The Allendale United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg has become noted over the past few years for its progressive leadership under the leadership of Pastor Andy Oliver, and that includes being a source of support and empowerment for the LGBTQ community in Pinellas County.
What You Need To Know
- Allendale UMC in St. Pete welcomes LGBT members
- The church is at the center of an ideological schism within the United Methodist Church
- Pastor Andy Oliver says being inclusive to all people is non-negotiable
That growth has taken place at the same time as there’s been a splintering within the national United Methodist Church over approaches to LGBTQ inclusion. Conservative leaders within the UMC announced plans earlier this year to form a new denomination that does not recognize same-sex marriage. It was that schism that led Oliver to have to go before the bishop of the UMC Florida Conference two years ago, after he married a same-sex couple.
He has now officiated more than a half-dozen same-sex weddings at his church in the past few years, and he says that the issue is “non-negotiable” for him.
It’s that spirit that has inspired members from the LGBTQ community, not just from the Bay area, but from around the nation to become part of the church in recent years, such as Lutz resident Ivy Daley.
Daley is a physician who has lived in several different places around the country. Upon moving to the Tampa Bay area last year, she and her partner began searching for a welcoming church. They attended a service at Allendale after Daley received a positive recommendation from a teammate from her LGBTQ softball league.
“It’s been refreshing and honestly, spiritually healing to be here,” she told Spectrum Bay News 9 earlier this month.
As part of joining the church, Daley soon engaged in a one-on-one meeting with Oliver. That’s when she asked him if he could officiate her same-sex marriage. Oliver went one step better, suggesting that the ceremony take place in the church. Daley accepted.
“Honestly, neither of us had ever really pictured having a wedding in a church,” Daley says about her and her partner’s reaction. “Once you come out as LGBT and you want to get married, the church is not really the place that you think that’s going to occur.”
The trajectory of Tori Edwards life and career has inexorably changed since attending first attending Allendale.
Edwards says that she was struggling with organized religion a few years, and found she wasn’t feeling support for who she was — a Black, bisexual female.
She made her way initially to Allendale not because of any craving for religion, but to participate in a Harry Potter book study group. She was asked initially if she could stick around for a religious service. She declined, but a few weeks later did decide to attend a service and ended up loving it.
“It felt like home, even though I had never been here before,” she says.
Now the director of engagement at the church, Edwards says that at Allendale, “we push ourselves to be better people. To serve our neighbors better and to love our neighbors better.”
She’s scheduled to leave Allendale in August to attend seminary school in Washington D.C.
“I came to Allendale not wanting to have anything to do with church, and I’m now leaving on a journey to ordained ministry so it’s been a really cool circle for me.”
Cet Mohamed-Moore also says she was disillusioned with religion to the point where she identified as atheist when she first encountered Oliver at an event following the deaths of two Black men to the police, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, in the summer of 2016.
She said she immediately impressed by Oliver, and has been a regular member since 2018. She encourages those who may have been disaffected from religion to check Allendale out.
“Whatever identity that you hold -marginalized or not, like we’re all weird in some ways,” Mohamed-Moore says. “You can bring that weirdness here. You don’t have to show up in pieces. You can show up as your whole self, and somebody will be here to greet you. Write your name tag, ask for your pronouns and invite you back.
Texas resident Jalen Garza, 20, has a “passion for youth ministry” and says she hoped that she could teaching it somewhere in the Lone Star State this summer before returning back to her college studies in the fall. But Garza says as she surfed through the internet last fall to look for churches either in her college town of Abilene or in her hometown of San Antonio, none of those areas would allow her to be herself, she says.
She then began looking on the reconciling ministries websiteto find a church that was affirming, ultimately emailing around a dozen churches about a possible intern opportunity this summer. She woke up the next day to find an email from Oliver that said simply, “You have the job.”
Garza says she was raised as United Methodist, and remains grateful to her parents who instilled that faith in her as a youth. It’s awesome,” she says of her opportunity this summer at Allendale. “It is encouraging and refreshing.”
Theresa Frost is now the director of student ministries at Allendale, where she’s been involved with since 2018 after moving down from Mississippi for a teaching opportunity.
Frost says she’s since been embraced by the community surrounding Allendale, and recently came out as bisexual, something she says she doubts she would have done if she were still living in Mississippi.
“I knew that if I said it no one would hate me, and I wouldn’t lose my job, and I wouldn’t lose my family. And I wouldn’t lose my community. And so that has been really amazing to have.”
Anthony Lenzo says they “discovered a really unique place” when they first began attending at Allendale about three years ago.
“I was brought up Catholic and really liked the teachings of Jesus but didn’t feel they were very manifested in a lot of places and here I feel that they are,” Lenzo says.
Allendale is also where Lenzo came out as non-binary a year ago.
“I teach college and actually through a recommendation of a student I came out as non-binary to my students and it has allowed students in my classes to feel accepted and come out as well. Just a little thing can make a big difference.”