A historic Baptist church in the nation’s capital has called a legally married lesbian couple as co-pastors.
Calvary Baptist Church in Washington announced Jan. 9 the hiring of Sally Sarratt and Maria Swearingen as the congregation’s new senior ministers. The couple, married the weekend after same-sex marriage became legal in South Carolina in November 2014, were ordained to the gospel ministry by First Baptist Church in Greenville, S.C., on Nov. 15, 2015.
Calvary isn’t the first Baptist church to hire an openly gay minister or even to have lesbian co-pastors, but challenging the status quo is nothing new for the congregation started by abolitionists in 1862.
In 2014 the congregation ordained what is believed to be the first transgender Baptist minister, Allyson Robinson, a George W. Truett Theological Seminary graduate who previously had been ordained as a man.
Carol Blythe, chair of the ministerial selection committee, said the couple brings complementary skills and backgrounds that will serve the church’s needs in new and exciting ways.
“As we met and talked with Sally and Maria about their vision for pastoral leadership at Calvary, we were struck by their deep faith and commitment to being part of a gospel community,” Blythe, a past president of the Alliance of Baptists, said in a news release. “We were impressed by how their gifts, talents and experience matched our ministry priorities — and we are thrilled about their upcoming pastorate and the versatility the co-pastor model will provide our congregation.”
Swearingen, a master of divinity graduate of Duke Divinity School, currently serves as associate university chaplain at Furman University in Greenville, S.C. She earned her undergraduate degree at Baylor University in 2007.
She is the daughter of a Southern Baptist pastor and Puerto Rican mother and grew up speaking Spanish in a bilingual household. She has served in leadership roles in the Alliance of Baptists and is co-chairing the 2017 annual gathering.
Sarratt, currently sabbatical minister at Greenville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, also works as associate chaplain for behavioral health in the Greenville Health System. After graduating from Carson-Newman College she served two years as a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Global Service Corps missionary in New York City before earning an MBA and working several years in the corporate world.
She reclaimed her call to ministry by enrolling at Emory University in Atlanta, where she earned a master of theological studies degree in 2014, studying religion in public life with a focus on the Moral Mondays movement and California’s Proposition 8.
Sarratt serves on an Alliance of Baptists Identity Discernment Group formed by request of the board of directors to focus and clarify the group’s identity in anticipation of its 30th anniversary gathering April 28-30 at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C.
The new co-pastors officially begin duties at Calvary Baptist Feb. 26. “We have found it so easy to fall in love with Calvary and its longstanding commitment to be a voice of justice and compassion for those who perpetually find the wholeness of their humanity disregarded and maligned,” they said in a joint statement.
The former pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Baptist News Globalist columnist Amy Butler, left to become pastor of Riverside Baptist Church in New York City in 2014.
Edgar Palacios, associate pastor of Christian education who functioned as a missionary pastor for the church’s Latino fellowship, said his goodbyes last September after being appointed by his native El Salvador as ambassador to Canada.
According to a Greenville News article about same-sex couples seeking the city’s first marriage licenses after a federal court order finding South Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional took effect on Nov. 20, 2014, Sarratt and Swearingen met six years earlier at Greenville First Baptist Church, when Swearingen served the church as an intern. They thought more than a year before they started dating about what it would mean for them to be in a relationship and to be Christian.
First Baptist Church in Greenville adopted a new policy in August 2015 of non-discrimination in the congregation’s life and ministry “based on sexual orientation or gender identity.” The church subsequently withdrew from the South Carolina Baptist Convention at the convention’s request.
Calvary Baptist Church severed ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, which automatically excludes churches that affirm or tolerate homosexuality, in 2012. The congregation remains affiliated with American Baptist Churches USA, the Alliance of Baptists, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the District of Columbia Baptist Convention.
Calvary Baptist Church also aligns with the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, Baptist World Alliance, Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America and Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.