ENGLEWOOD, Colorado — A pastor in Englewood is trying to make church a more inclusive environment, particularly in the LGBTQ+ community that has often felt unwelcome in traditional congregations.
Ben Mann is an associate pastor at Mayflower Congregational United Church of Christ. Previously, they had spend most of their career in the non-profit sector, but felt compelled to go into ministry.
"I pursued seminary and that opened up a whole world for me," Mann said. "I’d always been active as a lay leader in church and church had always been part of my identity."
As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Mann said they found the congregation welcoming to their gender identity, when other church environments have been unwelcoming. They identify as non-binary and use 'they/them' pronouns.
Mayflower Congregational has a long standing history of being inclusive. Before Mann was in the role, the church had a different pastor that also identified as part of the LGBTQ+ community.
"It’s just love, that is what we are called to do is love the other," Mann said. "Love the neighbor. Love your enemies."
There are those that are resistant to Mann being a pastor.
"I used to keep a file marked hate mail that was often pieces, very dense pieces, telling me how wrong I am to do this work and believe what I believe about God’s love," Mann said. "That creates a feeling of insecurity sometimes."
Others in the LBGTQ+ community have sought out the congregation, like MC DeMilt who has been attending for a few years.
"As a person in the queer community, growing up in Nashville, Tennessee, I had kind of been pushed out of the church when I was growing up," DeMilt said.
DeMilt said that when she moved to Colorado, she specifically looked for a church that was a part of the United Church of Christ denomination after doing her own research into finding a church.
"It gives the traditional feel and it’s actually doing what the Bible says. It’s actually loving everyone and it’s actually accepting everyone," said DeMilt, who also sings in the choir at the church. "It’s really nice to be able to walk into church and feel affirmed and be able to not be stressed about whether or not I should be here and whether or not I am allowed to be here."
DeMilt said anyone who walks through the doors of the church will be welcome. It's that fact that keeps her coming back Sunday after Sunday.
"Throughout my life, I kept finding out that people who are in the church and claim to be followers are frequently not living up to that," she said. "They are not actually accepting and loving of everyone. So I knew what I was looking for, I knew I wasn’t the only one that feels this way. There’s no way that I am the only one looking for a community of people that is loving and accepting with no exceptions."
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