The presence of Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the Heart of Georgia is best ascertained by learning the history of activities, organizations and events which heavily involved LGBT individuals in this area. In a state which heavily leans to evangelical Christian denominations in much of its demographic, the role of religion in the lives of LGBT individuals in this area cannot be underestimated. However, while Georgia’s religious leanings are debatably related to the present and past prohibitions or negligences of LGBT rights in the state government, LGBT people benefit or may benefit from a number of LGBT-welcoming religious or ethical establishments in the area in recent history.
High Street Unitarian Universalist Church, a liberal religious congregation, was established in 1948-1949 as the informal Unitarian Fellowship of Middle Georgia, and was rechartered in 1979 as the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship Fellowship of Middle Georgia. The congregation purchased its current building, formerly the initial edifice of the First Christian Church of Macon (from 1898 to the 1950s) on High and Orange Streets , in 1988, by which time the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations (the federated body of most UU or Unitarian-identified congregations in the US) had already approved welcoming gays and lesbians into congregations, ordaining openly-LGBT clergy and performing same-sex unions. It participated in Macon Pride throughout its existence and supports pro-LGBT initiatives in the local area to the present day.
St. Barnabas Metropolitan Community Church was an affiliate congregation of the Metropolitan Community Churches, a Protestant denomination that was founded in the late 1960s in California by Troy Perry. Founded in 1999 and initially holding services in the edifice of High Street Unitarian Universalist Church in downtown Macon, St. Barnabas MCC moved to the conference room of what was then the Diversity Center (today known as the Rainbow Center) at 2020 Ingleside Avenue in Macon Georgia. It was headed by Dr. Sidney Darrell Mitchell (an Iredell County, NC native who lived from 1956 to June 12, 2000, following a shooting death in Atlanta). After Mitchell’s death, Danny Spears as interim pastor until 2003, when Teri Hatley became permanent pastor. Due to differences, Hatley oversaw the March 2003 closure and reopening of the church as an affiliate of the International Christian Community Churches (hence known as St. Barnabas ICCC), another affirming denomination. This lasted until 2007, when Hatley announced the closure of the congregation due to dwindling membership numbers.
BEYOND ST. BARNABAS
Other clergy and members of St. Barnabas included Pastor John Mark Parker, who later became a Pastoral Assistant at St. Francis Episcopal Church and, since 2008, as Youth Coordinator at Christ Episcopal Church.
The aforementioned Teri Hatley is currently a member of Centenary United Methodist Church, located at 1290 College Street in Macon. Dr. Danny Spears currently serves as pastor of the Holy Covenant MCC of Brookfield, Ill.
(Today, 2020 Ingleside Avenue is occupied by Central City Aids Network, a local/regional AIDS/HIV support and activism group.)
During its existence, St. Barnabas served as one of a few welcoming, affirming establishments of the Christian religion explicitly open to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Central Georgians. Today, the Centenary UMC, St. Francis Episcopal and Christ Church all provide welcoming congregations and services to Christian LGBT Middle Georgians.
The Disciples of Christ denomination also allows for openly-LGBT people to join the congregation, although the pastors of DoC congregations allow for congregations to make their own decisions regarding LGBT people and ordinations. Two congregations exist in the area – First Christian Church in Macon, and First Christian Church in Warner Robins.
Besides High Street, which welcomes all religious and non-religious individuals, there are few non-exclusively-Christian establishments or congregations. Outside of the exclusively-Christian spectrum, the Temple Beth Israel, a Reform Jewish congregation with a long history in Macon dating to the 19th century, is affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), which allows for welcoming LGBT congregants, ordination of LGBT rabbis, performance of same-sex commitment ceremonies (wherein secular law permits) and other LGBT-related ceremonies and services.
A meetup group for Atheists and Nontheistic Middle Georgians, Macon Atheists & Secular Humanists, holds informal weekly meets at listed places, and partly organizes via email, Facebook and Meetup.com. While not organized as a congregation with a clergy, it does debate and counter religious homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and all other antagonisms against sexual and gender diversity in the area, and LGBT individuals are invited to discuss and contest predominant religious myths and mores about LGBT individuals. Freethought is encouraged.
To suggest more fellowships, congregations, meetups or the like which welcome LGBT individuals, feel free to suggest them on our Facebook group.