When Pastor Reginald Avant received a phone call from someone at Madrona Grace Presbyterian Church last summer, he was not excited to answer.
Not only was he on his way to a bereavement call at the Atlanta hospital where he worked as a staff chaplain, but he dreaded answering another call from a prospective employer only to be told that, once again, that he had not been selected for a job to which he applied. Frankly, he didn’t want to hear it that day.
Instead, in his text letting the caller know he could not speak at that time, Avant requested that the caller not stand on ceremony and tell him he had not gotten the Madrona Grace pastor job over the phone, but could he please just text him the news?
In a subsequent phone call, however, Avant learned that, not only did church leadership want to offer him the job, but they wanted him for the position all along.
It turns out that, unlike other Presbyterian churches to which he had applied for jobs over the last 15-plus years, the Madrona Grace congregation was more than happy to welcome a black, gay pastor in an inter-racial marriage to lead their church.
Since his first day Aug. 1 of last year, the Madrona Grace congregation has embraced both “Pastor Reggie,” as he is called and his charismatic approach to preaching — something that carried over from his Pentecostal upbringing. Avant said, as well, his philosophy on practicing Christianity through a social justice lens coincides with what has been a long-time mission at Madrona Grace.
Madrona Grace’s mission is to practice Christianity through hospitality, faith and justice, and its motto is “You are always welcome here, no matter what.”
“For me, that’s a powerful point because for me, being a gay man, that has not always been the case,” Avant said.
Sadly, that has not been the case for much of Avant’s religious journey, ever since he had to resign from his assistant pastor job at an Ontario, California church when he came out as gay in 1996.
Avant said that setback and his overall poor experience coming out made him question his faith but who he was as a person. After a stint in conversion therapy, Avant said he feared his only options were to be untrue to himself and unhappy in life or to go to Hell, which led him to attempt suicide.
Avant said his hope and his faith was restored while he was at a LGBTQ-friendly church service in San Francisco. He said he heard God speak to him words from Psalm 139, “You are fearfully and wonderfully made.”
At that moment he accepted himself for who he was and trusted his value in God’s eyes.
While aspects of his past are painful, Avant said he is willing to share his story because it may help other people to hear it and find hope.
Avant said he is happy to be in Seattle and is pleased that the Madrona Grace Presbyterian Church congregation has been so welcoming to him and his husband, Jason, who is still living in Atlanta until he can find work as a psychotherapist in Seattle.
Avant said, just like he found a home at Madrona Grace, the church really does welcome everybody, whether they believe in Jesus Christ or are uncertain in their faith and where they belong.
He likes that the church congregation is diverse and willing to carry out Jesus Christ’s words through actions: to “do the work.”
“People will get to know Jesus Christ at our church, but they’ll get to know Jesus Christ through our actions,” Avant said.