When thinking of the holiday season, I remember the weeks and days leading up to Christmas as some of the most exciting of the year. As a child raised in a Baptist home, I liked the colors of Christmas, the sounds, smells and lights; but most of all I, like all of the kids I knew, loved the giving and receiving of things. Over the years, I grew to understand that it is not things, but a spirit of broad welcome, service and love that reflects the true Spirit of Christ at Christmas.
Over the past several years, I have been in deep reflection about the power of Christian ministry as a whole. As the founding pastor of Unity Fellowship Church Charlotte, a predominately LGBTQ African-American congregation, I have entered into a space that I believe Love draws many of us to, if we continue to follow its path. This place leaves us with the question — what more is God calling us to give and receive?
The Christ Spirit is not denominational in its construct nor is it owned by any one faith tradition. It does not boast of its membership numbers nor condemn people based on narrow views of who God is and what God accepts. The Christ Spirit is universal and consistently challenges us to reach further, dig deeper and never rest on what or who we last understood God to be. God will always be bigger.
The Christ Spirit called the Apostle Paul to reach beyond the Jewish community to the gentiles. It called Catholic nun Mother Theresa to this place she called “the call beyond the call,” which led her to leave the convent and venture out to live among the poor in India. The same Spirit called Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. beyond the walls of the Black church and into the domestic struggle for workers’ rights and the international fight against the Vietnam war.
The Christ Spirit has also called me to serve in a broader pasture. While I have served within the Unity Fellowship Church Movement for the past 16 years and served as pastor of Unity Fellowship Church Charlotte for 13, the still speaking God has now called us to open the table more broadly so that space is made for more of the human family. This mission has led to the establishment of Sacred Souls Community Church, a progressive Christian ministry that will also reach out to our heterosexual neighbors and others. Our work will be done at the intersections of faith and justice.
Dec. 31, 2013, will be my last service as pastor of Unity Fellowship Church Charlotte. It has been one of the great honors of my life to serve as shepherd of that flock. The church will continue under new leadership and will be relocating to a soon-to-be announced location in Charlotte. God’s love has blessed us all tremendously during this transition and for that I am grateful. Jan. 5, 2014, will be the first service of Sacred Souls Community Church. Services will be held 11a.m. on Sundays at 2127 Eastway Dr., in Charlotte. The table is now truly set for the “whosoever will” of the human family.
This holiday season, why not think of more than things. Instead, think of the true Christ Spirit that always challenges us to look at the sacredness of every soul and find ways to give and receive more joy, peace, support, and most of all, love. Happy Holidays from our family to yours. : :
— Bishop Tonyia M. Rawls is a national religious leader, social justice activist and strong supporter of LGBTQ rights. She is pastor of Sacred Souls Community Church and founder and executive director of The Freedom Center for Social Justice, which recently launched the region’s first LGBTQ Law Center and Transgender Employment Program.
May God continue to bless you, your wife and your ministry. I have had the pleasure to fellowship at Unity Fellowship while visiting Charlotte. I was there on New Yrs Eve, your last service there and I was blessed beyond measure. I look forward to attending Sacred Souls on my next visit.
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