Historic NC Baptist Church Calls Lesbian Pastor
The historic Wake Forest Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina has called a lesbian as pastor. Rev. Dr. Angela Yarber comes to this progressive Baptist congregation, located on the campus of Wake Forest University, from the San Francisco Bay Area where she served as Associate Pastor at Shell Ridge Community Church of Walnut Creek.
A native of Atlanta, Georgia, Yarber is a graduate of Baptist-affiliated Brewton-Parker College and McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University. Yarber receive her doctorate in Art and Religion from Graduate Theological Union, an affiliate of University of California-Berkeley. Yarber has served Baptist churches since 1999 and was ordained in 2004. As a professional dancer and artist, Yarber’s ministry focuses on the intersection of arts (performing and visual) with worship and education.
Yarber joins Rev. Dr. Susan Parker at Wake Forest Baptist Church. The congregation has adopted a shared ministry model that abandons the traditional Senior Pastor/Associate Pastor/Co-Pastor labels. Yarber’s focus as pastor is on preaching and worship while Parker’s focus is on pastoral care.
In 1998, Parker was at the center of a controversy over homosexuality which attracted national attention and was the subject of the award-winning documentary A Union in Wait. Parker, then a student at Wake Forest University School of Divinity, and her partner requested permission to hold a covenant ceremony in WFU’s Wait Chapel where Wake Forest Baptist Church meets. After months of discussion, WFU President Thomas Hearn decided not to interfere in the affairs of the congregation and the covenant ceremony was held in Wait Chapel in September, 2000.
Wake Forest Baptist Church began dialogue on the status of gays and lesbians in 1993, when the church revised its weekly bulletin to say it was “an inclusive Christian community.” In 1998, the 300-member congregation voted to allow church space to be used for same-sex covenant ceremonies. The controversial union ceremony was finally held in Wait Chapel in September, 2000.
As a result of the church’s decision to perform the union, the Pilot Mountain Baptist Association and the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina cut ties with the congregation. A year prior, the congregation voted to sever ties with the Southern Baptist Convention. The church cited its displeasure with the increasingly conservative policies of the denomination, specifically its stand on women in ministry, targeting Jews and Mormons for evangelism and isolation of congregations that reach out to gays and lesbians.
Wake Forest Baptist Church is currently affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists, The Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
According to a study produced by Baptist Women in Ministry in 2007, there were only 113 women serving as pastors of Baptist churches in the United States. Veteran religion journalist Yonat Shimron notes that there are only two other Baptist churches in the South, Glendale Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee and Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, with a lesbian pastor.
With the calling of Yarber, Wake Forest Baptist Church becomes the only known Baptist congregation in the South with two openly lesbian pastors.