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 on Jan. 8 and will begin their new jobs on Feb. 26.
The 150-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.
A spokeswoman for the congregation said she didn’t know whether a gay couple leading a church was a first for the Baptists.
“We look for the best people in the world and that’s who they were,” said Carol Blythe. “We’re very excited.”
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 press release from the church.
Sarratt has also been filling the role of part-time associate minister at Greenville Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.
“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.
Both women were ordained at First Baptist Church of Greenville — where they met — after it adopted and implemented a non-discrimination policy in 2015, the release adds.
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 of theological studies from Emory University, before working as a chaplain in health care.
Swearingen, who is fluent in English and Spanish, earned a masters 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 knows many who “chose sexual identity over a life of faith,” Sarratt said, 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.
Cavalry 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 determining that sharing the often emotionally heavy workload of leading a church can benefit both the clergy and the congregants.