UNORTHODOX: A mission hires a minister the church once removed from its ordained roster.
SAN BERNARDINO – Two years after the Rev. Dr. Jennifer Mason was ousted as a pastor for being openly gay, she has found a church in San Bernardino where her lesbian love life won’t get her in trouble.
On Sunday, Mason was formally installed as associate pastor at the Central City Lutheran Mission in San Bernardino. At the ceremony, Mason, 41, was presented with a white gown featuring a rainbow-colored cross on the front.
“We’re overcoming yet one more impediment to God reaching out to all people,” retired Bishop Stanley Olson said at Sunday’s service.
Mason’s girlfriend and mother took part in the celebration held inside the mission’s chapel, where about 100 people gathered to welcome Mason into the church, located in one of San Bernardino’s poorest neighborhoods.
Murals on the walls of the church help illustrate the role the mission plays in the community. One scene depicts a black Jesus with dreadlocks crucified to a cross with hypodermic needles. The Central City Mission takes an unorthodox approach to attracting potential converts – whether they be drug addicts, prostitutes or gangsters.
On a table inside the chapel lies a stack of the “Hip-hop hymnal,” which features sexually explicit lyrics dealing with the subjects of sexual assault, prostitution, racism and the ghetto lifestyle.
But it wasn’t the sexually graphic artwork inside the hip-hop hymnal that drew the ire of a small group of protesters outside the mission Sunday.
“You’re a disgrace to Christianity,” yelled Jim Webber, 58, who traveled to San Bernardino from Las Vegas to protest Mason’s appointment as a pastor at the church.
Three other men holding signs with slogans including “homo is sin” stood on a street corner with Webber and heckled people as they entered the mission.
“If everybody was homosexual, none of us would be here,” said Webber, who wore a T-shirt with the word “homo” crossed out.
Mason, who earned a doctoral degree from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago, served as a missionary pastor in Santiago, Chile, from 1991 to 2001. When the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America learned that Mason was having a lesbian relationship, she was removed from the church’s ordained roster.
Before Sunday’s service, Mason said that she felt a “huge sense of relief” when the church discovered that she was having a lesbian relationship. Since she first accepted she was gay at about age 20, Mason said, she had tried to hide that she was lesbian.
Publicly admitting that she was gay was a bittersweet moment for Mason, who was unemployed in a foreign country with virtually no possessions after she was fired from her job in 2001. That’s when Mason added her name to a list of about two dozen openly-gay Lutheran pastors seeking work in a church somewhere in the United States.
Greg Egertson, co-chairman of the Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries, which compiles the recruiting list of gay pastors, called Sunday a historic day for the Central City Lutheran Mission.
“They’re risking being thrown out of the denomination,” said Egertson, who came from San Francisco to see Mason’s installation.
The Lutheran Lesbian and Gay Ministries is also donating $12,000 to the Central City Lutheran Mission, which operates a soup kitchen and several outreach programs offering resources for drug addicts, AIDS patients and the other disadvantages people.
Kaz Oshiki, a member of the mission’s board of directors, said Sunday that Mason was simply the best candidate out there and that sexual preference has nothing to do with the qualities of a pastor.
“She was hired because she’s the most qualified person,” Oshiki said. “She’s a perfect fit.”
Mason said she knows there may be more struggles ahead. But it’s something she said she’s willing to deal with to do the work she loves.
“I knew that’s what God made me to be,” Mason said. “God called me as the person I was.”