The end of June marked the end of Pride Month for the year, and unfortunately, also marks a time period of continued attacks on LGBTQIA+ people and their rights. Recent Supreme Court rulings have left many wondering what the true intention of legislative decision-making is by our policymakers.
Another area that can often be contentious for those who identify as LGBTQIA+ is religion and faith as many popular religious organizations have discriminatory views on sexuality. Sherman Avenue United Methodist Church on Madison’s North Side is trying to change that, keeping in mind to fight injustice both outside and within the church walls.
Hollis Rudgier has been going to Sherman for a couple of years now and recalls there being something that stood out when she saw the sermons online during the pandemic.
“The special thing about Sherman Avenue Church is that everybody seems equally yoked in this fight,” Rudgier told Madison365. “Our pastor is not gay, but is deeply concerned with the message of Christ that everybody belongs and everybody’s loved. He’s gone out of his way to create a church community that supports, affirms and actually aggressively preaches that word to the community.”
Rudgier, who identifies as lesbian, said the community and pastor at Sherman Church drew her in.
Rev. David Hart is the current pastor of Sherman, as well as an attorney, author and community leader. Rev. Hart’s drive to teach love before division has made Sherman a place that Rudgier appreciates for not only the diversity of sexual orientation that is accepted, but race and gender as well.
“I think everybody in the congregation is there because of the beliefs and not because of the structure,” said Rudgier. “That’s the whole point of Jesus, right? Jesus came to break down the structures and to preach the word without the law and exclusivity and persecution.”
Thinking about what is best for people takes the forefront of Sherman’s ethos and creates an atmosphere that is immediately recognizable.
Rev. Hart was just a shopper at Willy St. Co-op when Sherman-goer Gabriel Laredo first met him while working. For Laredo, a trans person of color, churches were not the most inviting place, but after a no-pressure invite from Rev. Hart and some life circumstances, he found himself taking up the offer.
“Here at Sherman, you’re embraced because you’re different,” Laredo told Madison365. “You’re embraced for all your differences, and your experience that you bring into the church. It was absolutely life-changing.”
The importance of a welcoming faith-based space and practice is important for many more than it has been recently given the increased animosity the LGBTQ+ population has received simply for demanding fair treatment and equal rights. With Wisconsin having its own host of right-wing politicians pushing anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and repealing protections, the fight for a place to belong can feel endless.
“It seems like a lot of the legislation happening is rolling back things we may have taken for granted that expand human rights to protect people,” Rudgier explained. “For example, the ban on conversion therapy.”
Rudgier is all-too-familiar with the dangers of where such legislation could lead as she sees it first-hand working as a librarian for a school.
While school libraries are currently protected in Wisconsin, many public and school libraries across the state and nation have come under attack for providing reading content that educates on topics of race and sexuality. Realities that many who are not white and/or straight face every day.
“Out there, there are the problems of the world that are always battering down on me,” expressed Laredo. “Whether it’s at my job, whether it’s personal life, or whether it’s just navigating the Madison politics, too…I’m here in this church community that actually worries about its community and wants it to thrive.”
Fortunately, even in the face of adversity, the fight to stand up for our LGBTQ+ community members and our community members of color is bolstered by organizations such as Sherman Church.
Sherman’s recent Pride Sunday to round out June was an important moment to recognize challenges but also the progress that has been made. However, Laredo happily mentioned how every Sunday is a Pride Sunday for Rev. Hart and the Sherman congregation who don’t forget about people when it comes to their praise.
“It’s just such a feeling where my cup keeps getting filled with hope,” Laredo said in closing, “as I keep attending church…not just church, but Sherman church in general. It’s something very special in this community. When things come up in the community, I go, ‘Well, how can Sherman help? What can we as a church and community center do to help our community?’ I believe very much that the church is a community center.”
If you are a person of color looking for a diverse church experience, or identify as LGBTQ+ and need an accepting place of worship, be sure to check out Sherman Avenue United Methodist Church at 3705 N. Sherman Ave in Madison.