A Different Kind of Church: Park Slope United Methodist Church

5 Apr

Park Slope United Methodist Church, on a foggy Palm Sunday

Last Sunday I took a trip outside of Manhattan to Park Slope United Methodist Church.  It was the first religious worship I had gone to in my life.  I don’t have much to compare the ceremony too, but I can tell you their creed definitely sets this church apart.

The church, located on the corner of 8th St. and Sixth Avenue in Brooklyn, sits amongst the brownstone and brick buildings, and tree-lined streets of Park Slope.  The church’s pastor, Reverend Herb Miller, has led PSUMC for almost six years now.  Miller describes the church as “progressive,” both politically and socially.  “Often times people ask for more politics to be discussed during services,” said Miller, when most congregations often prefer politics be kept separate from the church.  The politically liberal church is notable for its stance on gay marriage.  PSUMC’s marriage policy, which bans all marriage ceremonies from taking place in the church, started seven years ago in response to the Methodist church’s ban on gay marriage and commitment ceremonies.  “The church has been wrestling with gay marriage, feeling that it is unjust to the gay and lesbian community,” said Miller, who said his church’s current policy is in place “so that everyone feels the pain equally, in a statement of solidarity.” Miller said that many times couples ask him to marry them, and he must explain the policy and why he cannot.  “We had a couple of options,” said Miller.  “Either marry them anyways and disobey the rules, do nothing, or ban all marriages.” Miller said the church hopes to open up talks this year about changing the policy to allow for gay marriages and ceremonies.

Park Slope, which is located in western Brooklyn, has the second highest gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender population in the city, according to the Department of City Planning, and one of the highest lesbian populations in the city, if not the country.  Bert Marro, a Park Slope resident, has been a member of the congregation at PSUMC for 16 years.  “What drew me to the church was their creed,” said Marro.  The church’s creed, written outside of the church’s front doors, reads “Hand in Hand, we the people of Park Slope United Methodist Church – black and white, straight and gay, old and young, rich and poor – unite as a loving community in covenant with God and the Creation. Summoned by our faith in Jesus Christ, we commit ourselves to the humanization of urban life and to physical and spiritual growth.”  Marro had his commitment ceremony with his life partner in the church garden, before the present rules came into effect.

The church stresses community outreach, by running soup kitchens and assisting in homeless shelters.  The church divides its work into three committees.  One committee is the Reconciling Committee, which focuses on the inclusion of LGBT individuals in church life.  “We have words, yes,” said Marro, “but we also take action.”  The church is involved in LGBT marches in both Manhattan and Brooklyn, and is very active in politics, including attending protests against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  “It’s a church where people ask for more,” said Miller.

As the ceremony drew to a close, the congregation rose and formed a Shalom Circle, holding hands, “black and white, straight and gay, old and young, rich and poor.”  The ending chant ricocheted off the church walls.  “Shalom, salaam, adios.”

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