Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Sun City Center church progresses towards welcoming the LGBTQ community

The marquee in front of the Sun City Center United Church of Christ, the oldest church in Sun City Center, reads, "Welcoming and Inclusive…Theologically Progressive."

And this church certainly practices what it preaches. Under the leadership of Reverend Tim Shirley, it is on the cutting edge of the concept referred to as "Progressive Christianity," and it stands out because it's openly welcoming the LGTBQ community in this primarily conservative retirement center.

"I'm not afraid of the word 'liberal,'" said Shirley, who holds a doctoral degree, "but I like for people to understand what the word really means. It's become such a political buzz-word lately, but the funny thing is, it simply means 'open-minded.' I'm an open-minded individual and we are a more open-minded congregation; that includes our theology and our approach to the Bible."

Nationally, the United Church of Christ is known as the most progressive denomination in the country. Their fundamental beliefs revolve around building a stronger faith-based movement for social justice, peace, equality and inclusivity.

"This church has always been the most progressive church in Sun City Center," said Shirley. "Basically what I think we are doing now is simply leaning into the path that was put before us when the church was founded 60 something years ago. We have merely sped up what has long been an evolutionary process."

The church, long known as the Sun City Center Community Church, changed its name recently to reflect the focus of its outreach to the entire SouthShore area rather than just Sun City Center.

Originally, the church and Prince of Peace Catholic Church stood as the only two churches in the community. If a resident wanted a protestant church experience, this is where one attended.

But Shirley said the model of being completely nondenominational no longer works since today almost every other major denomination is represented throughout Sun City center. Shirley hopes that people will shop around to all of the area churches and find the congregational context that suits them and meets their needs. He doesn't feel as if this is an "us against them" situation.

"Our goal, I believe, is to be the progressive voice of Christianity in the SouthShore region," Shirley said. "But this issue is more about biology than theology."

And how have the members of Shirley's congregation responded to the shift in their traditional congregational setting? Shirley admits they have lost a few members but the ones who embrace the all-inclusive philosophy are proud of their church's open, loving, and accepting attitude toward the LGBTQ community.

This is what the church stands for. It's not just about gays but it accepts people of every color, all religions, all ethnicities," said longtime member Jacobsen. "We are taught by the church to be accepting of everyone. Why would you turn them away just because they are different than you? Did Jesus do that from what we know of the Bible?

"He was a very progressive person and led by example that we are supposed to love everyone. He accepted the sinner, the unclean, the prostitute, the tax collectors. He showed the church leaders of His day that their rules needed to be readjusted from what was taught in the Old Testament. He was there to change their way of thinking."

Another church member, Lisa Ushman, also has very positive feelings about the reputation her church has garnered recently over this issue.

"I've just always been naturally open, accepting and affirming, so it wasn't shocking to me at all. In fact, I was thrilled that this was the way we were going."

Perhaps this is the challenge that Tim Shirley faces as he moves forward in this conservative community.

"Some will say this does not match their theological paradigm," Shirley said. "But others will say this is the Christian path I am looking for. Yes, the LGBT issue is significant because these people have been beaten up by the church. Our approach to being a progressive Christian congregation is far broader than that one issue.

"Unfortunately, that's the issue that gets the attention and for many people it's a line in the sand that cannot be breached. It's a hard job going against convention in the Sun City Center area. But that's the nature of the beast. I still have the passion for what I'm doing. I believe this is where I'm supposed to be and I'm doing the work here than needs to be done."

The SouthShore United Church of Christ is located at 1501 La Jolla Avenue in Sun City Center. Learn more at uccsuncitycenter.org or calling the church office at (813) 634-1304.

Contact Kathy Straub at [email protected]

Sun City Center church progresses towards welcoming the LGBTQ community 09/25/17 [Last modified: Monday, September 25, 2017 9:18am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Astros rout Yankees to force Game 7 of AL Championship Series

    Ml

    HOUSTON — Justin Verlander pitched seven shutout innings to outduel Luis Severino for the second time, and the Astros bats came alive in their return home as Houston routed the Yankees 7-1 Friday night and forced a decisive Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

    The Astros’ Brian McCann, who has struggled during the ALCS, breaks a scoreless tie with an RBI double during the fifth inning off Yankees starter Luis Severino.
  2. Review: Faith Hill and Tim McGraw shower love, star power on Tampa's Amalie Arena

    Blogs

    Near the end of their potent new duet Break First, Tim McGraw stopped singing, and let Faith Hill's powerhouse voice take over.

    Faith Hill and Tim McGraw performed at Amalie Arena in Tampa on Oct. 20, 2017.
  3. Senate to take up AUMF debate as Trump defends reaction to Niger attack

    World

    WASHINGTON — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is taking up a long-awaited debate about authorizing military force against the Islamic State as President Trump comes under unprecedented public scrutiny for his treatment of dead soldiers' families, following an ambush on troops helping to fight Islamic …

  4. In fear and vigilance, a Tampa neighborhood holds its breath

    K12

    TAMPA — There was a time, not long ago, when Wayne Capaz would go for a stroll at night and Christina Rodriguez would shop whenever she wanted. Michael Fuller would go to his night job as a line cook, not too worried about his wife at home.

    More than 50 people gathered and walked in the Southeast Seminole Heights community Friday to pay respects to the victims of three shootings. The crowd took a moment of silence at the corner of 11th Street and East New Orleans where Monica Hoffa was found dead. [JONATHAN CAPRIEL  |  Times]
  5. Fennelly: What's not to like about Lightning's start?

    Lightning Strikes

    BRANDON — No one is engraving the Stanley Cup. No one has begun stuffing the league MVP ballot box for Nikita Kucherov.

    The Lightning, with a win tonight, would match the best start in franchise history, 7-1-1 in the 2003-04 Cup season.