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Historic DC Baptist Church calls married couple as co-pastors

Historic DC Baptist Church calls married couple as co-pastors

155 year old Calvary Baptist Church is located in the Chinatown neighborhood of Washington DC. The late Warren G Harding attended Calvary Baptist while he was US president. Calvary was a founding congregation of the Northern Baptist Convention (now the American Baptist Churches, USA), supported the abolition of slavery and is a designated peace church. The congregation was also a member of the Southern Baptist Convention and for a time was the home congregation of both the president of the American Baptists and the Southern Baptists, at the same time! As part of the Chinatown area, Calvary reaches out to both the immigrant Chinese and Burmese communities and has a developing Latino ministry. In 1955, Calvary was the first all-white DC Baptist congregation to accept into membership a Black person.

The Calvary Baptist Church website announces that the congregation currently holds membership in a number of Baptist affinity groups; the American Baptist Churches, USA, the Alliance of Baptists, the Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the Baptist World Alliance, the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, the DC Baptist Convention and the Joint Baptist Committee for Religious Liberty. Calvary severed it’s membership in the Southern Baptist Convention in 2012 for a variety of reasons related to its Progressive Christian values. A little over a week ago the congregation declared itself part of the growing immigrant sanctuary movement.

Sally, left and Maria cut the cake as they are welcomed to Calvary Baptist Church, Washington DC

Last Sunday, the concluding Sunday for Black History Month, the congregation welcomed a married couple as its new Senior Co-pastors, the Revds Maria Swearingen (31) & Sally Sarratt (42). The couple is the first senior pastors to be called since the 2014 departure of the Revd Dr Amy Butler, as she answered a call to become the 7th Senior Minister of the Riverside Church in NYC. The members of Calvary have stressed that the couple was not called because they were lesbian, but because they had the skills the congregation was searching for in its senior pastor.

Maria and Sally both grew up in Southern Baptist families. They also both believed as young women that the closest that they would get to being called to ministry as Southern Baptists was as a pastor’s wife! They have moved to Washington DC from Greenville SC. Maria was an associate chaplain at Furman University and holds an MDiv from Duke Divinity School, Duke University, Durham, NC. Sally was an associate chaplain with the Greenville Health System and the part-time Associate Minister of the Greenville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. Maria’s portfolio with Calvary will be worship & social justice, while Sally will handle the administrative duties. Sally has corporate experience and holds an MBA from the University of VA and an MTS from Candler School of Theology, Emory University, Atlanta GA. They met at and were later ordained by First Baptist Church of Greenville.

The fact that Calvary has called the couple to be co-pastors has not gone unnoticed by conservatives. The Sunday of the weekend of the Trump Inauguration, two men marched into the church before the worship service and stated that Calvary was an abomination. The president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville KY has said in a podcast that Calvary should be disfellowshiped by the DC Baptist Convention.

Facts for this story were gathered from numerous sources; Religion News Service here & here, the Calvary website and Wikipedia. The main photo is by the AgnosticPreachersKid. The other photo is from the Calvary Facebook page.




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Randall Stewart

I was raised ABC/USA in West Virginia. During my senior year of high school, our youth director, who wanted us to experience an inner-city parish (and was an ordained woman) took us to D.C., to Calvary specifically. At the time the sanctuary had been condemned and they were worshiping in the basement, but were incredibly welcoming and more diverse than any congregation I had ever seen! Chinatown has changed a lot since then, and the sanctuary has been fully restored, but the character of the congregation has not.

A SBC friend noted that one of them had served a UU congregation, however, they will be in administrative duties, and honestly, I have seen that crossover before.

Jay Croft

I doubt that this was the first DC Baptist church to admit a Black person.

There are many historically Black Baptist churches in DC that were established long before this one.

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