Eventually, she said, another clergy member filed a formal complaint against her in the United Methodist Church. The Oklahoma Conference said it could not comment on confidential personnel matters.
Months later, Penrose said, “I wrote a letter and said, ‘You know, I’m tired of wasting time and energy and creative thought fighting when we could be putting that into some wholesome kind of ministry.” She left the United Methodist Church in 1999 and joined the United Church of Christ, the only denomination she said was openly affirming of LGBTQ people at the time.
Community of Hope soon followed its founding pastor to the UCC.
“We were very angry, incredibly hurt,” Mulholland said. “For so many of us that had been thrown out of the church or not welcomed to the church at all, and then to be a part of it and then asked to leave again, it just opened huge wounds.”
Solomon, now retired, said he had moved to another conference before Penrose left the denomination and doesn’t remember Community of Hope’s holy unions. But the former Oklahoma bishop remembers Penrose’s integrity and compassion for people who had been marginalized for any reason.
“If we’re faithful to the gospel, we want to live our faith in relationship to marginalized people,” Solomon said.
Community of Hope continued to thrive until Penrose’s retirement in 2007. “As a historian of religion, I would say the issue was they didn’t know how to survive a charismatic founder,” Scott said.
At its final service, Penrose returned to give the sermon, preaching about stardust. Stars give light for a long time, she said, and when they die, they don’t fade and disappear, but explode and spread stardust across the universe.
In the same way, she said, Community of Hope’s members have spread far beyond the Tulsa area. Scott still gets questions about the chapter he wrote about the ministry in his 2001 book “ Re-Imagine the World: An Introduction to the Parables of Jesus.” Penrose now leads a nonprofit called JustHope that creates partnerships to combat systemic poverty In Nicaragua.
“It continues to live in its own little way and to give people hope and encouragement,” Penrose said.
It showed that Christianity “doesn’t work in a context of privilege. Really, it is a religion for the marginalized,” she said.
Much has changed in the decades since Community of Hope first met in a church basement.
For one, said Amy Laura Hall, associate professor of Christian ethics at Duke Divinity School, in every United Methodist conference and congregation, there are more people who are openly gay or lesbian. There are more people who have children or nieces and nephews who are in same-sex relationships.