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As the granddaughter of a Baptist preacher, Rev. Carolyn Mobley-Bowie made the decision at the age of 10 to be a follower of Jesus, but for a lesbian in a traditional Baptist community, that meant having to live a double life.
Her journey began in Sanford, Florida, a relatively small town between Orlando and Daytona Beach where she stayed until graduating high school. Mobley-Bowie graduated from Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas earning a bachelor of arts degree in religious education. During that time, she did some “experimenting.” Not long after, while working at a large Baptist church in Orlando, she had her first relationship with a woman.
Mobley-Bowie remembers reading an article about the Metropolitan Community Church where gays and lesbians worship God.
“It was not even a very favorable article. It was kind of putting them down as playing church and having sex on the altar and crazy things I knew couldn’t be true. So I made myself a promise. I said one of these days I’m going to Los Angeles and visit the home church and see what it was all about,” said Mobley-Bowie, who recalls when she came out to her mother.
“She asked me a very interesting question. She said, ‘How do you know you don’t want to be with a man if you’ve never been with a man?’ And I said believe me mama I know,” said Mobley-Bowie.
Nevertheless and perhaps for her mother’s sake, she tried to be with a man – one time.
“I knew I’d never do it again,” she said. “I never looked back. I knew I was a lesbian and I was born that way and it wasn’t something I decided to do. It was something I chose to embrace.”
Mobley-Bowie went on to attend the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia.
“I was at seminary at this black institution and there was one man of European descent. His name was Jim Snow and he happened to be the assistant pastor of the MCC of the Blessed Redeemer in Atlanta. We became fast friends because he was out and gay,” she said.
Caught between her role as a commissioned home missionary with the Southern Baptist Convention and her authentic self, Mobley-Bowie decided she had to stop lying.
“I decided that I may not be able to tell them I’m gay and be out, but I was not going to lie and tell them I was not gay,” she said, noting that she would attend a traditional black church on Sunday mornings and she would kneel on Sunday afternoons in a pew at MCC. This went on for about five years until one day Mobley-Bowie was called in for a meeting. Told she was under suspicion of being a homosexual and asked to resign, she did so without fuss. It was 1981 and Mobley-Bowie went right back to the MCC church and joined, never looking back. She decided she would never again work anyplace where she couldn’t be fully out.
“If that meant I’d never work in a church again so be it,” she said. Turns out, after 10 years of working a secular job, Mobley-Bowie was invited to be an associate pastor at MCC Resurrection in Houston, Texas in 1990.
She kept her post for 15 years and married her partner, Adrain, in 1998. In 2005, she felt the time had come to leave the church. She moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to serve as interim pastor of an MCC church there. A couple years later, she moved to Richmond, Virginia to take on the same assignment.
In 2016, Mobley-Bowie and her wife moved to Saginaw, Michigan with retirement in mind. But Mobley-Bowie got involved with MCC Detroit and was offered the opportunity to become interim pastor at Divine Peace MCC in Waterford Township beginning Sept. 3. She signed an open-ended contract that has an initial period of one year.
“We’ll see how long they need me and how long I can be of service, but I’m hoping it will be more than one year,” she said, adding, “It is an awesome opportunity and it’s an awesome task.”