Ten years ago one lone church in Washington DC reached out at the Capital Pride festival, offering communion to anyone who would accept. In 2004 seeing a Baptist church amongst the booths for equality was a peculiar site, and as Calvary Baptist members offered communion, many folks reacted with genuine shock. A year later when Riverside Baptist and Washington Plaza Baptist marched in the Pride parade with the PFLAG contingent, onlookers could be heard to say "Baptists?" As the years went by and we added people and churches, we added our own parade contingent and showed up with more presence at the festival. This past year, five churches exhibited in the festival and six marched together in the parade.
Over that ten years churches from Washington, DC (Calvary, Riverside, and Covenant), Virginia (Ravensworth, Commonwealth, Washington Plaza), and Maryland (New Hope) joined AWAB as fully inclusive and welcoming. In 2014 three more Maryland churches (Empowerment Liberation Cathedral, Luther Rice Memorial, and Twinbrook) have or are expected to come into the organization.
These churches met together on March 29th at Covenant Baptist UCC to get to know one another better in order to work together in the future to be an even bigger witness in our area and to provide hope and resources to other churches and our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. We met together as clergy, lay leaders, and members. We were a mix of gender identity, sexual orientation, culture, background, and tradition. Over 50 folks joining together to praise God for what God has done here and what will be done in the next ten years.
This was the vision that I heard AWAB leaders express when we first began exploring being the "Voice" of LGBTQ Baptists. We envisioned a day when the DC/Maryland/Virginia area would include many AWAB churches spreading from the suburbs of Maryland through DC and to the suburbs of Virginia. And now that we have achieved this, the question many be "Is it still important to show up?" and "Do we need to grow larger?" The answer, of course, is yes to both.
I will believe that it is important to show up as long as young people line the streets of Washington, DC and are thrilled and surprised to see 30, 40, or even 50 Baptists marching with signs that proclaim inclusion. When people break through the parade barriers and run up to us and hug us, some in tears, saying "thank you." When, as we offer communion to parade participants, they share with us that they haven't been offered communion in years. When festival goers stop by and want to have real conversations and are led to visit our churches and see for themselves that all are included. When, as I married two men who had been together 30 years on the festival stage the first year that marriage was legal in DC, thousands of people came and cried, cheered and celebrated their legal union.
We do need to grow larger, and stronger, and yes, more diverse. Our transgender community needs to see that our welcome includes them as well as the gay, lesbian and bisexual community. We need to be large enough to be the witness for inclusion throughout our area and in a very visible and vocal manner. We need to be large enough to reach out to the other Baptist churches in the area and work with them to go through the process that leads to becoming an AWAB member church.
The first ten years have been a wild ride. AWAB has been visible not only at Capital Pride, but in the DC Council, Annapolis, Richmond, on the Supreme Court steps, in interfaith worships, conferences, workshops, and more. I can't even imagine what we will look like in the next ten years -- but I'm looking forward to witnessing it as we continue to be AWAB of the DMV.
Jill McCrory is pastor of Twinbrook Baptist Church and has served as consultant, board member and Board Chair of AWAB.