RALEIGH, N.C. — St. John’s Metropolitan Community Church celebrated a milestone in its congregational history in late December as it paid off the mortgage on its church building.
Established in 1976 as a small Bible study, the church grew over the next two decades and in 1993 purchased its current building at 805 Glenwood Ave. On Dec. 22, 20 years of mortgage payments came to an end through the generosity of a church member.
St. John’s Pastor Brendan Boone said the gift came at a fitting time as the church was celebrating Christmas.
“I was in the process of teaching a class this fall and one of our participants really felt inspired and, in good old religious terms, convicted to make a significant gift to the church,” Boone said. “That in and of itself is a reflection and testimony of what we believe we are called to do here — transforming lives and growing individuals as disciples and witnesses of the Good News and being the embodiment of Christ.”
Growth and transformation has been a marker of St. John’s history. Boone himself has been key to the process. Originally hired in 2001, Boone said the congregation’s decision to hire him forever altered the church family.
“It is a very diverse congregation now,” Boone said. “When I came in 2001, we were predominately gay male. … It certainly made an interesting picture when they called me to be their pastor.”
Boone and the congregation set out on a path toward “intentional diversity.”
“To be an intentionally-diverse community makes it clear that when we talk about the community of God, the universality of God, that all of us are reflections of the divine order,” Boone said. “We affirm as Christians that we are all created in the image of God. … We encourage people to celebrate who they are, their roots and their traditions and uniqueness, understanding that uniqueness and bringing it to the table is what makes us stronger.”
St. John’s growth in diversity saw even further transformation in recent years as Boone came out to his congregation as transgender.
Boone says he had always known exactly who he was and he’d shared it with his wife.
“I had always had an affinity to females, but always with a male psyche. I’ve always known that,” Boone said. “Nobody ever asked me the proper questions so I could give them the proper answers.”
But, that changed in a conversation that unfolded with Boone’s wife as the church neared Easter weekend in 2010.
“We were doing Resurrection Sunday,” Boone said. “My wife said it’s next to impossible to preach resurrection and coming out of the tomb when you yourself still need to come out fully to the people you are called to pastor.”
Boone did so that Sunday. The reception, he said, was “unbelievably phenomenal.”
“Of course,” Boone said, “there were people who didn’t understand or who found it frustrating and people who did, in fact, grieve the loss of the Belva they knew, but also celebrated the fact I could be the person I always knew myself to be and modeling for others the importance of living authentically and genuinely from the inside out.”
Through the church’s experiences and growths in diversity and inclusion, Boone said the congregation has always remained a place where all people can feel at home. As pastor, he’s tried to guide in a personal manner. He gives other churches and organizations the same advice.
“It begins with the pastor or the leader and being able to see the larger picture of what’s being created and what your call or what your appointment is in breathing life into that larger picture,” he said.
Organizations that want change — either internally or externally — have to keep focus.
“It’s incumbent upon upon you to not lose sight of the picture and understand there are going to be challenges and pitfalls and enormous victories,” Boone said. “But, it’s all part of the journey. We know what the destination looks like — an intentionally-diverse and welcoming community of all God’s people — and we just have to keep going toward that destination and understand there is richness in that journey.”
St. John’s journey is decades long already, but will continue on. Paying off the mortgage is a big help. Funds previously set aside for that expense can now be used to support, strengthen and grow the church’s ministries.
Boone said the church will be attempting new techniques, including small group ministries this year.
“It’s one of the realities of church growth,” he said, “that in order for the church to grow larger, it must grow smaller.”
But, whether folks are gathered in small groups or larger worship or both, Boone looks forward to continuing St. John’s historic mission.
Said Boone, “When we come together and rise above our cultural differences, there is a power in that experience that is quite incredible.” : :