When Rev. Darren Phelps moved to Washington from Atlanta in 2007, he had no plans to continue in full-time church ministry, which had been his work through much of his adult life.
“Looking back I know it was part of my destiny,” the Queens, N.Y. native says. “I had taken a position that I believe now God used as a vehicle to get me here. I thought I was coming to teach, to work on a doctorate, to do some evangelism and other things, not go be in full-fledged pastoral ministry, but it just happened.”
Phelps had started a version of his Bethel Christian Church in Atlanta but soon he was continuing that work in D.C. The Pentecostal yet gay-friendly church, located at 2217 Minnesota Ave., S.E. (betheldc.org), started in August 2008 and now has about 100 parishioners each Sunday morning. A year and a half ago, the church purchased its own building. It’s part of the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries. Phelps guesses about 75 percent of its members are LGBT.
“We’re charismatic but non-dogmatic,” Phelps says. “We have an emphasis on social justice and empowerment yet we still embrace the Bible.”
Phelps says the scriptures many conservative denominations use to condemn gays have been “mishandled.”
For his work, Phelps is one of this year’s Capital Pride Heroes and was honored at a reception last week with several others.
Phelps started preaching when he was 16 in New York and was appointed to his first church (which was Baptist) at age 24. He also spent time in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He was married to a woman and has two grown daughters and two grandchildren. Phelps says the gradual realization that he is gay “absolutely” caused a crisis of faith for him but says it taught him a valuable lesson about “living your authentic self.”
Phelps is in a same-sex relationship now and lives in Washington near the line of Northeast and Maryland. He enjoys the beach, family, friends and sweets in his free time.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
Many years. My children were the toughest to share.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
Bishop Yvette Flunder and Bishop Gene Robinson.
What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
I’m not really a nightlife person at all though I do enjoy going out to eat and going to the theater.
Describe your dream wedding.
I will let my partner decide that. I just hope he lets me wear my jeans.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
This is very difficult to answer. The LGBT community is connected to every aspect of the world! We cannot separate us for any issues — health, anti-violence, voting rights, quality education, fair housing, faith, healthy relationship, etc.
What historical outcome would you change?
Let’s just say a few of our past presidents would not have been elected.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
I guess a few TV shows I’ve really loved like “Will & Grace” and “The Golden Girls.”
On what do you insist?
Respect for all people. People to be honest, real and focused in their commitments.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
“Pride is not just a feeling — it’s a way of life!”
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“On Life’s Journey It is Safe to Cry — Keep Pressing”
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
I would pass. I love my life! I thank God for creating me just as I am. Period!
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
In my faith tradition I believe in an afterlife and a place Christians refer to as heaven.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Stop chasing titles, stay humble; your followers will remain broken if you’re not whole; surround yourself with strong leaders; we are accountable to those we serve; great leaders are great servants; a lack of vision will lead to many pitfalls; and balance is essential.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
My children, family, faith and ministry.
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
That gay people are weak and cannot effectively lead. I beg to differ. Within the LGBTQ community, we have strong and powerful leaders.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
One that really stands out is “Rent,” both on stage and the film version. I found it provoking, profound and an eye opener. It was one of those films that really made me think about relationships, community living and the inclusivity or exclusivity of the way we live.
What’s the most overrated social custom?
I can’t say too much — I’ll get in trouble at home on this one!
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
On my desk at home, I have a very old prayer book from my great grandfather who was a pastor in Harlem. I often look at his notes and it reminds me of his passion and calling to serve all of God’s people.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
That loving myself did not mean losing myself. I wish I had known that walking in wholeness would be life’s greatest reward.
It was a part of my destiny and purpose.