Bishop Allyson Abrams is no stranger to challenge. When her secret threatened to come out in her Detroit church — that she was a lesbian married to a woman — she knew she had to act fast to save her job and livelihood. Now, several months and one resignation later, Abrams is starting over by opening a new church in Silver Spring, Md.
Abrams, originally from Alabama, grew up in the church with her mother, grandmother and grandfather all very involved. She remembers sitting in the back of the church at around age 8 and having a conversation with God in which she felt he was telling her to become involved in ministry.
After receiving her bachelor’s of science in mechanical engineering at Howard University, she followed that calling to a seminary in Ohio. While there, one of her favorite professors challenged her that scripture prohibits homosexuality.
“I had so much respect for my professor so I went back and looked at the scripture,” Abrams says. “That began my journey to question homosexuality. God began to reveal to me what scripture meant. It was like a light bulb going off. We can’t be so religious that we hurt and wrong people.”
Abrams, who before marrying her wife had been married to a man and had children, began to question her sexuality after this revelation. She went on to pastor at one church in Detroit for seven years. Then, she moved on to Zion Progress Baptist Church becoming its first female pastor. During that time, Abrams married her wife, Diana Williams, in Iowa, though she declines to go into details about exactly when they were married or to what degree she intended to keep her marriage hidden.
Word eventually traveled around that Abrams had married a woman and some of her friends began to receive phone calls and text messages asking if it was true. Abrams was afraid that her church would hear about it from someone else and decided to tell the deacons of her church. They urged her to share the news with the congregation.
During a sermon on the love of Christ, Abrams disclosed to her church that she was a lesbian and married to a woman.
“I wasn’t sure at all what people would say or feel,” Abrams says. Some were supportive of me. I just needed to be honest with them and have them hear it from me and not somebody else.”
Abrams says she felt freedom after revealing her secret.
“There’s a certain joy that you have that you can’t share with the congregation because of what the church says about it. I thought about it all the time.”
After five years with the church, Abrams felt it best to resign. She says she did not feel coerced into stepping down, only that she felt it was the best decision at the time.
She and her wife wanted to move to a marriage equality state where there were groups moving the LGBT movement forward. Both having connections to the D.C. area, they decided Maryland was a good fit.
Her new church, Empowerment Liberation Cathedral (633 Sligo Ave., Silver Spring, Md.), opens in May. It’s conceived as a welcoming and affirming Baptist church that she is starting with support from her wife. Abrams has needed additional financial support and has been holding fundraisers including concerts with other fellowships asking for donations.
“We welcome and affirm every race, gender, sexuality and disability,” Abrams says. “We want to give them a safe space, teach principles and to pour into them God’s love. People say it’s amazing to hear a pastor say that God loves us the way we are. I’m always going to make sure God knows them.”
Rev. Charles Christian Adams of Hartford Memorial Church in Detroit is a colleague of Abrams. He believes her new church will be a success.
“She’s conscientious and preaches with an open heart. There’s not a lot of love in churches. Any church she pastors will have that trademark,” he says.
Empowerment Liberation Cathedral also offers virtual membership. Abrams says she received lots of requests for her to preach all over the country after her story came out. Unable to travel all over and meet everyone’s requests, she decided to create a virtual membership for her church so that anyone can hear her preach.
“It’s very difficult still. All I worked hard for is over. It’s like being back at the beginning. It’s hard as a woman to get to the top level. I’m kind of kicked to the curb. Now I’m reaching out for support. I’m still the same preacher and the same person. I’m asking the Maryland LGBT community for support.”