Friday, March 14, 2008

Matthew M. - Atlanta

North Georgia Conference Listening Session Testimony of Matthew M., Lay Leader at Saint Mark UMC, Atlanta Emory District, March 9, 2008

My name is Matthew M. and I have been in a loving and supportive relationship with my partner Bill W. for almost 35 years. You can imagine that we have a lot of stories to tell in our 35 years together, but I want to share one of them with you.

When we first came to Atlanta in 1984 after living in New York City for 10 years, we decided to find a church home. We are an interracial couple and were members of a Baptist congregation in Harlem while we were in New York. So we decided to join a predominantly black Baptist congregation here in Atlanta. It soon became apparent that we were going to be the subjects of an antigay campaign at the church, so we left shortly after joining.

I decided to do a little exploring around our neighborhood in Cascade Heights to see what churches were available close to our house. I visited a number of churches up and down Cascade and finally settled on Cascade United Methodist which at that time was located at 875 Cascade, a couple of miles from our house. After visiting Cascade for awhile I asked Bill to join me, and he agreed that it seemed like a warm and loving congregation, so we met with the pastor, Rev. Walter Kimbrough.

I wanted to get a sense from Rev. Kimbrough about how the congregation would feel about a white guy joining, and he was very supportive and shared with us how he came to Cascade when it was transitioning from a white congregation to a predominantly black congregation. So he personally was happy that I wanted to join and encouraged me to do so.

Bill wanted to know how United Methodists regarded gay people since we did not want to put ourselves through the ordeal that we faced at the Baptist church. Rev. Kimbrough laid out what the Discipline has to say about the issue of homosexuals in the church stressing that gay persons are individuals of sacred worth no less than heterosexual persons. He said that the church is still wrestling with the issue (this was back in 1984) but that he saw progress in the time that he was a minister and that personally he was very supportive of our rights as gay persons who are children of God. He also said that as long as he was Senior Pastor of Cascade we would never have to fear being subjected to antigay sermons from the pulpit.

Well that’s all we needed to hear before we decided that this was the church for us! Shortly after we joined, we invited Rev. Kimbrough and his wife Marjorie to dinner. Rev. Kimbrough accepted (Marge did not make this dinner but did join us for a subsequent dinner). It was a wonderful evening of fellowship, and before he left we asked Rev. Kimbrough to bless our house since we had just moved in. Not only did he bless our house, but he asked God’s blessing on us as a couple. So we felt affirmed and blessed as a couple and continued to grow in our knowledge of God at Cascade serving on various ministries including Trustees, Hospitality, Homeless, Sunday School and by singing in a number of choirs.

After 16 years at Cascade where there was tremendous growth in membership, we decided, after much prayer, to find a smaller supportive congregation. A friend of ours who we met at Cascade, Rev. Bridget Young, who currently serves on the staff at Emory University, suggested St. Mark. We had friends who attended St. Mark and after visiting and meeting with the pastor at that time, Mike Cordle, we decided to make the transition. Of course we spoke with Rev. Kimbrough, and he gave us his blessing and a wonderful letter of introduction to St. Mark.

On the Sunday we joined (we were the first members of the Millennium in 2000); we were introduced to the congregation. When Rev. Cordle finished giving the congregation our background as a couple, the entire congregation stood and welcomed us with sustained applause. So we have been there ever since, Bill serving on the Administration Board and me as a Lay Leader, also as leaders of the Couples Sunday School Class and with the Homeless Ministry’s Breakfast Club. Our current pastor, Jimmy Moor, has become a spiritual bulwark for both of us as well as a dear friend.

I wanted to give you an idea why we have been so happy to be part of the United Methodist Church and why we personally feel that the United Methodist Church should be inclusive of gay persons. It seems to me that this is what God would have us to do and where we should naturally be moving as a denomination. Rev. Kimbrough told us back in 1984 that there would be many hurdles ahead, and I believe we have managed to overcome some of those challenges. But there still remains a major stigma against us as gay persons within the structure of the UMC.

I would encourage all of you to vote for full inclusion by restoring membership rights to gay persons, removing the incompatibility clause, repealing the prohibitions against funding, ordination and marriage of gay persons. I know that this cannot be done overnight, but I think it’s time for us to begin this process. Please be prayerful about your decision.

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