San Francisco, CA - The United Church of Christ has for many years now touted itself as being an "opening" and "accepting" church. The theologically liberal denomination whose motto is "God is still speaking" openly accepts into full church membership gays, lesbians and transgendered persons. The church is also one of only a few to officially sanction and perform same-sex unions, and prides itself in being a "church for everyone," including the poor, minorities, social outcasts, etc. But one U.C.C. congregation in the San Francisco area has been struggling to find its place among the denomination, and recently they have set about on a campaign for diversity.
"The problem is simple" said Rev. Dale Pendergrast, pastor of Bayside United Church of Christ. "We're just a bunch of old, rich, white people. We have no minorities in our congregation. We have no gays or lesbians. We have no poor people. The youngest person in our congregation is 55, and there isn't a person here who drives a car that costs less that $25,000. We are pure vanilla ice cream here."
Pendergrast's frustration has been exacerbated further by the fact that the nearby, conservative, Southern Baptist is more diverse than his own church.
"It's very frustrating" said Pendergrast. "We're supposed to be the church of acceptance and diversity, and here this Baptist church down the street has a sizable African American membership and even a Spanish service!"
TBNN spoke with Elbert Raulston the pastor of the the Baptist Church in question, Trinity Baptist Church.
"We're very diverse here" said Raulston. "Anyone is welcome through our doors, no matter who they are or where they've come from. But we are honest with people though about sin and salvation. We welcome homosexuals to our services, but we tell them that they need to repent of that lifestyle and be saved. And we have some people in our congregation who have come out of that lifestyle. So we model Jesus in that we turn no one away, but we model him also in telling people to 'go and sin no more.'"
But Raulston's theological position only further causes Pendergrast to wonder why his church is not growing more.
"It just doesn't make sense" said Pendergrast. "If homosexuals go to that church they'll be told they have to repent, change, believe everything the Bible says and all that nonsense. If they come here, they can stay just the way they are and keep living however they want. It just doesn't make sense. We're the accepting church. We're the open-minded denomination. We should have more diversity, not some Baptist church."
In an effort to hopefully remedy the church's lack of diversity, Bayside has begun a number of campaigns to hopefully change the makeup of their congregation.
"We're excited about these new campaigns" said Ellen Turner, campaign coordinator. "Each month we have one Sunday we call Bring Someone Gay to the Bay, where we encourage our members to bring someone they know or suspect is homosexual to our service. We've also put up some posters around town inviting people to come, and assuring them that they'll be loved and accepted here. But the one I'm most excited about is our Hip Hop and Don't Stop service that we're holding monthly to attract younger crowds. The whole service is rapped, and Reverend Pendergrast can really break it down for the kids."
"The campaigns, thus far, have failed to yield the diversity that we hoped for" said Pendergrast. "But, to be fair, we've only been trying for two months now. We got really excited just last week because we were pretty sure this one guy who visited our service was gay. But unfortunately he just turned out to be really well dressed. The last I heard he visited Trinity Baptist."