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UMC Edges Toward Historic Split Over LGBTQ Inclusion. This Church Showed the Way.

Solomon and Penrose drew inspiration for Community of Hope from the “ base communities ” each had encountered in Central and South America — small groups grounded in liberation theology that were writing their own liturgies and doing justice work.

“Across the years, we learned pretty quickly how to do liturgy that would help us survive every time we came to church, having somebody else die — that kind of just massive overwhelming grief that was happening in the early ’90s,” she said.

Sitting in a circle of folding chairs in the church basement, the fledgling congregation wrestled with what it meant to be the church, attracting scholars from the Jesus Seminar, a movement that attempted to reconstruct a historical view of Jesus.

Those scholars had became “increasingly convinced that the church was reading the gospel out of fear, instead of out of love,” according to Penrose.

Among them was Bernard Brandon Scott, who had taught Penrose in seminary. Penrose asked Scott to speak to Community of Hope about Jesus’ parables, which he had written a “rather large” book about, Scott said. He chose what he called the “mostly misunderstood” parable of the leaven, and the congregation immediately caught on that Jesus’ words “would appeal to the outcasts and the unclean.”

Scott, a Catholic, was struck by how rich the Scripture became in the context of that community. He was supposed to speak to the congregation for four weeks. He stayed for eight years, he said.

“I spent my whole life studying the New Testament and early Jesus movements, and that, to me, is what exactly went on in those communities. It’s that kind of healing that took place. And, you know, I couldn’t imagine anything happening like that in a traditional parish,” he said.

He realized, too, it was one of the few places where he — a straight white man and faculty member “used to getting my way” — was in the minority. His eyes constantly were opened to see things in new ways.

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Emily McFarlan Miller is a national reporter for RNS based in Chicago. She covers evangelical and mainline Protestant Christianity.