess or Prince' then say 'They lived happily together, the end'. You read them the entire story.
The Bible should be read completely to understand its full meaning. Read it as a special Book taking the time to fully understand what the writer is saying and not like another book off the shelf where sometimes you already know what the ending will be so you skip a chapter or two just to finish the book.
The Bible isn't something you use just to make your opinion the only opinion while stepping on the opinions of others by shoving your opinion in their faces. The Bible speaks to all people in its own way which it should.

Humble Angela
41338
Points
Humble Angela 03/23/13 - 05:18 pm
4
4
A poster said " If thou
Unpublished

A poster said " If thou confess with thou mouth and believe with thou heart thou shall be saved."

I have to wonder how many of these homosexuals have confessed their sin....or even acknowledged that what they were doing IS a sin? My guess is, very few....most of them want you to accept what they do as normal and NOT a sin.

Humble Angela
41338
Points
Humble Angela 03/23/13 - 05:21 pm
4
4
"Why do some folks continue
Unpublished

"Why do some folks continue to confuse pedophilia with homosexuality?"

Because sexually perverted sin is sexually perverted sin. Why do some folks continue to confuse homosexuality with normal healthy behavior?

myfather15
55725
Points
myfather15 03/23/13 - 06:03 pm
4
2
Indeed

“Here’s my answer: ‘Most of the gay people I know have already been to hell and back,’ ” she said.

Key to this would be "My answer"; people shouldn't care about a PERSONS answer, they should seek God's answer, period.

myfather15
55725
Points
myfather15 03/23/13 - 06:06 pm
1
2
“Every sermon is about God’s

“Every sermon is about God’s love and acceptance,” Willbrand said. “It’s a welcoming church. It’s an inclusive church. Nobody’s going to walk out after a service and feel bad about themselves.

Well, this certainly does sound like a typical Church, picking and choosing which part of God's Word they shall teach. Not wanting to offend the congregation because they are afraid of losing members.

Teaching God's wrath, which is spoke of it MANY places, should be included; but that wouldn't fit the mold of the "Church". Now would it? We wouldn't want to offend anyone in teaching God's FULL word.

myfather15
55725
Points
myfather15 03/23/13 - 06:09 pm
3
3
"The church offers baptisms

"The church offers baptisms for babies of same-sex couples and is the host of an annual World AIDS Day service. "

What babies of same sex couples? That's impossible!! It simply can NOT happen. Yes, the baby could be one of theirs, but not both. There would HAVE to be a third party involved, period.

Funny how they will baptise the babies of same sex couples to a God who would make it impossible for them to produce these babies naturally. Hhhhmmmm, something to think about, huh?

myfather15
55725
Points
myfather15 03/23/13 - 06:13 pm
3
2
“People were like, ‘People

“People were like, ‘People are going to throw bricks through the windows,’ but they haven’t,” he said."

Well, what happened to all those gay hating conservatives? Aren't we supposed to be the most hateful people on the planet? Maybe it's because we ARE the most tolerant group of people and we leave the ultimate judgement to God. We simply refuse to accept an immoral behavior as the "norm" in society; yet we have no ill will towards anyone. We don't want to harm anyone for their lifestyle choice.

myfather15
55725
Points
myfather15 03/23/13 - 06:19 pm
3
3
This is just another slimy

This is just another slimy example of confusing people in the world. Attempting to pass this as a Church, thereby confusing people into believing they are obedient servants of God as well. Lying to people and telling them Christ was accepting of ANY lifestyle.

Most of the time in the New Testament, when Christ was asked a question, he quoted scripture from the old testament to answer the question. He would follow with "Have ye not read?" This is straight from the king of babylon (babylon meaning confusion, king of confusion). This is NOT a Church and I have no problem saying it and knowing I'm supported by God's Word.

RMSHEFF
16187
Points
RMSHEFF 03/23/13 - 06:53 pm
4
2
I wonder if this church would

I wonder if this church would try to call anyone out of any sin. Unfortunately most churches do not practice church discipline any longer. Church discipline is vital to the purity, power, progress, and purpose of the church. Christ was very concerned with the Holiness of His Church. I have know of churches knowing of members living together and having children outside of marriage and saying nothing. Judgement begins at the house of the Lord. If the Church does not have standards then what do we have to offer the world. We are called to be different, Holy and our lives should be different than the ways of the world.

freeradical
1093
Points
freeradical 03/23/13 - 06:59 pm
5
2
Jesus's first miracle was at

Jesus's first miracle was at a marriage .

Jesus was always outspoken about what was right .

He never held back on injustice .

To say he thought homosexuality was alright but he , " was afraid

to say anything , " , " kept it to himself " , " did not want to cause any

trouble " , " did not want to address the issue " , etc, etc, etc,,,,,, is to

admit you do not have the first clue who Jesus is .

InChristLove
22480
Points
InChristLove 03/23/13 - 09:42 pm
3
2
Well it appears that I've

Well it appears that I've been a recipient of a nasty gram from Sean because my comment was viewed as an insult so let me first say, Jake, my comment was not meant as an insult, it was a concern on the need to reevaluate my view on whether you possessed the understanding of my comments after a detailed explanation of my comments.

