WASHINGTON (RNS) Calvary Baptist Church, a progressive Baptist landmark in the heart of downtown Washington, has named a gay couple as co-pastors.
Sally Sarratt and Maria Swearingen were presented to the congregation during worship services Sunday (Jan. 8) and are set to begin their new jobs on Feb. 26.
A spokeswoman for the congregation said she didn’t know whether a gay couple leading a church was a first for Baptists.
“We look for the best people in the world and that’s who they were,” said Carol Blythe. “We’re very excited.”
The 155-year-old church severed ties with the Southern Baptist Convention in 2012: It found itself at loggerheads with the group on several issues, including the SBC’s stance against homosexuality. Calvary Baptist still affiliates with American Baptist Churches USA, the Alliance of Baptists, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the District of Columbia Baptist Convention.
American Baptist Churches USA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sarratt and Swearingen come to Calvary from Greenville, S.C., where Sarratt has been serving as associate chaplain for behavioral health in the Greenville Health System and Swearingen as associate chaplain at Furman University, according to a news release from the church.
“We have found it so easy to fall in love with Calvary and its longstanding commitment to be a voice of justice and compassion for those who perpetually find the wholeness of their humanity disregarded and maligned,” the couple said to the congregation Sunday, according to the church.
Sarratt has also been filling the role of part-time associate minister at Greenville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.
The women met in the First Baptist Church of Greenville, and were both ordained there after it adopted and implemented a nondiscrimination policy in 2015.
Sarratt, who holds an MBA from the University of Virginia, left the corporate world after she felt called to ministry and obtained her master’s in theological studies from Emory University.
Swearingen, who is fluent in English and Spanish, earned a Master of Divinity from Duke Divinity School, where she won an award for her preaching.
In 2014, after the Supreme Court legalized marriage for gay couples, and the court denied South Carolina’s attempt at a stay, Sarratt told The Greenville News that the couple knew many who “chose sexual identity over a life of faith,” but that there is no need to sacrifice either.
Butler, Calvary’s previous senior minister, left to serve in the same position at New York’s The Riverside Church in 2014.
Calvary Baptist was founded by abolitionists who broke away from another Baptist church where congregants had refused to pray for Union soldiers during the Civil War.
Co-pastoring is a growing trend in U.S. houses of worship, with many churches and couples finding that sharing the often emotionally heavy workload can benefit both the clergy and the congregants.