The banner hanging over the tall, wooden cross-bearing doors of Summit on 16th United Methodist Church reads, “Open hearts, open minds, open doors.”
The doors to the building have been open to members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community since the1980s, when the church offered overnight housing to an Ohio StateLGBT student group as a statement of support, according to Summit on 16th’s website.
Since then, the church, located at 82 E. 16th Ave., has been an active voice for LGBT rights in the OSU off-campus area, openly expressing its belief that LGBT people need to be included in church life, as well as showing support for same-sex couples that want the right to marry.
Sile Singleton, an office administrator at Summit on 16th, as well as an OSU alumnus and member of the LGBT community, said she has always had faith in God, even though she didn’t feel she could discuss her sexual orientation in church while growing up.
“I never felt like God didn’t love me. God is about love. I have never been taught anything that says that you’re supposed to be out there telling people that God hates you, that God doesn’t want you,” Singleton said.
Singleton is also the coordinator of Pride Family and Teen Area for the annual Stonewall Columbus’ Pride Festival, according to the Summit on 16th website, which this year is set to be held Friday and Saturday at Goodale Park.
Singleton returned to church after she and her partner married in 2000 because she felt like middle ground had been reached between the Christian church and the LGBT community because of churches like Summit on 16th, she said.
“I was attracted to Summit on 16th because they made the decision to put into their vision statement that they believe in the merging of the secular and the sacred,” Singleton said. “We don’t believe you can be whole without one or the other.”
April Blaine, the lead pastor of Summit on 16th, said she believes churches must become open to people of all sexual orientations if they wish to survive in a progressively secular society.
“Churches will continue to decline and die, and that’s when people will finally be like, ‘We have to change, we have to wake up,’” Blaine said.
Blaine said she thinks Christian churches’ behavior towards members of the LGBT community is offensive.
“Every person is a person who matters deeply to God,” Blaine said. “There is a need for churches to say, ‘We will not stand for anything other than full inclusion in this church. We will put our stake in the ground and say that this is a place where you will not be judged.’”
But although Summit on 16th is inclusive, members are still challenged to live a life aligned with the teachings of Jesus Christ, Blaine said.
“We want to challenge you to grow in your faith. We are inviting you to come here to love and to be loved as a homosexual who does not need to be converted into a heterosexual, but as a person who is loved and nourished on their own faith walk,” Blaine said.
Lucy Webb, the associate pastor of Summit on 16th, said OSU students make up about 15 percent of the approximately 100 people who attend services each week. Of those OSU students, about 10 percent identify as members of the LGBT community, Webb said.
Webb said some of those students are involved in the church’s student organization, Summit Students, a group “centered on Christ, that seeks to grow spiritually through education, fellowship, service and worship,” according to the group’s website.
St. Thomas More Newman Center and Holy Name Roman Catholic Church referred The Lantern to the Diocese of Columbus, which did not respond to requests for comment.
Xenos Christian Fellowship and h2o declined to comment.