There's an outstanding profile in The Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest on openly gay minister Rev.Benjamin Reynolds of Pilgrim Congregational Church in Oak Park, Illinois.
Rev. Reynolds stepped down from his position as senior pastor of Emmanuel Missionary Baptist Church in Colorado Springs after serving in that capacity for over 16 years when he made the decision to come out. This spring, he arrived as transitional pastor at Pilgrim Congregational Church in Oak Park.
The Wednesday Journal of Oak Park & River Forest reports:
In 2006, Emmanuel Baptist Church in Colorado Springs, a congregation that grew from 125 members in 1992 to as many as 1,500 while under his leadership, voted to dismiss him as senior pastor after he came out at a congregational meeting.
Indeed, the term transitional is apt for Reynolds. He is not only serving as the interim minister for Pilgrim but he is also on his own journey, searching for a place where he can be true to both his calling as a preacher and identity as a gay black man.
"I think I've always known that I was going to be a preacher," said Reynolds, who gave his first sermon at Emmanuel at the age of 14. "I think I've always known that I was gay, but because of my home raising and my church background there was really no room for me to be a preacher and what society calls a gay."
On his path to becoming a pastor he tried to convince himself he was straight, even to the point of getting married.
"If being gay is being against God, I didn't want to be against God," he said. "So I repressed it in order to live out my calling and be who God had created me to be."
It was a question from his daughter, who asked why he and her mom slept in separate bedrooms, that forced Reynolds to finally address the issue of his sexual orientation.
"My marriage wasn't doing well," he said. "We were a good face for the people, but we weren't having a good marriage. What I was doing to my daughter and the damage I was doing to her mother led me to the point where I felt I needed to divorce."
During his divorce, Reynolds enrolled at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver where for the first time he found language that gave him faith he could be both gay and a Christian minister. At the same time, he had become the primary care giver to his gay younger brother, who died two years later from complications with HIV.
"Through that journey," he said, "one of the freeing things my brother gave me was that I should live my life as who I am. His freedom in life and death enabled me to come to some rationale about that."
While at Iliff, Reynolds discovered how resistant his church was to having a gay man be a minister of the gospel. On the night he came out, one of the deacons approached him and said, "Everyone in this church knows that you are gay, but I'm mad as hell that you told us."
Another example of the 'don't ask don't tell policy' of the black church. We'll tolerate you as long as you remain closeted and don't make us uncomfortable by forcing us to deal with an issue that's pervasive in the congregation and in the pulpit. So very telling.