By MEGAN STROUP
Columbia residents from various religious communities — including but not limited to Buddhist, Jewish and Christian — are invited to gather at 2 p.m. this Sunday, June 13, in Peace Park to celebrate an interfaith worship service as part of the Mid-Mo PrideFest.
The idea for the service originated at Columbia Hope Church, an Episcopal church that was started by the Rev. Heather Morgan in 2009.
Morgan said she got the idea for an outdoor service at Pride from the “Mass on the Grass” Episcopal service held annually during the St. Louis Pridefest.
“Because of the success of that one, and because it’s so popular, our congregation got the idea to hold an outdoor worship service in the Columbia PrideFest,” Morgan explained. “Because there are so many other Columbia communities of faith ministering to the LGBTQQA community, we wanted to make this service broader than our own denomination.”
A service for everyone
The major difference between the worship service in St. Louis and the upcoming event in Columbia is that elements from different religions will be incorporated throughout the order of worship in Columbia.
Morgan said she hopes the service will show the LGBT community that many houses of worship in Columbia have open arms and would love to invite them in.
“We have a deep belief that a large percentage of the LGBTQQA community has a deep faith in God and is looking for a place to call their church home, if they don’t already have one,” Morgan said.
Morgan said she has invited the Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Unitarian and pagan communities to attend, in addition to numerous Christian denominations.
So far, the following faith groups have taken part in the planning process:
- Rock Bridge Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
- Columbia Friends Meeting (Quaker)
- Nichiren Buddhist Community
- Unitarian Universalist Church of Columbia
- Unity Center of Columbia
- Columbia Hope Church (Episcopal)
- Open Door Ministry of the Missouri United Methodist Church
Morgan added the Hillel House at MU is out for the summer, but the community has been very supportive and will direct interested individuals to the service. The Rev. Bonnie Cassida, the pastor of Bethel Baptist Church, has also been supportive and participated in one planning meeting.
The Rev. Cathy Ellen Rosenholtz, a Lutheran pastor in the ELCA denomination and a graduate student at MU, has been a central figure in the planning process. Rosenholtz will present a “Message of Love” at the worship service.
“We’re still open to other groups jumping in with us between now and June 13,” Morgan said. “If there’s a group that would like to take part in planning the worship, we invite them to come be a part of our next planning meeting.”
The final planning meeting for the interfaith worship service will be held Saturday, June 12, from 10 to 11 a.m. at Columbia Hope Church, located at 4603 John Garry Drive, Suites 5 and 6.
Morgan’s journey to Missouri
The Rev. Heather Morgan came to Columbia from the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit in Greensboro, N.C., in late 2007.
Morgan said she discovered the opportunity to come to Columbia and start a new church when she saw a job application posted online. She said Columbia was chosen as an ideal spot for a new Episcopal church because it is a quickly growing region and had the right demographics for another church.
Morgan said she met many members of her congregation during her day-to-day life in Columbia while walking her dog, getting established with her new bank and buying a house.
“Wherever I went, I would meet people,” Morgan said. “When I told them we were getting ready to open a new Episcopal church in town, a lot of folks got excited and wanted to jump on board with developing a new congregation.”
Columbia Hope is a sister congregation with Calvary Episcopal Church in Columbia, and Morgan said she wants to be good neighbors to them.
Morgan’s interest in diversity and the LGBT community stems from her experience at her former church in Greensboro, which Morgan said was founded as a multicultural congregation from its inception. At Holy Spirit, Morgan said people of different races worked together to develop a different kind of Episcopal church.
“It was a wonderful ministry,” Morgan said. “It had a really deep focus on social justice, and it was actively engaged in serving the community of Greensboro in a way that addressed the needs of marginalized or historically oppressed people.”
Morgan has continued her focus on social justice issues in Columbia. The Oasis program at Columbia Hope provides support and resources to members of the LGBT community and their friends and family. Morgan said Columbia Hope is designated as an open and affirming church, “meaning we have hospitality to everyone.”
Morgan is optimistic when it comes to people who react unfavorably to her open and affirming perspective.
“I try to respect everyone’s viewpoint,” Morgan said. “I don’t dwell on those instances. I want to keep in mind the reason we’re doing this work is because Jesus told us to love one another as he loved us, and he called everyone friends.”