The original discussion was in response to your sarcastic comment on "the church" showing true love. My comments were not about "children" and the reference to them was only used as a comparison or scenario. I see no need to try and explain it all again to you for free of insulting your intelligence and would rather keep Sean off my back. It must be a slow day or week and I guess someone's comment had to be pulled.

Jake
32768
Points
Jake 03/23/13 - 10:02 pm
3
2
Sarcasm

I have not looked yet to see why my comment was pulled also. But I will say that I have not been posting in sarcasm. I am not offended if you don't understand what I have been trying to say as well. Enjoy your weekend and worship service tomorrow, just like the ones in the article will do.

InChristLove
22480
Points
InChristLove 03/23/13 - 10:10 pm
1
2
Well Jake, glad to hear you

Well Jake, glad to hear you weren't offended and didn't realize you also had a comment pulled. Looks like I wasn't the only one. Hope you also enjoy the rest of your weekend and I always enjoy worshiping in my Father's house. As for those mentioned in the article, I'm sure they will also....they are "gay" aren't they.

Dixieman
15309
Points
Dixieman 03/23/13 - 11:06 pm
5
2
9,000,000 POINTS

Well, like any religion, Christianity is not a buffet. You can't just pick and choose a few verses that you like and ignore the rest, as these folks are trying to do here - you have to accept the whole package which includes a lot of very specific prohibitions they don't like. This is just a gathering of social liberals trying to justify their behavior, not something that fits the plain meaning of the word "church".

palmetto1008
9782
Points
palmetto1008 03/24/13 - 07:50 am
1
2
Funny stuff....Dixieman just
Unpublished

Funny stuff....Dixieman just illustrated why we can all enjoy the freedom of the separation of church and state.

richmachiatto
44
Points
richmachiatto 03/24/13 - 08:47 am
0
0
Waiting on the in-depth
Unpublished

Waiting on the in-depth reporting of a muslim gay church.

lifelongresident
1323
Points
lifelongresident 03/25/13 - 11:57 am
0
0
new age christians and homo
Unpublished

new age christians and homo christian churches believe that the lord will return has he left...they believe that the lord will come back this meek and mild manner man with open arms radiating "love and understanding" that a man wishes to lie with a man (as a woman), and a woman to lie with another woman (as a man) but what they leave out or choose not to teach is that homosexuality in addition to being a sin is AN ABOMINATION to god...but of course they counter this with "BUT GOD IS THE GOD OF LOVE SURELY HE WILL UNDERSTAND THAT LOVE TRANSCENDS GENDER" well when the lord comes back with anger and vengence to take his world back they will truely know and when given a chance to explain they will then see and realize how they have been fooled all these centuries by "man's law"

BamaMan
2396
Points
BamaMan 03/25/13 - 12:55 pm
0
0
Palmetto...

just because you THINK you are free from the "religeous dogma", will not free you from being judged on Judgment Day, and I can promise you, you will. ALL are judged, like it or not, believe or not.

jmthompson
12
Points
jmthompson 03/25/13 - 02:09 pm
1
1
I don't know where to start

Two years away and sadly little seems to have changed. Congratulations to the MCC Church and their wonderful ministry and outreach to the least of these. Didn’t I read that some place? I am sure that all those making comments about this wonderful loving community have attended their church and can speak first hand of their experience there. I have preached there on several occasions and have found the community to be gracious, loving and welcoming. I hope that your churches are the same. And on the question of hell, a concept that did not come until much later in the development of Christianity (If you have read your history you will know that is true, no heaven and hell for the Jews as Christians define it now) Jesus actually spoke very little about hell and again, if you look at the actual words (not in English) that have been written down you will have a much better understanding of what truth He was trying to teach. And as we were not there, we really don’t know what was actually said other than to know the truth in the stories that had been passed down for years before any one actually wrote them down, something Jesus never suggeted that they do. And I do believe the truth that all the commandments can be summed up in: Love your God and Love your neighbor as you love yourself. Please think about your comments, and ask yourself if they would be something thing your Jesus would say. I am more and more convinced that beliefs, a set of standards, rules, regulations, dogma have little to do with being in relationship with God. It is about simple faith which is also a gift. God loves you no matter what and the last time I checked, nothing can separate you from the love of God. Guess what that includes!
PS. For those of you, who have not read any of my articles in the past, please do not respond with a diatribe of scripture. I am an OT theologian with 30 years of ministry experience and I have come to the conclusion, for me, that the Bible is historical and metaphorical, filled with truth, Gods story, but not Gods actual words.

Respectfully
Chaplain Mark Thompson
UM Pastor /US Army Chaplain

BamaMan
2396
Points
BamaMan 03/26/13 - 09:28 am
0
0
Respectfully,

Chaplain, you ARE aware of false prophets/teachers, and how and WHEN they will be judged? For those of you that balk quoting a scripture saying it could be out of context, fine, then read the whole thing; all 66 books. Chaplain, since you don't believe in the New Testament, read Deuteronomy 13:1-3, especially verse 3. I'm sorry you don't believe Christ died for you, since you don't believe in the New Testament. All your years of theologial "experience" falls on deaf ears. The Plan of Salvation is simple enough for a child to understand. Yes, God does love us, but He hates sin, and homosexuality is one. It's in the Bible. Does this group gathering...I'll not call it a church...tear that page out of the Bible? Just because we're nice people doesn't get us into Heaven. We are commanded to live by God's inspired Word. That means doing what and NOT doing what He says.

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