May 15, 2024 - News

Tampa Bay Methodists paved way for LGBTQ acceptance

Illustration of a stained glass church window showing rainbow colors and a speech bubble.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Rachel Hughes tried to tell her parents she was gay as a little girl, but knew she couldn't. When she joined the Army, she followed "don't ask, don't tell."

  • And when she felt God's calling to become a pastor, she knew the Methodist church would be more of the same.

Why it matters: After finally coming out in her 60s, Hughes joined a group of rebellious pastors in fully accepting the LGBTQ community despite church rules.

  • But as of last week, the Clearwater pastor is no longer a rebel.

State of play: Methodists from around the world voted to roll back more than 50 years of rules and church laws, reversing a ban on the ordination of LGBTQ clergy and allowing clergy to perform same-sex marriages.

  • "My soul feels free," Hughes told Axios. "I can get up in the pulpit and actually say my wife's name and introduce her."

Flashback: It's been a tumultuous five years for the church. The LGBTQ bans were strengthened in 2019.

What they're saying: Rev. Andy Oliver at Allendale United Methodist in St. Petersburg almost faced a church trial for performing same-sex marriages in 2019.

  • He's excited for other Tampa Bay churches to follow in his footsteps, but still grieves for those harmed over the years.
  • "That 52-year fight was filled with thousands of stories where people felt called into ministry and didn't follow that call, or did so in the closet and had to give up a huge part of their life," Oliver told Axios.
  • "Churches that want to earn the trust of LGBTQ people in Florida don't have to look far to stand up and advocate for their humanity."
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