NORMAN — A United Methodist church is reaching out to the community through a series of videos produced with help from University of Oklahoma students.
St. Stephen's United Methodist Church, 1801 W Brooks, produced 10 videos as part of its “It Gets Better” project.
The Rev. Amy Venable, the church's pastor, said the videos, launched in May, are designed to combat bullying and to help promote the church's Reconciling Ministry, which welcomes the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender community.
She said the idea came from church member Jason Martin, co-chair of the church's Reconciling Ministries Committee, after a spate of suicides gained local and national attention.
“It was the season of all these unfortunate suicides,” Venable said.
She said on the local level, Martin and other church members were alarmed at the suicide of a Norman man after a contentious October 2010 Norman City Council meeting in which community members spoke out against a proposal to recognize October as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender History Month in Norman.
On a national level, Venable said church members also were troubled when Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi committed suicide in September 2010 after his college roommate posted online a webcam video of Clementi kissing another man.
Venable, 39, said the church's “It Gets Better” videos are one way the church can tell the surrounding community that it is an open and affirming church that welcomes all people regardless of sexual orientation.
“We are first and foremost a United Methodist church but we also realize that if we didn't say out loud that we welcome GLBT then they wouldn't know that they are welcome,” she said.
The church received an award for the video project in May.
The project was recognized as the best lay-led ministry project from the United Methodist Church South Oklahoma City District at a luncheon in Tulsa held in conjunction with the Oklahoma United Methodist Conference's annual meeting.
Each of the videos features either an individual or a couple sharing their thoughts about the many ways St. Stephen's welcomes all people.
Martin's video in particular is eye-opening because he shares his testimony as a gay man who found a warm and inviting church family at St. Stephen's.
Martin, 37, said he wanted the church's video series to be part of the national “It Gets Better” video movement that began in 2010 in response to bullying against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people and adults. He said the goal of the movement is to share with bullying victims that they are not alone and “life does get better.”
Martin said he formerly lived in Pauls Valley but moved to Norman several years ago after his immediate family rejected him because he is gay. He said leaving behind his church and family members was difficult.
“To be gay and be told by your church that you are less than, that you're not worthy of God's love, is a hard pill to swallow,” Martin said.
He said attending another church “was not on my to-do list” because of the rejection he had experienced. He said a friend suggested he try St. Stephen's and he has been a church member there for about four years.
“To find a place in Oklahoma that was welcoming was an oasis,” Martin said.
Venable said a St. Stephen's Sunday school class called Challenges and Choices initially became affiliated with the Reconciling Ministries Network, a network of United Methodist people, congregations, campus ministries and other groups working to create full inclusion of all people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Martin said the church is now celebrating its fourth anniversary as an open and affirming church and the church is now one of two Oklahoma City area churches affiliated with the Reconciling Ministries Network. Epworth United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City is the other Oklahoma City metro area church connected to the network. The Open Minds Class at First United Methodist Church of Tahlequah also is listed on the network's website as an affiliate.
Martin and Marilyn Nicely serve as co-chairmen of the St. Stephen's Reconciling Ministries Committee. Martin said as such, they worked closely with other church members and several students in an OU public relations media class to see the video project come to fruition.
The videos can be viewed on YouTube and the church's website. Venable said the series together has received about 1,800 hits and some of the single videos have had about 500 hits each.
She said people at one Minneapolis church saw the videos and said that the videos helped them decide to join the Reconciling Ministries Network.
Martin said he believes that the Lord opened the doors that connected him to St. Stephen's.
He said he is hoping the video series has the same affect for others in the community.
“Not too many faith communities are really talking about issues such as gay and lesbian issues,” he said. “We want to let them know on a personal level that there are resources out there for them and places in Norman that are welcoming.”
Scan the QR code for related videos, or go to News