Six months after resigning as pastor of a small church in downtown Detroit over her announcement that she had married a woman in Iowa, Bishop Allyson D. Nelson Abrams has opened a new church in Silver Spring, Md., with the goal of pastoring the kind of ministry she feels God has called on her to lead.
In October, Abrams said that although no one pressured her into leaving her post at Zion Progress Baptist Church, she felt it was in the best interested of the congregation to move on.
”I could have been like so many people and lied and said it’s not true,” Abrams, 43, told NewsOne in October. “But that’s not how I was raised, and as a Christian, I was always taught to be a truthful individual. So when it came up I said, ‘OK. I need to be honest with my congregation and tell them the truth about what was a great event for me.”’
Reactions to her marriage announcement were mixed, with many supporting Abrams and just as many denouncing her ideology that people who are homosexual have a place in the church, let alone as leader of a pulpit. She was disappointed to leave a congregation she had led for five years, but Abrams realized that it would have been problematic for her to be openly gay and lead a ministry in a city where conservative theology reigns supreme. So after entertaining a few opportunities around the country, she settled on Maryland, where same-sex marriage is legal and is in close proximity to Washington, D.C., where same-sex unions are also protected under the law.
Her ministry, Empowerment Liberation Cathedral, is set to begin in May and will welcome people from all walks of life — regardless of their sexual orientation. In fact, Abrams doesn’t want to be defined by her sexuality, but she appreciates how powerful her presence can be in a region where she says many in the LGBT community have been shamed out of the church.
“You can’t be ashamed of who you are,” Abrams told NewsOne recently. “It’s time out for shaming people and making people feel like they are not loved and that God is not pleased with them.”
The leadership at the Episcopal Anglican Church of the Ascension, also in Silver Spring, has allowed her to use their space until she finds a permanent home. The church’s pastor, Rev. Dr. Joan Beilstein (pictured below with Bishop Abrams), told NewsOne that she was very impressed during her first meeting with Abrams and her wife, Diana Williams.
“We found [Abrams] and her spouse to be inspiring, passionate about serving God, passionate about being an inclusive church that particularly welcomes LGBT persons,” Beilstein said. “We were inspired by them and their sense of call to reach out, especially in the Silver Spring area.”
Rev. Charles G. Adams is pastor of Hartford Memorial Baptist Church, one of the most prominent churches in Detroit. A close friend of Abrams, Adams told NewsOne that the conversation over how churches interpret biblical text regarding homosexuality is a complex one. He expressed regret that Abrams felt she had to leave the city and that too many people focused on her sexuality rather than what she could offer the church.
But Adams said the Maryland/D.C.-area will benefit from Abrams’ ministry and that her move was ultimately the right one.
“She’s going to pastor to the whole individual and the whole community,” he said. “That much you can count on. But she will take a stand for any kind of injustice that comes her way, including the way people who are same-sex oriented have been treated under the law.”
Rev. Kenneth H. King, pastor of New Hope Baptist United Church of Christ, in Laurel, Md., told NewsOne that, although members of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area’s LGBT community have the right to marry like anyone else, the region’s more conservative churches are still resistant to same-sex marriage and any acceptance of gays worshiping in the church.
“Laws and legislation do not regulate the hearts of folks,” King, who is openly gay, said. “So that’s just got to be clear. We have our work ahead of us.”
Abrams, a Howard University alumna and member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, is keenly aware of this and knows there are many areas around the country where people do not have access to an affirming church. To help provide these people a church home, she will live stream services and allow virtual membership. Abrams said supporters across America have been writing her letters of support since she resigned from her position in Detroit last year. In fact, invitations to preach nationwide came in so often that the only way Abrams could handle the requests was to offer online church services. She also does conference call Bible study sessions every Wednesday from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. EST, where people can call in from around the country, especially those who want to learn about the Bible without being attacked for their sexuality.
During some of her services leading up to her church’s grand opening next month, Abrams even encourages members to take selfies and post them to Instagram. “We don’t want people to shut down their cellphones,” she said. “We want to make use of them. People will be on them anyway, so why not use them for the church?”
And for those who bemoan long-winded sermons, Abrams promises that she’ll be succinct with the Good Word and finish in enough time for people to go home in time for the game.”We’ll have hour-long service every Sunday,” she said. “We don’t need to stay in church all day. You can praise God and get out in an hour.”
Abrams told Gazette.net that she will also initiate projects to help seniors in the community and bring awareness to HIV testing.
Most importantly, she wants her ministry to be a safe space where everyone will feel good in their own skin praising God.
“So many people have been hurt and wounded by what the pastors and preachers in the pulpit have said to them about being same gender loving, so they have just exited the church,” Abrams said. “There’s been an exodus of many persons from the church who are sitting at home and love God. [They] have many gifts and talents that could be giving God tremendous glory on Sundays, but they’re sitting at home because of what they’ve been told about their lifestyle or their orientation. So we’re just trying to see how is it that we can appeal and get them to come back to church knowing that God does love you, knowing that there is nothing wrong with you, knowing that you are not going to hell, and knowing that there is a place for you at the Lord’s table.”