New Mexico church calls first openly LGBTQ lead pastor in MC USA

Sep 19, 2017 by and

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Albuquerque (N.M.) Mennonite Church has called an openly LGBTQ person to be their lead pastor, becoming the first congregation to do so in Mennonite Church USA.

Erica Lea


The church of about 150 attenders announced Sept. 18 that it has called Erica Lea to the role. Albuquerque Mennonite became a “welcoming community” in 2007 but did not join the Brethren Mennonite Council for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Interests until more recently.

In a news release, the congregation stated it welcomes Lea and her “strong call to connect with and serve people affected by current immigration policies and racial, social and economic discrimination — as well as a call to provide a beacon and safe haven for the LGBTQ community.”

“Our congregation has a majority of attenders who did not grow up Mennonite — who, like Erica, have chosen to join our faith community,” Andrew Clouse, a member of the AMC search committee, said in the release. “We look forward to finding more ways of articulating and sharing an Anabaptist faith that can flourish in locally derived expressions of Jesus’s call to discipleship, peacemaking and justice. We think Erica is well-equipped to help us do this.”

Lea has been a missionary and pastor for more than 10 years, primarily serving Baptist congregations in Wyoming, Texas and North Carolina. Currently serving her third year as pastor in residence at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., Lea had previously served as interim pastor of Houston Mennonite Church while Pastor Marty Troyer was on sabbatical.

“She is passionate about strong Anabaptist ministry and brings a heartfelt theological commitment to her adopted faith family,” Troyer said in the press release from Albuquerque. “While she served at Houston, our congregation experienced the best pastoral ministry has to offer: preaching, caring and management.

“Erica is also passionate about Mennonite emphasis on peace witness and radical hospitality. Her ministry is rooted in the belief that all people are welcome, and that community is the deepest expression of God’s desires.”

A Houston native, Lea is a 2014 graduate of Truett Seminary at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where she was introduced to Mennonites and Anabaptist theology. She was a presenter at MC USA’s Women Doing Theology conferences in 2014 and 2016.

Standing on shoulders

In a telephone interview, Lea said she stands on the shoulders of many other LGBTQ people and allies who came ahead of her.

“There’s a potential historical moment that we want to celebrate, but we also want to encourage other members of the LGBTQ communities that God loves them,” she said. “God loves us and it is quite possible that the spirit might be calling them to these types of roles. That’s what we’re wanting to celebrate.”

Lea and her partner will marry in November. Shortly thereafter they will move to New Mexico, when she will begin serving as Albuquerque Mennonite’s pastor.

With a background in ecofeminist theology, Lea was drawn to the church’s work in environmental justice. She is excited to serve a congregation willing to prioritize loving neighbors through advocacy work while also emphasizing contemplative spirituality.

“I don’t think a lot of congregations have a true balance between social justice and praying with their feet and spiritual formation and quiet prayer time,” she said. “A lot of churches are either really loud or really quiet.”

A younger conference

Ken Gingerich, who attends Albuquerque Mennonite, is moderator of Mountain States Mennonite Conference, which was also the first MC USA conference to license an openly gay pastor. Theda Good was licensed as pastor of nurture and fellowship at First Mennonite Church of Denver in 2014 after joining First Mennonite’s staff in 2012.

At that time, the Mountain States Ministerial Council held four listening meetings across the conference, in addition to consultations within Mountain States and with representatives of other MC USA conferences.
Gingerich said in an interview that Mountain States seeks to honor the integrity of congregations’ discernment processes as much as possible.

“We may be a bit more congregational than some conferences,” he said. “It may also be the context of being in the west and being a younger conference.

“We don’t have the tradition of dealing with a central authority — the community is the authority. . . . But we are also a community of congregations that continues to discern our mission together, and we’ll try to honor the relationships between us. It’s about finding the right balance.”

Lea is part of a wave of six young, millennial lead or co-pastors leading almost a third of Mountain States’ congregations. They didn’t grow up in Mennonite churches, and they attended seminaries like Duke Divinity School and North Park Theological Seminary, yet each deliberately embraced Anabaptism.

Mountain States is providing them with scholarships to Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary’s Church Leadership Center to emphasize Anabaptist formation for pastoral leaders.

Comments Policy

Mennonite World Review invites readers’ comments on articles. To promote constructive dialogue, editors select the comments that appear, just as we do with letters to the editor in print. These decisions are final. Writers must sign their first and last names; anonymous comments are not accepted. Comments do not appear until approved and are posted during business hours. Comments may be reproduced in print, and may be edited if selected for print.

About Me