Some religious leaders say sticking to the script is stunting spiritual growth. The United Methodist Church is on the verge of splitting over traditional rules surrounding the LGBTQ community.
Reverend Roy Terry is known by his congregation as just Rev. Roy. He says he leads Cornerstone United Methodist Church in Naples with an open heart and mind.
“In this community, we say all are welcome, and we literally mean all. And so that means everybody,” he said.
Right now, The United Methodist Church doesn’t allow same-sex marriages or LGBTQ clergy.
But, that didn’t stop Rev. Roy and the Cornerstone family from sponsoring the Naples Pride Parade, or appointing LGBTQ members to leadership roles.
He says Cornerstone is the only UMC in Southwest Florida erasing boundaries for LGBTQ members; something he feels called to do.
“Got to know people in the LGBTQ community, and heard their stories and experienced the Holy Spirit in their lives,” he said. “I’ve seen God move in their lives in powerful ways to the point where I can’t deny that they are who God created them to be.”
The UMC as a whole could split by the end of the year over traditions related to the LGBTQ community. But, The Florida Conference of the UMC says a split is not “imminent or assumed.” In a statement, they said: All persons, including LGBTQ persons, are welcomed in our churches and permitted to fully participate as members and leaders.
Rev. Roy says those who believe in sticking to the church’s traditional rules - will start their own denomination. If UMC leaders allow them leave, he says they’ll receive $25 million, to start their own denomination and be able to keep their properties. Those who want to remain under UMC have more progressive views like Rev. Roy.
A perspective that’s already costing him.
“We’ve had some people leave, because of our congregation taking a more affirming stance,” he said.
“I love those people, and I care deeply about them. It’s just hard to have that experience, but my convictions are as deep as theirs,” he said.
But, he says he also gained members.Including Thomas Iacovino, a student at Florida Gulf Coast University, who identifies as LGBTQ. He joined Cornerstone in 2019.
“I’ve been in places where I don’t feel fully safe or fully valued based on my orientation,” he said.
He grew up Roman Catholic. He says he found himself torn when it came to his faith and identity.
“I spent most of my adolescence trying to find something that made me feel as if the two parts of me, my orientation - my identity and my faith were not sort of two things at odds,” he said. “At Cornerstone I feel I can embrace both parts. Both parts of me.”
Now, he leads Cornerstone’s young adult ministry.
Cornerstone now joins a handful of other churches in Southwest Florida that embrace the LGBTQ community, like All Faiths, a Unitarian Universalist Church in Fort Myers. In fact, the lead pastor Reverend CJ McGregor officiated Fort Myers’ first same-sex marriage when it became legal in 2016. As a gay paster and pioneer for the lgbtq community, it hasn’t always been easy for Rev. McGregor.
“We regularly receive remarks, and phone calls, and sometimes even letters asking us why,” he said.
-- Why they wave this pride flag outside of their church. But with the pending UMC split, he’s optimistic Southwest Florida will get the message he’s been trying to send all along.
“The group of the methodist that support LGBTQ people and leadership gives us hope,” he said. “No matter who you are, where you are in your spiritual journey, no matter whom you love, you are welcome into the church.”
Now, Rev. Roy looks forward to doing what Rev. McGregor has already done.
“I’m praying for the day that I can perform a same-sex marriage, and that day is hopefully coming soon,” he said.
Leaders of the United Methodist Church are scheduled to vote on the split at the church’s general conference in Minnesota this summer. If the split is approved, local churches will have four years to decide what they want to do.