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News about the LGBTQ+ community in the Charlotte area and beyond.

Bittersweet joy as Methodists in Charlotte repeal LGBTQ bans

Nick de la Canal
Methodists were welcomed into First United Methodist Church in Charlotte on Wednesday, May 1, 2024, following the denomination's vote to repeal its bans on same-sex marriage and openly gay clergy.

Volunteers passed out rainbow-colored stoles to those entering Charlotte's First United Methodist Church on Wednesday night.

Inside, music and hymns filled the sanctuary. Some in the congregation wept, holding hands and smartphones above their heads.

The church hosted the celebration hours after delegates at the United Methodist Church's General Conference voted overwhelmingly to lift the church's bans on LGBTQ clergy and on ministers officiating same-sex marriages.

Among those in the congregation was the Rev. Nestor Gerente, a hospital chaplain from California. He said he was overwhelmed when the vote passed by a 93% margin.

"I cried. I cried after that. It was like — god. And then one person after another, hugging. And my husband is a pastor as well — we were able to hug," he said. "I have high hope. I have joy. I have unspeakable joy, actually."

The celebration was led by Methodist composer Mark Miller, and included hymns like "Welcome."

The Rev. Kathleen Weber of Seattle said the hymn's lyrics felt more relevant than ever.

"'All are welcome. All are welcome in this place.' And it's the first time I've ever sung those words and my church has actually meant it," she said.

The United Methodist Church previously voted to keep its bans on same-sex marriage and openly gay clergy in 2019, but many local geographic conferences chose not to enforce the rules.

Since then, a quarter of churches — many of them conservative — have disaffiliated. Some left to join the more conservative Global Methodist Church.

The atmosphere at Wednesday's celebration was joyous, but also bittersweet. In between hymns, the congregation was asked to speak the names of friends, family members and colleagues who left the church or had been expelled from the ministry because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Rev. Brittany Isaac of Chicago recalled how she was expelled from the ordination process after she came out 23 years ago.

"Being discontinued out of their process 20 years ago, doesn't just get lifted from today's vote. That still sits in me," she said.

Still, she said she felt "liberated" by Wednesday's vote.

Standing outside the church's front door, where a big rainbow flag was on display, the Rev. Effie McAvoy of Rhode Island said she was grateful to be at the celebration.

"This is a perfect ending to a day that has been filled with miracles, grace, and a culmination of hard work," she said. "People have been fighting this fight for half a century ... it's time. It's long past time."

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Nick de la Canal is an on air host and reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal