Bering United Methodist Church Pastor Diana McGehee begins each service with the proclamation that assures all attendees that “you are not only welcome here, you are celebrated.”
Her words apply to gay and straight, bisexual and transgendered along with all colors of the rainbow, native born or immigrant, documented or not. It is an open door that challenges the adopted doctrine of the majority but is of utmost importance to what she believes is her calling as a Christian.
“As Christians”, she insists, “we are called to stand with those who are oppressed.”
She sees injustice in any form of exclusion, and comes by it naturally. Her father, a Baptist minister in Georgia, was a target by less tolerant people who, when he opened his chaplaincy staff to everyone including Cubans, Afro-Americans, Catholics and Jews saw a cross burned in the yard as a distinct message to his beliefs and those of other likeminded persons. Oddly, many of the cross-burners were members of the community and of the church. At five years old, Pastor McGehee realized something was not right.
As an adult she chose the seminary, but her desire to address the needs of the oppressed was so strong that after two years she took a leave of absence from Princeton to become a law student at Harvard to attempt to understand and assist those who were marginalized. She worked in a male maximum-security prison and saw yet another form of injustice. In 1990 she managed to graduate while a single mother with three children and one on the way. She landed at a progressive law firm in Texas and convinced her employer that she could work from home, long before the convenience of internet and emails.
After marrying her husband Jack (of 16 years) and practicing law with him for several years, he encouraged her to go back to school. She commuted to Southern Methodist University in Dallas to be able to fulfill her plans.
Pastor McGehee began at square one in order to follow her true calling, doing missionary work in several third world countries, learning firsthand the hurdles they faced and helping in every way she could. Later, as their graduation gifts, her children would be sent to some of the same conditions she had faced to give them a strong sense of the challenges of poverty and discrimination, and the need to serve others.
Today, as adults, her children follow their individual callings as a lawyer, a financial planner and a founder of a shelter for women dealing with substance abuse. One son is a chef in New Zealand where Pastor McGehee recently traveled to visit and to run in a half-marathon, raising money through pledges to help support Bering ministries.
As Pastor of Bering since 2017, Pastor McGehee sets a strong example for her congregation in often-inventive ways. When she receives applause after a particularly passionate sermon and a call for assistance with ministries, she reminds the flock that “if you applaud, you are pledging to serve.”
Recently she donned a costume to perform a lip-sync number from The Rocky Horror Picture Show to raise money for Open Gate, an assistance program for homeless LGBTQ youth. She has rapped, sung and often pulls from pop culture, intertwining movie plots or song lyrics, to get her message across. She is known to wear rainbow colored and red-glittered high heels that peek from under her clerical robes.
Her hobbies include biblical storytelling, horseback riding and writing poetry. She especially loves the tranquility of the beach.
But it’s not always easy. She freely admits that challenging some of the beliefs of the United Methodist Church (UMC) is necessary. She believes many interpretations of the Bible that are used to condemn homosexuality are wrong.
“Homosexuality,” she says, “is a word added as a translation and does not appear in the Bible,” and does not believe that it is directly addressed in the Bible.
In a conference in February, Pastor McGehee and others will argue that inclusion should be extended to the LGBTQ community, removing a UMC compatibility rule that screams for change. She is not entirely confident that it will happen.
“Power and privilege does not give up easily,” Diane says. “But if we lose, it doesn’t mean we are standing in the wrong place.”
When asked about the political nature of the standing, she notes that “through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God challenged the political and religious systems of the day that maligned any group. That is a political statement.”
Bering United Methodist Church is located in the heart of Montrose and on any given Sunday is occupied by parishioners and guests who are gay and straight, bisexual, transgendered, native born, immigrant; legal, undocumented. They are from multiple ethnic and economic backgrounds. There are numerous same-sex partners with children and multi-ethnic families. The one thing they will all have in common is the message of their welcome and the celebration of them as individuals.
For those who do not get the message, Pastor McGehee insists “if we change hearts, we change minds.”
Pastor McGehee leads the changing of hearts and minds with a steadfast purpose that, too, is to be celebrated.