SPIR­I­TU­ALLY SPEAK­ING

The LGBT and faith com­mu­ni­ties can co­ex­ist. We take a look at some of At­lanta's most in­clu­sive and di­verse min­istries and more.

GA Voice - - Front Page -

In Oc­to­ber 2010, megachurch pas­tor Bishop Jim Swil­ley stood in front of his “Church in the Now” con­gre­ga­tion and told them that he was gay. His se­cret was known by his wife, De­bye, when they mar­ried. In the end, she was the cat­a­lyst that brought him out of the closet when she re­al­ized that as long as she stayed mar­ried to him, he’d never re­ally be the gay man that God cre­ated him to be. She di­vorced him to free him and then he came out to his fam­ily and his con­gre­ga­tion. Ge­or­gia Voice was among the first to tell the Swil­leys’ story.

The fall­out was un­avoid­able. The church suf­fered a mass ex­o­dus and was forced to down­size. Af­ter Jim suf­fered some stress-re­lated health is­sues, De­bye prompted him to ex­am­ine his heart again to do what made him happy. In July 2014 they closed Church in the Now. The Swil­leys and their sons, also church em­ploy­ees, started over on their own paths. We re­cently caught up with Jim, De­bye and son Ju­dah (from our orig­i­nal in­ter­view), to see what they’re up to.

Ju­dah is a fifth gen­er­a­tion preacher at The Move­ment, a con­gre­ga­tion that meets at a down­town coffee house. He is set to ap­pear on the Oxy­gen net­work show, “Preach­ers of At­lanta,” on Feb. 3. The show fol­lows Ju­dah and four other At­lanta pas­tors and pro­vides a close-up look at their per­sonal and pro­fes­sional in­ter­ac­tions.

“The last five years has been an evo­lu­tion,” said Ju­dah. “It’s grown me. Go­ing through my par­ents’ di­vorce, my dad’s com­ing out and the loss of our church—those chal­lenges made me who I am to­day.”

“I re­al­ize that not ev­ery­one is con­nected spir­i­tu­ally,” he said. “I re­ally want to cre­ate com­mu­nity. The goal of “The Move­ment” is to reach peo­ple and con­nect them with oth­ers that are chas­ing af­ter God and chas­ing af­ter love.”

Mov­ing on, re­claim­ing iden­tity

Af­ter the church closed and De­bye lost her job there, she was dev­as­tated. “It was all I had done for 20 years. Go­ing through that loss forced me to find my own iden­tity.”

She also found free­dom in her faith. “The changes over the last few years have al­lowed me to be more open and hon­est about my per­sonal views and not with­hold about the uni­ver­sal way that I think and be­lieve.”

Does she go to tra­di­tional church now? “I do not. Pur­pose­fully. For over 20 years, I was in ev­ery ser­vice and in the (church) of­fice ev­ery day. I just needed the free­dom not to have to be any­where on any Sun­day or any Wed­nes­day night. I need the free­dom to wor­ship in my own way, in my own time. It’s been awe­some.”

When it comes to re­grets, she has none. “If your life is built in love, then you never re­gret. Love never fails. And those that are a part of your jour­ney are go­ing to be blessed. It’s been an awe­some ride.”

Love and min­istry in the now

On Dec. 31, 2014, Jim mar­ried his hus­band, Ken Mar­shall. Jim now pas­tors a con­gre­ga­tion called “Metron” which meets at Land­mark Mid­town Art Cinema and streams live ev­ery Sun­day on a YouTube chan­nel.

“Mid­town is where I live, that’s where I have en­ergy. I thought the year I came out was the hap­pi­est of my life. But hon­estly, this last year was the hap­pi­est. It’s not a re­flec­tion of my past fam­ily life,” he said. “Be­ing mar­ried as your­self, preach­ing as your­self and liv­ing your life as your­self is in­fin­itely bet­ter than do­ing those things as some­one else.”

“When I mar­ried De­bye, I thought the rap­ture was go­ing to take place in the next cou­ple of weeks. There was no rea­son for me to come out. Clearly, my the­ol­ogy has evolved.” he laughs. “Part of evolv­ing is part­ing with il­lu­sions. Je­sus said that the King­dom of God is like some­one who brings trea­sure out of their house, both old and new. I love that im­agery. There are cer­tain things about my Chris­tian up­bring­ing that I’m never go­ing to aban­don. That’s what I know. That’s my ground zero. There are also new ideas that I do not see as con­tra­dic­tory to the Chris­tian mes­sage.”

Like De­bye, Jim also has no re­grets. “Dr. Seuss said, ‘don’t cry that it’s over, smile that it hap­pened.’ I don’t re­gret any­thing,” he said. “I met a great man and I love what I do. I have an abun­dant life.”

By SHAN­NON HAMES “Be­ing mar­ried as your­self, preach­ing as your­self and liv­ing your life as your­self is in­fin­itely bet­ter than do­ing those things as some­one else.”

—Bishop Jim Swil­ley

Openly gay Bishop Jim Swil­ley, left, is the pas­tor of ‘Metron;’ his son Ju­dah Swil­ley, right, ap­pears on ‘Preach­ers of At­lanta.’ (Cour­tesy pho­tos)

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