“The majority of Christians will be welcoming to the LGBT community in the future,” -Reverend Robert Phillips, Woodland Christian Church
by Joycelyne Fadojutimi
There was an atmosphere of pride and solidarity as the 5th annual Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender pride parade wound through Longview. Some local businesses set up shop in support of the event. Walmart, Sprint, insurance and credit card companies were in attendance along with various vendors hawking food, beverages and social services. Among these was Peggy Gonzales from Wellness Pointe, promoting free HIV testing.
Though most denominations and churches are standing their ground against homosexuality, some have parted ways and gone the opposite direction; supporting the LGBT community. This is the why three local congregations showed up to offer pride support. One was the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Longview. This congregation caters to the souls of everyone, without regard to religious background. One of this church’s parishioners who attended was Madonna Huacuja. She explained her fellowship’s position on this sensitive issue.
“I grew up in the church, but they ran me off,” she said. “Most churches say they accept everyone, but, honestly, they don’t.”
In keeping with the inclination of most Unitarian Universalist congregations, the Longview church is spiritually diverse. Its membership has roots in Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, pagan, Humanist, agnostic, atheistic and other backgrounds. This is a denomination that unconditionally respects all religious beliefs. Embracing theistic diversity is a cornerstone of Unitarian Universalist doctrine because many believe there is no solitary religious truth, and that life is a spiritual journey best experienced with others.
St. Andrews Presbyterian Church displayed a sign reading: “Alive in Christ. A heart for community” This house of worship passed out free candy and popcorn. Reverend Mia Levetan co-pastors the church with her husband Reverend Nick Setzer. She made it clear that her congregation believes the Almighty God created and loves everybody.
“Christ died for everyone,” she said. “Our presence here today is a churchwide support event. We support the LGBT community because anyone who loves God loves people no matter who they are.”
According to her, God is more than humans portray him. There is more to the Lord than humans can fully comprehend. In 2012, the Presbyterian USA commenced ordaining members of the LGBT community for ministry. In 2014, the church started performing same-sex marriages.
The third attending church was Woodland Christian Church, pastored by Robert Phillips, who has a Baptist background. He previously served primarily in churches affiliated with the American Baptist Association. After earning his Master of Theology degree from Texas Baptist Institute/Seminary, Phillips and his wife attended language school in Edinburgh, Texas, where he learned to speak Spanish. He has served the Holy Trinity as a pastor, associate pastor, youth minister, music director, missionary and seminary instructor. He considers it a blessing to have served in both long- and short-term positions on four continents and five countries.
Despite such an impressive resume` he is without arrogance. In January 2013, he came to unheralded Woodland Christian Church because of the Holy Spirit’s calling for him to minister to all needing healing and acceptance. He himself suffered the pain of rejection when he came out as gay.
“I discovered the warm welcome and loving acceptance of people who reflected exactly what the love of God is–completely unconditional,” he said. “I never thought that I would be able to attend church again, much less teach, preach or participate in communion. Yet, Woodland Christian Church, a people who barely knew me, welcomed me, loved me, opened a place at the table for me and invited me not only to worship, but to serve.”
In December 2014, this congregation and its leader voted unanimously to call Phillips as pastor. He brought with him a passion to communicate God’s Word to those around him, and to enable the members of Woodland Christian to fulfill their individual tasks willed to them by God for ministry and leadership. In addition to his unshakable conviction that the Creator speaks to us through people, circumstances and everyday happenings, he has no doubt the Word is unconditionally relevant and understandable.
“Our congregation is open and affirming to people from all walks of life,” he said. “In Woodland, we let people know God loves them no matter who they are.”
Woodland Christian Church is a progressive congregation dedicated to social justice, race relations, and equality for all. Its blended membership includes same-sex married couples, those in same-sex relationships, heterosexual couples and parishioners from diverse walks of life.