Clawson United Methodist Recovering After Congregation Flight

By |2014-03-13T09:00:00-04:00March 13th, 2014|Michigan, News|

Clawson United Methodist Reverend Peggy Garrigues. BTL photo Crystal Proxmire

CLAWSON – When Clawson United Methodist Reverend Peggy Garrigues issued a challenge to her congregation in August, she had no idea what the cost would be.
“This past August I told my own truth,” she said. “I came out as a non-practicing lesbian, and challenged them to walk with me on a journey of acceptance, love and growth.” Some members of the church were not up to the challenge.
“There were a number of leaders and those who just believe homosexuality is a sin. We lost a significant number of leaders. We lost a significant amount of pledges,” Garrigues said. “In the midst of loss we believe in resurrection and new life.”
The loss totaled between 25-30 once-dedicated members of the church, and about $50,000 worth of pledges.
The members did not only pack up and leave, they took a stand and continued to come to church for the final months of 2013, stating that if Garrigues were still pastor come Jan. 1 they would leave. They sat scornfully in the pews week after week, as Garrigues “struggled to find ways to minister to those who supported me and those who did not agree. I wanted to leave them with some kind of positive message, to give them some kind of love and hope.”
On March 8, the Spectrum Singers, One Voice Chorus and members of the congregation came together to hold a fundraising concert to help make up for the $50,000 lost by the church members who left at the beginning of the year. Nearly 200 people came for the “Singing for Love and Justice” event.
Among the attendees was Reverend Melanie Carey, district superintendent for UMC. “We bring our love for Rev. Peggy and the power of love to overcome all things,” she said to the crowd. “The hope is that we can continue the dialogue about difficult issues and God will move us forward.”
The struggle for acceptance of LGBT people of faith is an ongoing one in the UMC. While some leave the church for more welcoming environments, others are determined to create change from within.
Garrigues is a divorced mother of two college-aged sons, both of whom sang passionate solos at the concert. She said that a “late in life realization” led her to recognize her sexual orientation, and that her ex-husband has found comfort in a group called Straight Spouses Network. “I am not now, nor have I ever been in a homosexual relationship,” Garrigues told the audience. This distinction allows her to keep her post as pastor and to have the support of higher-ups like Carey.
Many within the congregation have stayed. Kevin Nave is music director for Clawson UMC. He was raised in a home without faith, and found God when he was in high school. “Clawson is a place of acceptance. In order to do that you have to see people as individuals and not as stereotypes,” he said. “Just by being here you’re offering your support. Just by being you, you are part of the story.”
He encouraged people to invest in the work of UMC and to continue with them as they grow to a place of acceptance for all people. “Will you go and be Jesus’s light in the world? Will you go where you are needed and be a friend?,” he asked.
Board member Rocco Romano shared some of the church’s history and positive work in the community. Clawson UMC is one of the original 12 churches that started SOS, a rotating shelter program that houses the homeless during the cold winter months. “This is our 28th year doing SOS,” Romano said. “We invite people in and provide them food and shelter for a week.”
Other charitable works include making care packages for new mothers, sponsoring children to go to choir camp, hosting four different Alcoholics Anonymous groups, providing a space for the Clawson Rotary, and hosting an indoor farmers’ market. They have recently begun offering their worship space for an Arabic-Christian congregation after their services on Sundays. And of particular pride to Romano is the church’s Zumba Class, which he leads twice a week.
“We have a rich history of being in the hands of God,” he said. “We are moving forward in faith with the intent to grow and prosper.” Thus far the church has been able to recover $11,000 of the $50,000 in pledges it has lost.
Garrigues has been touched by the generosity and support of those who stayed, and by the new members and outside supporters who have come into her life in the past few months. The musical fundraiser fit perfectly with the congregation, and with her own heart. “I am grateful for the healing power of music,” Garrigues said. Her son, Isaac is a tenor studying voice performance at Oakland University. Her son Jeremiah is a baritone, studying music education at Michigan State.

For more information about Clawson UMC, including how to donate, visit their website at http://www.clawsonumc.org/.

About the Author:

Crystal A. Proxmire
Crystal Proxmire is the editor and publisher of The Oakland County Times. She loves covering municipal governance and cheering on community efforts.