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Pastor aims to bring change to Pensacola
Equality, civil rights issues are key in new leader’s mission
PENSACOLA, FL - A civil rights activist who is a leader in the national movement to legalize gay marriages is the new senior pastor at Holy Cross Metropolitan Community Church in Pensacola.
The Rev. Jim Merritt took over leadership of the church on Monday, but will be officially installed as senior pastor on Sept. 14.
Merritt, 51, is the marriage equality director for the Global Justice Institute and Public Policy team of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Church.
"We will be known as a social gospel church,'' said Merritt, who most recently was senior pastor of Trinity Metropolitan Church in Gainesville, Fla. "We will be involved in the community, in the civil rights community, the activist community; we'll be involved in LGBT issues and other civil rights issues. We want to share our voice which we believe is a godly calling for equality, justice and respect for all God's creations."
Merritt, born in Alabama and raised in Florida, grew up in a devout Southern Baptist family in church. He was ordained a Southern Baptist minister when he was 18, but left the denomination and joined the Metropolitan Community Church family in 2003.
The pastor has been a featured speaker at many civil rights events nationwide, and has been awarded the Alison B. Cheek Prize in Feminist Theology and the J. Norman Hall Prize for Peace and Justice.
Merritt said his immediate goal is to increase church presence in the community by meeting with leaders and citizens from all walks of life. He has already set up meetings with University of West Florida personnel to establish a campus ministry. He has been invited to meet with local producers of a LGBT film festival. He has appointments with numerous local elected officials, from city council members to county commissioners.
"I take seriously the community part of our name,'' said Merritt, who moved to Pensacola with his partner of 20 years, Albert Leach Jr. "I identify myself as a community pastor — as a pastor to his congregation and to the community at large."
Merritt arrived in Pensacola just days after U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle struck down Florida's ban on marriage for same-sex couples. Merritt believes the time when same-sex couples can wed in Florida is measured in weeks, not years.
He said he and Albert intend to wait until gay marriage is legal in Florida before they wed, since, they both have deep Florida roots.
Merritt also announced a plan to grow the Holy Cross campus with a new church building, a community garden, children's areas and more.
Church members seem excited about the opportunity to grow.
"We're ready to grow,'' said Carrie Boniek, who has been a member of Holy Cross MCC for 15 years. "We're going to be out in the community more, helping people, not just people in our neighborhood. Rev. Jim is the one who is going to lead us. He is ready to get out there and so are we."
Though many on the outside view MCC as the "gay church,'' Merritt said that's not accurate.
"We don't want to be known as the gay church,'' he said. "We want to be the church were everyone is welcome. No exceptions. I really mean that and believe it."
Article courtesy of The Pensacola News Journal www.pnj.com
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MLR Fine Jewelry & Gifts
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Scentsy for the Home
Randall’s Formal Wear
for Rev. Dr. Jim Merritt
Sunday, September 14th
Breaking Bread Meal
Wednesday’s at 8 am
Food Pantry Giving
Wednesday’s at 8 am
Praise Team Practice