Central Illinois man on path to Church leadership is breaking barriers within the United Methodist Church

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BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (WMBD) — Earlier this year, a local district committee of the United Methodist Church confirmed a gay man as a candidate for ordained ministry.

Isaac Simmons, a Peoria native and Illinois Wesleyan student, said the decision made history in the church and is the first step in a long process.

Simmons said the approval is life-saving and life-giving for himself and other members of the LGBTQ community. Hope United Methodist Church in Bloomington, where Simmons attends, is an inclusive church.

“When we created Hope Church, our top thing was that we wanted this to be a place for absolutely everyone,” said Rev. Dr. Jennie Edwards Bertrand.

Homosexuality is a controversial topic and is something the United Methodist Church is considering splitting over and creating a new traditional denomination. But Simmons is breaking barriers within the Methodist Church.

“It is a historic first for the district, as an openly gay man. Currently, the United Methodist Church says that a self-avowed practicing homosexual is incompatible with the teachings of Christ and therefore can’t go forth into ministry,” said Simmons.

But with the stamp of approval from the local church district committee, Simmons is now on a path for leadership.

“They’re saying this person is being called to ministry and has our approval to receive the United Methodist support financially and otherwise,” said Simmons.

Simmons said he wasn’t expecting the church’s blessing.

“It means so much to be seen and validated, not only for myself, but for all the queer LGBT folks who come after me and who have come before me,” said Simmons.

His beliefs bring him close to the religion and have guided him on his path toward leadership.

“My faith and my understanding of God calls me to be a part of that; to be a part of change-making and to be a part of creating spaces where everyone, regardless of their identities [or] orientations, can be and exist without even an inkling of ‘Am I welcomed here?'” said Simmons.

The way he discovered the Hope Church is quite unique.

“That’s funny. It happened at a drag show,” said Simmons.

Now, drag is a passion, and Ms. Penny Cost, Simmons drag persona, is possibly the first drag queen certified in the United Methodist Church, too.

“Expect to be pushed a little in your understanding of what church can be,” Simmons said.

Songs, sermons, and spirituality while wearing wigs and full makeup on Hope Church’s first ‘Drag Sunday’ this April is a way to reclaim faith, too.

“To be able to see yourself in a system that celebrates a divine, allows you to see the divine in yourself,” said Penny.

Simmons said he wants other LGBTQ community members to know they’re loved too.

“However you are in life, wherever you are, whoever you are, whatever you identify as, you are enough,” said Simmons.

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