Pastor to set up 'gay-friendly' church
Friday, August 28, 2009 11:58 AM
A Bermudian minister is opening a homosexual-friendly church.
Inclusive Vision Church is exploding in popularity across the United States
Pastor O.C. Allen III, affectionately called "Pastor Clay" by his congregation, is the founder and Senior Pastor of The Vision Church of Atlanta.
He is CEO of The Vision Community Foundation Inc., which provides accessible social services for "under-served populations".
He is a speaker, lecturer, singer, writer and human rights advocate known for his "uncensored" and "down to earth" preaching style.
In 2003, after more than 20 years of preaching and urban ministry, he felt a call from God to create a place of refuge and empowerment for ALL people, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class or background, so he formed the The Vision Church.
It has been called "one of the South's fastest growing inclusive Churches" and "Atlanta's new progressive Pentecostal movement".
It has become a multi-racial, welcoming and affirming non-denominational Church experiencing explosive growth since its inception. In less than four years, The Vision Church has grown from a congregation of just 12 people to more than 1200 and more than 50 active ministries. The Vision Church provides on-site HIV testing and counselling on a monthly basis.
It was heralded in a BET documentary in February 2006 as "Atlanta's new alternative to homophobia and identity oppression in the Black Church".
Information courtesy of www.thevisionchurch.org
Pastor Sylvia Hayward-Harris insists shunning gay people is not Christian and those who preach it is wrong are "hypocritical".
She is in the process of opening The Vision Church of Bermuda (TVC), a radically inclusive Pentecostal church, and invites people of every sexual preference, race, age and occupation to join her in worship.
Pastor Hayward-Harris said: "Many traditional churches are very judgmental and often hypocritical.
"Often people who are authority at the church demand more of their flock than they do of themselves.
"I would like to have a place where people feel free to be themselves - to live in their truth, whatever that truth may be.
"It's very strange to me that in order to be a part of a traditional church you have to live a lie if you are gay or lesbian. That is not Christian to me.
"Excluding gay people has always been a problem on this island.
"I know one young man who won't come back because he was attacked by a gang of guys with helmets.
"To be fully Christian, we must fully welcome all of God's children to the table of the Lord - women, children, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender, those with special needs, those of every race... all have full acceptance into the complete life of our fellowship."
Pastor Hayward-Harris is not gay herself but has "many friends" who are.
The 57-year-old has been living in Atlanta since 2006.
Up until then she had been "out of an organized church for 40 years".
She added: "When I first moved to Atlanta my son was a member of TVC and he kept saying, 'You have to come to my church.'
"My family and I went and I was so impressed by their openness.
"It really fit my idea of what a church should be."
The Vision Church of Atlanta falls under the leadership of Pastor O. C. Allen III - known as Pastor Clay - who has visited Bermuda on several occasions.
He gave Pastor Hayward-Harris her mission to start TVC in Bermuda.
She said: "At TVC we celebrate the image of God in every person. We believe the message of love and compassion, justice and peace is at the core of the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ and the Gospel message.
"Our desire for Bermuda is to actualise God's power to transform our often divisive and unhealthy cultures of hate, self-hate and violence into a community of healing and reconciliation."
Launching the church has been "going slowly" because Pastor Hayward-Harris is having difficulty finding a venue. She said: "Every spare space in Bermuda is being used.
"I am going to move into a little two-bedroom place and keep one room as office space for counselling and turn the living room into a meeting place."
Pastor Hayward-Harris was ordained in Atlanta at the end of June and had to undergo a rigorous exam, interview and thesis process, which has taken a couple of years.
She started studying due to a desire "to understand the Bible better" and describes herself as "a teacher, not a preacher".
She has an MA in adult education and an MA in addictions counselling. She has worked at numerous organisations on the island, including Focus, Fairhaven and Camp Spirit.
Pastor Hayward-Harris said: "I really would like to see Bermuda move away from its judgmental separatist present incarnation.
"We are very much stuck on seeing the splinter in the other's eye but can't see the beam in our own.
"One of the Ten Commandments is "Thou shall not commit adultery" but no one is looking at that one closely. People will often quote Leviticus, which says that homosexuality is an "abomination" - but they don't recognise that that term is very specific to things that relate to pagan worship practices, which used temple prostitutes - both male and female - in their various rituals.
"The Jews were in the process of setting themselves apart from pagans, so condemned their religious practices."
Pastor Hayward-Harris is considering hosting a workshop on what the Bible "does and does not say" about homosexuality.
She said: "Our church is not about homosexuals, it is about humankind.
"I just want people to feel free to worship, to have a church family where you're not judged and condemned.
"Our church is for those who are not comfortable in their current church. "
Pastor Hayward-Harris says her biggest fear is not "what people say or think" about her church but how well she knows the Bible.
She said: "It's huge and there are folks that have been studying the Bible longer than I have been out of the church.
"Although I have a familiarity with the Bible, I cannot quote you all the passages, so I am nervous about my commission."
Sermons will focus on how to improve your life.
She said: "It's about the question, 'Is your life working?'
"How can you improve your relationships? What do you need to leave behind, what are your finances like?
"I'd like to focus on Bible study and how it relates to daily living in today's world so people are practicing Christ-like living and shedding such bad habits as back-stabbing and gossip."
Pastor Hayward-Harris has had a "small handful" of people express an interest in joining her church, most of whom are not gay.
She has no plans to perform same-sex commitment ceremonies.
But, referring to the
up-coming marriage of Bermudian lesbians Marshallene Trott and Alesha de la Chevotiere, she said: "I wish them every success and joy in their relationship. Come and join our church!"
E-mail the pastor at firstname.lastname@example.org