While finding a religious organization can be a life-changing event for many, it can be a struggle for members of the LGBTQ community.
In Williamsburg, people congregate to worship under an umbrella of various Christian denominations, but each congregation isn’t as welcoming as the next.
And for some denominations, it’s creating an issue.
In 2019, the United Methodist Church annual convention started controversy when some leaders advocated for allowing LGBTQ members into the clergy and allowing same-sex marriages. But other conservative leaders were against this action and now many believe the church may have to split.
But at Wellspring Methodist Church in Williamsburg, Pastor Edward Hopkins said the congregation has always been welcoming of the LGBTQ community and he hopes the denomination can eliminate language that prevents individuals from participating in aspects of the church based on their sexuality.
“I’m not the one that stands at the gate and says who can be called into the loving arms of Jesus,” he said. “And I don’t think the church is called to do that either.”
After the “disastrous process” at the conference, Hopkins said the church put a sign out front that read “Everyone is welcome in this place.”
“Wellspring doesn’t want to make a big political thing about it,” he said. “But rather just wants to go about the business of Jesus, which is to love each other.”
Hopkins noted his opinions do not represent the United Methodist Church but rather his own congregation.
While he said he has to abide by the laws of the congregation until they’re changed, the congregation has made a point to accept members of the LGBTQ community for decades. It hasn’t always been easy, and members of the congregation have left because they didn’t believe it was right.
But Hopkins said he will always continue to accept anyone who wants to worship at Wellspring.
He said he thinks sexuality always has bee — and will be — a difficult issue for some people to accept, adding it makes a lot of people uncomfortable and so they focus on it as a particular sin, rather than other sins such as gluttony or greed.
He wants his congregation to focus on accepting and loving everyone, not just people who fit the majority.
“If you’re choose to be a homosexual, it’s not a choice—it’s a reality,” he said. “It’s who we are and how we’re made.”
Rev. Daniel Willson from the Williamsburg Baptist Church feels sad about the Methodist church’s decision to split.
“It’s especially sad to me how there are Christians who will split over this issue,” Willson said. “I hope LGBTQ people will experience acceptance within the church as a whole.”
“My heart breaks for some of my Methodist colleagues who have been very distraught by this development,” he added.
Willson has been at the church for five years, which accept LGBTQ members and have been officiating same-sex weddings since 2017.
He said he understands both sides of the argument since he himself grew up conservative and went to Pensacola Christian College, a fundamentalist school.
“I definitely would have considered myself someone who hated gays,” he said.
But after reflecting on the Bible’s teachings and working with the LGBTQ community, he grew to accept them.
“I just felt like the argument that LGBTQ should not be welcome into the church—I felt like that argument became more brittle,” Willson noted.
He would see people from the LGBTQ community who would be lonely, depressed, suicidal or have died of suicide and sees others who are Christian, living in their faith, getting married and adopting children.
He can’t deny their spirit isn’t there.
“I see life there, I see the fruit of the spirit,” he said.
Nathaniel Brown, spokesman for the First Baptist Church, also thinks the Methodist church’s separation is sad.
A former member of the Methodist Church himself, he feels the issue has been argued over many times over the years.
“It was never really resolved,” he said.
While the Baptist church does accept members from the LGBTQ community, Brown said they do not accept them in church positions such as a teacher or clergy if they are still practicing that lifestyle.
For the LGBTQ community, the church is open to anyone who wants to come but the hope is that they reform their lifestyle.
“None of us are perfect,” Brown said. “We see the church as something as a hospital.”
The church, like other Christian denominations, believe people have a choice.
“Sometimes that means you have to address issues that are challenging,” he said. “We can’t support that lifestyle because of the Bible.”
“We hope that the Methodist Church will come to resolve this issue,” he added.