News » Glbt

African-American Denomination Welcomes First Lesbian Bishop

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Apr 18, 2008

The first two female bishops of a small African-American denomination are scheduled for consecration--and one of them is a lesbian.

In an Apr. 17 story online news source Q Notes reported that the Unity Fellowship Church Movement, a denomination that grew out of the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, is set to consecrate its first female bishops during its midyear conference in Charlotte, NC, Apr. 21-27.

One of the soon-to-be-consecrated pastors is Tonyia Rawls, a lesbian minister who serves in Charlotte. Rawls' new post will hand her the bishopric of the South. The other is Jacquelyn Holland, who will serve as bishop for churches located in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Q-Notes offered a history of The Unity Fellowship Church Movement, which was founded in 1982 by a Baptist minister dedicated to outreach to the sick and dying, especially of the African-American community, in the early days of the AIDS epidemic.

A quarter-century later, the denomination has 14 churches around the country, and founder--now Archbishop--Carl Bean is still dedicated to outreach to GLBT African-Americans.

Said Rawls of the Archbishop's early-days work with AIDS patients, "Those hospital visits he made turned into funeral services," reported Q-Notes.

Continued Rawls, ""In those days, AIDS-known as GRIDS, or Gay-Related Immunodeficiency Syndrome-was a death sentence."

it was Bean who provided sanctuary to the bereaved back in the days when others would have lashed out because of the deceased's sexuality; Rawls said that Bean gave families "a safe venue to bury their loved ones," the Q-Notes story reported.

Added Rawls, "We've come a long way now."

Like Archbishop Bean, Rawls started out in the Baptist church, where she felt a need to keep her true sexual identity tightly under wraps. When she discovered Unity Fellowship Church, Q-Notes reported, her life took a dramatic turn.

The lesbian minister traveled to New York City to experience the ministry first-hand. Recounted Rawls, "The service was held at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center and there was a line out of the door of the church."

Rawls went on, "The pastor there was talking about the unconditional love of God."

Added the bishop-to-be, "Nothing was the same after that moment."

Rawls did not join Unity Fellowship right away; her journey took her first to a pastoral role at a Presbyterian church, where she still felt the need to stay in the closet. Eventually, her one confidant, her pastor, encouraged Rawls to live an open life. The lesbian minister found her way back to Unity Fellowship at that point, and she has been a pastor in the church for twelve years, establishing the Charlotte location of Unity Fellowship during that time.

On the subject of becoming the church's first lesbian bishop, Rawls said, "This offers me an increased opportunity to have a greater impact in terms of ministry."

Said Rawls, "Understanding that when all is said and done, it is God who does the changing and moving and that as we own whichever seat God has blessed us with, our effectiveness for God and benefit to society and world increases."

Rawls' associate minister, Kenneth Tinnin, called the vocation he shares with Rawls "unapologetically Christian" in its blend of faith and social concerns.

"I'm very excited about this opportunity and state of change."

Continued Tinnin, "I've seen Rawls work and I'm thrilled to have her in this position."

The consecration of Rawls and Holland is scheduled for Sun., Apr. 27.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


  • , 2008-04-22 01:58:26

    Apparently it is a improvement for LGBT. Making these rules is convenient for LGBT to live a happy life. Maybe others can’t usderstand these rules and it means nothing. But they are helpful for LGBT. All LGBT are concerned about these rules. This Of course, "this step means a lot to gay" is the typical point of view. Really nice rules for LGBT. Thanks for giving us more space and making us equal.

  • , 2008-05-01 08:17:49

    It is affirmation time Clear your mind, of all that that society has pleased on you and in you. Move your likes and dislikes from your thoughts. Forget about male, female, white, black, Asian, Jew, gentile, catholic, Baptist, witness, Methodist, heterosexual, gay, two spirited, lesbian or bi sexuality and replace it with love. Replace the pain with love, replace the ex relationships with love, change your perception and let love guide you everyday. As I look on and recollect my past I see the shift and movement that God placed in my life. When we find complacency in life when we stay on that same path, when we believe only one sided, there will be a shift in your life due to the fact that god can’t have his people stagnant. God don’t want you to only be one sided to your brothers and are fine the way you are, god mad you the way you are, god know who you would be and should be with and it is all good. If you are a man and like a man, then move in it because god is love and there is acceptances in loving who you want to love. if you are a women and like women then be yourself, its ok to do you and love you and be happy. because god is the head of life, love and liberation. so walk in your truth if that means you are bi sexual then walk in it.Because then and only then you can and will be truly happy with yourself and other (relationships).Stop being comfortable in the DL’ness because that easy. god want us all to be liberators in him! that old law Jesus came and changed it because that was old and played out. And to be like Christ we have to push the world to change the world. All is welcome to the table no matter what you believe political, no matter who you love, no matter you financial status. Or race God the father, mother, spirit or your best friend, loves you just as you are and were you are. Let nothing keep you from his/her love, let no one hinder that relationship So remember that God Is Love and Love Is For Everyone!!!!! L.I.F.E.

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