Several years before the Episcopal Church USA became the first mainline Christian denomination to ordain an openly gay bishop in 2003, before the Presbyterian Church USA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America agreed to ordain gay clergy, and before the Episcopal Church USA approved a plan to conduct same-sex blessings, an Oklahoma City pastor founded a church designed to welcome the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
It was 1997 when the Rev. Kathy McCallie withdrew from the United Methodist denomination because of its refusal to allow her to perform same-sex weddings. Her decision was considered controversial in many quarters.
McCallie left her post as pastor of Epworth United Methodist Church and founded Church of the Open Arms, now at 3131 N Pennsylvania. It became one of the first metro-area churches to emphasize an intentional welcome to LGBT individuals.
On Sunday, McCallie will step down as senior pastor of the church she founded 16 years ago. She said she is leaving for Tulsa, where she will become assistant professor of ministerial leadership and ethics and director of the doctor of ministry program at Phillips Theological Seminary.
McCallie, 53, said Church of the Open Arms, affiliated with the United Church of Christ denomination, will be served by an interim pastor until a new pastor is chosen. The church's associate pastor, the Rev. Scott Hamilton, is executive director of the Cimarron Alliance, an advocacy organization for the LGBT community.
Hamilton said McCallie's departure will be felt far beyond the congregation she has nurtured throughout the years.
“She has truly changed the landscape for a lot of people who really felt like there was no place for them to worship,” he said. “When you offer people a place in society, a place that for them is a safe shore, you empower people to fulfill their own potential and to stand up for themselves and others — and she has done that.”
Hamilton said McCallie stood up for what she believed in and once essentially faced down the Ku Klux Klan, which threatened to rally in opposition to a presentation she planned to conduct about the Bible and homosexuality. Hamilton said a storm occurred and the Klan canceled, but McCallie never wavered in her plans to host the Bible dialogue.
“My sense is that she built her ministry on addressing basic human needs like love, acceptance and comfort — those things that transcend race, culture and religion,” he said.
McCallie, 53, a divorced mother of three grown children, recently discussed her controversial stand, her decision to leave the denomination that ordained her, and her plans to leave the congregation she has nurtured for more than a decade.
Q: What made you decide to leave the Methodist church because of the issue of same-sex marriage all those years ago?
A: I never would have chosen to leave the United Methodist Church, but I did feel called to start a congregation. I left because charges were brought against me because I was doing same-sex marriages. I had been doing them at Epworth but it wasn't until 1996 that the (United Methodist) General Conference created a prohibition against conducting same-sex marriages in the Methodist church. It was not a happy time or an easy time. I grew up United Methodist — all four of my grandparents were United Methodists. It was not my choice, but in many ways it has been a blessing for me. The United Church of Christ has been wonderful to me.