Thirty-seven people packed into a small conference room at a real estate office on a Sunday in January to hear the word of God, told by The Rev. Errol Montgomery-Robertson.
Two years ago, Montgomery-Robertson, an out gay man, had been toying with the idea of opening a church on the Mississippi Gulf Coast that was accepting of all people. Since then, he has been a spiritual liaison for LGBTQ people in Mississippi. On June 26, 2015, he stood inside the Harrison County Courthouse and married same-sex couples after the Supreme Court made gay marriage legal across the nation.
Many LGBTQ people, he said, wanted spiritual guidance but could not find a church on the Coast that was fully accepting of who they were or who they chose to love.
“They had given up on churches as institutions. There wasn’t a place for them,” Montgomery-Robertson said during an interview for Out Here in America, a podcast produced by Sun Herald and McClatchy that explores the lives of LGBTQ people in the Deep South and America’s heartland. You can subscribe now on Apple Podcasts or Stitcher.
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He was shocked that so many came to the first service — people were overflowing into the hallway. And it was like that for two months.
“We had trans folks, we had gay folks, we had lesbians and we had straight folks,” he said from his home in Pass Christian. “I was very much surprised.”
Lighthouse Community Church came to fruition in March 2016 when Church of the Redeemer, an Episcopal church in Biloxi, offered to let Montgomery hold Sunday service at their parish hall and chapel near the beach. Their church was washed away during Katrina and moved to a location further from the water.
The church is one like no other in Mississippi — Montgomery-Robertson said it’s a place for people to learn about God’s love in a place where conservative Christianity dominates how people treat one another.
“A lot of my ministry is undoing years of bad teaching ... and trying to build them up again,” he said. “It’s a healing profession in a lot of ways.”
But it wasn’t just his congregation that needed healing. Montgomery-Robertson needed to find peace and understanding, too.
In this episode, you’ll hear:
- What it was like growing up in the Lutheran church for a gay man trying to suppress his sexuality
- Montgomery-Robertson’s journey to Mississippi and why church is so important in the South
- The Reverend’s coming out story and how his family has changed in the past 7 years
- What happened when the Lutheran Church found out one of its leaders was gay
- What it was like in Mississippi the day gay marriage became legal across the nation
New episodes publish every Monday. Have an idea for OHIA? Send questions and suggestions to email@example.com.