Updated: March 1, 2021
I must admit: to be called to pastor in the African American Baptist community wasn’t an easy task. With the African American Baptist church being so far behind in their theology about women and women’s calling by God, I was almost discouraged from pursuing my God-given destiny in life. However, I refused to allow others to deny and deter what God had destined to be my future.
That’s why I attended United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, where I earned a Master of Divinity degree. After completing my seminary training I applied for many churches across the country and found that I received a lot letters with scriptures alluding to the fact that the pastor must be a man. Oh, what would God think about our churches today?
As a result of all the rejection letters and still having a call to lead God’s people, I opened a Baptist church and pastored that church for seven years. During my sixth year, I believed that soon my time at that church would come to a close and I again applied for other Baptist churches for the position of pastor. I had now completed my Doctor of Ministry degree and had more experience and knew that the call to pastor was still upon my life. I had a love and heart for God’s people and thus could not give up on the power of God to move God’s people, in spite of their sexism challenges. So I was blessed as a result of my persistence and belief in God to be called by an African American Baptist church in Detroit, Michigan to be their pastor. It was a great day!
God had done exactly what he said he would do. It was pastor and people together moving to change a community and to pour out all that God would give. During this time as senior pastor, I learned even more about people and how to meet people where they are on their journey as they crossed my path. I learned not to ever judge people, to love people and allow them to “be.” It was, what I believe, what drew many people to me as a pastor and caused them to follow my ministry, along with the great charismatic preaching and stirring prayers. As I encouraged others to be themselves, I evolved and needed to be myself also. I had many conversations with God and many sleepless nights wrestling with my own theology around being authentic. I was on such a fast track to the top in ministry until I wasn’t sure what to do. I was favored to preach in many churches across the city. I had preached on national stages. I had prayed on ecumenical stages alongside Archbishops in the Catholic denomination and presiding prelates of the Apostolic denomination.
Soon, I became the founder and presiding bishop of Pmeuma Christian Fellowship. I was asked to sit on a few other College of Bishops by some of the members of my own College of Bishops. I wrote two books and had sermons featured in other journals and books. My co-laborers in ministry referred to me as a “rising star” and celebrated me for being a young preacher who had a wonderful future ahead of them.
In my authenticity I met the woman I am married to today, Bishop Emeritus Williams, who is my best friend, who is my greatest love, and who has pushed and stretched me with my theology in so many ways. I am so glad and thankful that God brought her into my life. When I married her, I was still in the midst of an inner struggle about sharing with my church that I had met and married the woman who made me one of the happiest people on earth! I had shared my marriage with my children and some family members, but the church was my greatest challenge, because even though I had helped them progress on some things, they had not moved forward on their belief of the right for same-sex couples to marry. So when I shared with my deacons about my marriage and they asked me to share it with the church, I knew that for some it would be ok, but for others it would not. I knew they would come from an old legalistic point of view and feel that I should not be a pastor.
I eventually resigned from my position as pastor of that church and went into a space of hurt, pain, disgust, disappointment, and questioning what God was doing with me. If God had not removed the call on my life to pastor, which I did ask about several times after this experience, then why was I being ousted from being a pastor and being a bishop? Because the pastors that I had under me in Pneuma Christian Fellowship that I was working with were all heterosexual and as soon as it was revealed that I was a lesbian bishop, they no longer wanted to be under my leadership either. So what was God doing?
God had totally allowed everything that had happened in my ministry, the great things that had come my way, all of that to be dismantled, simply because I chose to live my life authentically and as an openly lesbian pastor and bishop. But thanks be to God, that God always has another plan. I knew that God did not remove the call from my life, I knew the Holy Spirit was still speaking to me and saying that my purpose and destiny was to still pastor God’s people and oversee God’s leaders as a Bishop. So with that knowing, I was determined to rise like a Phoenix and do what I do best – preach, pray, pastor, and oversee. And with that vision, with my wife’s support and encouragement, I found a space and place for my new church.
In opening the doors to the Empowerment Liberation Cathedral (ELC), the spirit of God called on me as bishop to empower the people in the LGBTQ community who are still believers in spite of what the religious attics have told them. The spirit of God said that as a bishop I am to liberate the people from all of the untruths and misinformation that has been taught and preached to them on their Christian journey. The spirit of God said that I am still a bishop. I was consecrated a bishop, I was laid hands on by senior bishops with power and authority to make another bishop, and was elevated to that episcopal level in the church, and I should never allow anyone to treat me any differently due to my sexuality or orientation, so my church is rightfully a Cathedral – the house of the bishop. So that is why my church, Empowerment Liberation Cathedral (ELC) has the name it does today and has the power and presence it does today.
On May 1, 2016, we will be celebrating two years of ministry in the LGBTQ community. We have been so blessed to arrive at this point on our journey. While on this journey we affiliated our church with MCC and AWAB. I am so thankful to have a loving wife who understood me and understands God’s call upon my life and doesn’t mind sharing me with the people of God. Surely she is God’s gift to me and a gift to the church. I am so glad to have the opportunity to continue to walk in my divine purpose and pastor the people of God who are members of ELC. And in the near future I will have the wonderful opportunity to oversee spiritual leaders that have reached out to me, to serve as their bishop and many more. God is faithful. I know that God’s cause in the LGBTQ community found me. My venue was changed, but my calling was not.
My denomination has changed but my passion for preaching has not. My openness about who I am has changed, but my anointing has not. My church name has changed, but my power to pray and get an answer has not. Surely I am walking in my destiny and doing what God created me to do. I thank God each day for the opportunity to serve and be a leader in this great community.
As I reflect upon the resurrection of Christ, we must always know that sometimes walking in your purpose will cause non-believers to kill you, but God will always raise you up. God has caused me to rise, just as Jesus did, from the grave that the people tried to hold me in. God has caused me to rise, just as Jesus did, from the placed called hell, that the unsupportive heterosexual pastors tried to keep me in. God has caused me to rise, just like Jesus did, from having my voice muted to a place of being a voice for the voiceless, a catalyst for liberation and an advocate for equality for all. As we embrace the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, let us reflect upon our own lives, deaths, and resurrections, and rise—just as Jesus did.
Bishop Allyson Nelson Abrams, Pastor & Founder of Empowerment Liberation Cathedral, & Presiding Prelate of Pneuma Christian Fellowship. A religious stole was donated in honor of Bishop Abrams to the National LGBTQ Task Force’s Shower of Stoles, which is celebrating its 20thanniversary of telling the stories of LGBTQ people of faith. To learn more about the Shower of Stoles project and to see how you can bring part of the collection to your community, please visit: http://www.welcomingresources.org/sosp.htm. To experience the Online Exhibit, please visit: http://www.lgbtran.org/exhibits/stoles/