SPECIAL NOTE FROM PASTOR J R UNITY SERVICE REMARKS HIGHLAND UMC CHURCH WITH SF GAY MEN’S CHORUS & OAKLAND INTERFAITH GOSPEL CHOIR

Rev’d J R Finney II, Tuesday, October 10, 2017, Noon

(NOTE: BY REQUEST, I’M SHARING MY PREPARED TEXT(AD-LIB IN PARENTTHESES) FOR THIS SERVICE. THE OAKLAND CHOIR PRECEEDED ME SINGING A SONG FROM THE AFRICAN AMERCIAN TRADITION – “SOMETHING GOT A HOLD OF ME!”)

Good afternoon, I am Rev’d J. R. Finney, the Pastor of Covenant Community Church, A United Church Congregation. It is a very diverse congregation but notable that I am a Black Man serving a predominantly white congregation of mostly LGBTQ people in Birmingham, AL. (The song just sang by the Choir could not be more appropriate for my remarks.)

Thanks to Rev’d Hudson & Highland UMC for hosting this Unity Service. It is an honor to take part in this event that includes portions of the SF Gay Men’s Chorus & the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir.

In any other career, I would be retired now with my heels kicked up, sitting on the porch of the house I own in Martinsville, VA. So, why I am still committed to the issues of inclusion for the LGBTQ community in Birmingham & AL. Well, it would helpful to know a little of my story and that of the congregation that I am blessed to serve as Pastor.

Years ago, (and I’m still 29), after 4 years in the Air Force and coming out to my parents, I attended the 3rd SECLGM in Atlanta, GA. There, I attended a workshop called “Gay & Christian.” It was a moment that changed my life.

The workshop presenter of course dealt with the six clobber scriptures people use to tell LGBTQ people that they are not loved and accepted by God. But the part that changed my life was when he quoted from Gal. 5:1, which in an older translation says, “Stand fast in the liberty in which Christ has set you free and be not again entangled with the yoke of bondage.” He then looked around the room and said, “Anything that keeps you from a healthy, wholesome relationship with God is bondage, including internalized homophobia.” He closed by quoting from the 13th verse of the same chapter which said, “For God has called you to freedom!”

At that very moment, (something got a hold of me!) I felt a freedom and peace within me that, as an openly Gay man, I had never experienced before in my life. Immediately, I remember feeling this stirring in my innermost being, that I was called to help other LGBTQ people feel this same freedom and peace.

For the past 17 years and the reason I’m not sitting on that porch in VA is that I have had the privilege and honor of pursuing that calling as the Pastor of Covenant Community Church, now a UCC Congregation.

Starting with 12 people, for nearly 38 years Covenant has existed with a vision of bringing the love and acceptance of God to our community. When Covenant began, there were no opening and affirming Christian congregations in Birmingham or anywhere in AL. And to this day, while our ministry has expanded to the wider community, we have never wavered or lost the focus for which we came into being.

These days, we partner with other churches and organizations in the community to achieve our vision and mission. For example, we joined efforts with other stakeholders in the community to fund and create a needs assessment for the LGBTQ community of Metro B’ham.

Covenant is a founding member congregation of FIAA whose mission is “To honor God by achieving systemic change through faith-based community organizing to create pathways of opportunity for all Alabamians.”

And I’m very honored to serve on the LGBTQ Grants committee of the Community Foundation who just this past month awarded such grants; one to AIDS AL to provide emergency hotel vouchers for homeless LGBTQ Youth; AL Safe School Coalition to train up to 250 additional educators; and one to TAKE (a transgender of color organization,) to create a Trans Crisis Fund to provide safety net purchases like groceries, utilities, and food for Trans Women of Color.

Standing in this beautiful sanctuary of Highland United Methodist Sanctuary, I proclaim that Covenant’s commitment and my continuing service of love and acceptance to the LGBTQ community are best summed up in the words of John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement: “Do all the good you can, in all the ways you can, to all the souls you can, in every place you can, at all the times you can, with all the zeal you can, as long as you can.” (And don’t let anyone among us ever feel like they are “Orphans of God.”)

Thank you and God bless you.

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