DURHAM, N.C. — Brett Webb-Mitchell, qnotes columnist and a Presbyterian minister recently shared his story of his 2008 relocation to a small North Carolina town as an interim clergy person with Salon.
His tale begins with his taking a pulpit at First Presbyterian Church in Henderson. From the time he took his post and for a month afterward, a blog overflowed with comments about him. Statements like, “The old biblical saying (the Lord works in mysterious ways) must be true in this case,” and “Presbyterians in Henderson…take your children and run.”
Webb-Mitchell had heard much in his career, but none so direct and biting. He was already beginning to feel whipped.
He had not told the church that he was gay when he took the post, even though he was to a smaller group from his denomination and from the Raleigh area. Within days of taking the job, a music director involuntarily outed him. He felt his contract and his pulpit were at risk. The church Sessions held a meeting to discuss the matter. At the end of it, all was calmer and he could remain as pastor or the next year and a half.
Over time, some commented that they thought he was a good preacher and some struggled with the sexual orientation issue. At the end of his tenure, he received comments from the members. The ones that disturbed his most were those that slapped at the fabric of who he was. He had not be subjected to such a strong sentiment in the other churches he had served up until that point.
Things only got worse. An adult bookstore in Henderson was not allowed to open in the downtown area. With that a blogger commented that the bookstore “could open up in the basement of the Presbyterian Church with all of my books.” The fire accelerated. Then it abated.
His contract ended and he left, not defeated, but stronger.