In the wake of the transition of West Hollywood Presbyterian Church to the United Church of Christ, a celebration was held Sunday at the small church located at 7350 Sunset Blvd. (at Martel Avenue).
Reverend Dan Smith, who has been the church's pastor for 27 years and was the first openly gay pastor to be ordained in the Presbyterian church, stood in front of the congregation and accepted an official certificate of acceptance into the UCC from a member of the UCC conference following a 5 p.m. sermon.
The service was held inside the church where banners hung in support of gay rights. During his speech, Smith spoke of “loving equally” and “accepting all.”
The church which opened its doors in 1913 has been open to LGBT members since 1965.
“It is a great day,” said Smith. “We have waited and fought for so long for this, now we celebrate!”
The West Hollywood church decided to leave the Presbyterian parish in support of gay rights. The church had been experiencing what Smith described as oppression from the Presbyterian organization and decided it was time to leave.
After years of fighting to be released from the parish, the church with a 57-member congregation was finally voted into UCC on May 12. Their first day as a UCC church was on May 13.
The celebration following the service was held in the church's foyer where members exchanged hugs and raised a toast to the change.
“This means a lot to us not only as gay men, but it means a lot that they are so accepting of everyone; no matter where you are on your spiritual path or life's path” said Chris Earles, a member of the church since 2010. “When I was a kid, I was taught that all gay people would burn in a lake of fire for all eternity, and to come here, and be so accepted, it’s heart warming.”
Members of the congregation believe the transition shows a lot of growth and progression.
“Not only in the church but in the community itself,” said Hortencia Ruiz, a longtime attendee of the church.
Laurie Fox, the church's administrative assistant, described the day as victorious. “We have been working for this day for so long,” she explained. “I've never seen Pastor Dan so happy. To see our congregation so celebrated and wanted, we have arrived.”
Though the church was voted in and is now a UCC church, the congregation says that it doesn't stop there.
“We must continue,” Smith explained. “We don't know where the Holy Spirit will take us next, but we're ready and we know it will be some place totally great.”