New Jersey diocese terminates lease because of gay rights speaker.
The UU Congregation of the South Jersey Shore has met since 2004 at the Catholic Campus Ministry Center in Pomona, N.J., adjacent to the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, a 6,000-student institution. When the congregation publicized the fact that Marc Adams, founder of HeartStrong, a nonsectarian organization that provides outreach and support to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students at religion-based educational institutions, would be the guest speaker at the November 5 worship service, members of the Roman Catholic men’s organization the Knights of Columbus expressed disapproval to the Diocese of Camden.
A lawyer for the diocese initially ordered the UU congregation to vacate the building at 8 p.m., Saturday, the day before the November 5 service. When a lawyer for the congregation pointed out the group had a 90-day termination clause in its lease, the eviction date was extended to February 7.
Jesse Connor, vice president of the congregation, said the eviction came as a shock. “We were dismayed to see the response by the diocese to a program we felt was actually in line with their stated code of ethics, which includes reaching out to the gay and lesbian community.” She noted that the Catholic Campus Ministry Center’s website lists programs dealing with relationship enhancement, divorce ministry, and sexual minorities.
She said the congregation, founded in 2000, had bought land and is making plans to be in its own building by 2008. The congregation has 90 members and about 30 children and youth. It has had good relations with the center up to this point, Connor said.
As it turned out, Marc Adams was ill and could not speak on November 5, but the congregation is working with the college’s Pride Alliance student group to bring him to campus December 6.
Congregation president Paul Utts said, “We were very surprised the diocese acted the way it did. Instead of just giving us a 90-day notice, they tried to shut down the service in a move of desperation. We were shocked they would work that hard to try to silence a voice of compassion and tolerance when that is something they say they also support.”
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Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.