A Truett Seminary graduate has become the first openly LGBTQ person to be called as a solo pastor in the Mennonite Church USA.
Albuquerque (N.M.) Mennonite Church voted overwhelmingly Sept. 10 to call Erica Lea, currently pastor-in-residence at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., as pastor. While other openly LGBTQ individuals currently serve as a pastor in the 70,000-member denomination, she is reportedly the first to be called from outside a congregation.
Lea, who grew up in Houston attending a Southern Baptist church, told The Mennonite Magazine she first encountered the Anabaptist faith tradition while searching for denominations open to women in pastoral roles during her master of divinity studies at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary, a school associated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
The Mennonite Church USA does not officially condone same-sex relationships, but differences over LGBT issues have grown visible in recent years. More than 100 churches have publicly affirmed the Supportive Communities Network, a program of the Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT interests.
The Mennonite Church USA executive board is currently reviewing the recent election of an individual to a leadership committee, because some of the board members didn’t know until after the vote he is in a same-sex marriage.
Lea told Sojourners magazine it felt a little “awkward” to be in the denominational spotlight, but she sees her calling as something to celebrate.
“I think this is an opportunity to encourage others who have not seen someone like them in a pastoral role,” Lea said. “I want LGBTQ people and women to be celebrated and encouraged in pastoral and ministry leadership roles.”
Before coming to Calvary Baptist Church, which ordained her to the gospel ministry in 2015, Lea served in ministry positions including interim pastor of Houston Mennonite Church and pastoral intern at Lake Shore Baptist Church in Waco, Texas.
Lea, who will move to New Mexico with her partner shortly after their wedding in November, joins a growing number of young pastors being drawn to Anabaptists after being raised in other faith traditions.
“There is this cohort of younger pastors like myself who are saying, ‘Wow, these Mennonites are doing good things with the gospel,’” she told The Mennonite. “I look forward to building those relationships with colleagues and supporting one another.”
Her departure from CBF comes as the 1,800-church moderate Baptist network grapples with its own division over homosexuality in an “Illumination Project” aimed at helping individuals in Fellowship congregations learn to disagree without being disagreeable.
The CBF leaves matters such as LGBT inclusion up to the local church and does not issue resolutions on controversial issues, but a policy adopted in 2000 forbids the hiring of openly non-celibate gays or lesbians as CBF staff or missionaries.