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Black church has the spirit
Members find a safe harbor, familiar environment

by Matt Comer, Q-Notes staff
If even the most conservative African-American minister stepped inside the Church of the Holy Spirit Fellowship in Winston-Salem, N.C., he or she would be hard-pressed to deny the presence of God reflected in the members’ joyous worship.

In fact, were it not for the same-sex couples holding hands and the details of the personal testimonies shared by attendees, they probably couldn’t guess that this black church is also primarily gay and lesbian.

A youth member of Church of the Holy Spirit Fellowship leads the congregation in praise and worship.

Church of the Holy Spirit Fellows hip, pastored by the Rev. Roger E. Hayes, is a place where LGBT and same-gender loving (SGL) people are accepted just as they are. Although primarily African-American and LGBT/SGL, the church also has white and straight members.

The church began in 2001 with a congregation of only four members in Greensboro, N.C. Today, services are regularly attended by 50 or more people.

Waltreece Talbert is a new member of the church. She began attending services with her partner last August and took the step to join in December. She says her church is a special place, especially considering the options.

“It’s comfortable here,” she tells Q-Notes. “A lot of times, being gay, you go to churches that preach that it is so wrong but you can’t help how you were born or feel. To come here and be welcomed and appreciated, it is a big change — like coming home to family instead of to strangers.”

Outside of the disagreements they might have on sexuality, Talbert said her church really isn’t all that different from other African-American houses of worship.

“The congregation itself and the way the church worships is pretty standard for most Baptist black churches,” she says. “The only difference between us and any other black church is that you can actually come to worship and hold hands with a partner of the same-sex and relate freely your own testimonies about your life, and that includes heterosexual people.”

The familiarity in the worship style and the pastor’s preaching is an important part of the church’s appeal, Talbert says, because it mirrors the environment many congregants experienced growing up attending services with their families.

Rev. Hayes is a traditional black minister with the added life experiences of being an openly same-gender loving man. He firmly believes in the power of the Holy Spirit and its ability to move his congregation.

“There is a need to allow people to be who they are,” he says. “You never know what burdens people will carry with them when they come here. We come to this place and need to be centered. I can’t do that for my members, but a real move of the Holy Spirit can.”

The church’s motto — “Where the fullness of God’s love resides” — is revealed to be far more than a platitude during a recent visit to a rousing Sunday morning service. Congregants sing, dance and praise God with ecstatic abandon.

Among the worshippers is an astonishing number of young people, many from nearby Winston-Salem State University. At the end of the service, Hayes asks all the college-aged attendees to come to the altar, where he prays with them and asks for God’s guidance as they continue to grow and learn.

“I am proud to see those young people come in and participate,” Talbert says later. “But at the same time, it is a sadness because they have to come here to feel accepted because they feel as outsiders elsewhere. It is comforting to know that our church will grow and young people will be dedicated.”

Both the pastor and Talbert are rightfully optimistic about the future. Any church with a vibrant and committed congregation that includes numerous young members has an outstanding chance to not only survive but to thrive. “We’re not just a ‘temporary’ church,” Talbert declares.
info: Learn more about the Church of the Holy Spirit Fellowship online at www.chsfnc.org.

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