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How Faith, Adversity, And Acceptance Shaped New Head Of Southern New England’s United Church

Photo credit and edited by Options Magazine.

Options Magazine chatted with Rev. Darrell Goodwin, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ’s recently named executive conference minister – the first Black gay man to serve in this role – about the importance of faith and how to welcome all of one another with every aspect of our identities.

Rev. Darrell Goodwin’s laugh is infectious, and so is his drive and passion for his work and faith. He is the first openly Black gay man to be Executive Conference Minister of the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ (SNEUCC). Goodwin, an ordained minister, has been all over the country spreading his faith but has moved to New England, Connecticut specifically, to step into this role that he came here to do. His job is to guide the conference and its participants to have a positive and lasting impact on the world. He is a very busy man who oversees a conference with 615 churches. The SNEUCC merged Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island on January 1, 2020.

Goodwin has been a part of the church all his life. One of his earliest memories is being led out of the church as a child for standing up and trying to give his own sermon while the pastor was preaching. He devotes a lot of his time making sure that he makes everyone feel welcome at the conference. In fact, in his first month of being Executive Conference Minister, he created a position called minister for diversity, equity, and inclusion. How can one hope to call themselves a person of faith if their goal is not to make sure that no one is left behind? Goodwin is making history not only by being an openly gay Black minister but by being a minister that makes it his mission to be equitable, diverse, and inclusive. This is how he connects his faith work to LGBTQ and BIPOC communities.

“If you call me to be the first Executive Conference Minister, I am bringing my queerness, my Blackness, my experience, the south side of Chicago, you’re gonna get all of that,” Goodwin tells me, with a laugh.

There’s not one single aspect of his personality that he’s going to leave behind and I think the message here is that no one else should either. As someone who is not religious, I feel as though I would have a place in any church that Goodwin is present in. His energy and his spirit are warm and so welcoming that even the nonreligious want to hear him speak. The doors are open for everyone, even those who are struggling economically. The conference is more than a church, it is a faith-based nonprofit and its goal is to give back and help the community in ways that center on social justice issues including poverty, homelessness, solitary confinement, and education. In other words, this conference is not just about worship. It’s about practicing what you preach.

Goodwin is at a different church every Sunday, but his home church is in Rumford, Rhode Island. Meanwhile, he lives in Connecticut and spends a lot of his time at the conference office in Massachusetts, making sure his presence is felt in every state as executive conference minister. Goodwin brings years of knowledge with him to this position. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Human Development and Theology, a Master of Education in Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration, a Master of Arts in Transforming Spirituality. He is currently a doctoral candidate in San Francisco Theological Seminary’s Doctor of Ministry program. On top of all of that, Goodwin also has 20 years of ministerial experience. Read more about Goodwin here.

Despite the hateful words that Goodwin has received as a gay Black man in this position, he’s had a positive outlook on it all. Having some understanding about the negativity one can receive being LGBTQ in a religious setting, I had to ask how he dealt with it all. He explained how his knowledge outweighs the regurgitated hate from people who got it all wrong. Goodwin has studied Theology and scripture extensively. In other words, he knows what he’s talking about. Many religious people like to quote the Bible to tell people that they’re not welcome, but do they know what the bible says? I bet if they did, they wouldn’t be so quick to judge and shun people due to the way they choose to live their lives. You will never be turned away with Goodwin regardless of who you are. As Goodwin explains, everyone is welcome in his churches:

“The other piece that I’ve become aware of, is sometimes when someone is espousing hate, and pressing it and they interact with someone who they’re trying to put the hatred towards … I have this philosophy that now they’re exposed. Whatever issue they have inside they are exposed to an openly gay, proud, faith leader who also happens to be African American. They have to deal with that.”

Goodwin’s positive spin on hatefulness definitely made me pause and think. Here is a man who is proudly who he is in a field that he loves, where people who also exist in that field are telling him he doesn’t belong, and he makes them uncomfortable. He was called a false prophet and told he was leading people to hell when he first was announced. Yet, Goodwin has taken all of this in stride and continues to spread positivity where ever he goes. However, not everyone that this minister meets is hateful just to be hateful. Sometimes they really don’t have an understanding, and they will come to Goodwin with their questions. In return, he gladly answers and shares resources with them. Sometimes ignorance is just blissful ignorance. It is not Goodwin’s nor anyone else’s job to educate the ignorant, but sometimes all it takes is some patience and we can teach someone something that will open up a new door for them. As the executive conference minister, Goodwin can open so many doors just being who he is.

It is impossible to separate one aspect of Goodwin's identity from another. One cannot simply separate his Blackness from his LGBTQ identity or his Blackness from his male identity. They come together as a package deal. Intersectionality is so important, especially in the ministry of today, because so many topics tend to get swept under the rug or not talked about. Thinking of my experience growing up in Black churches, I was curious to know if Goodwin noticed the same things I did. I noticed that homophobia was something that was subtly weaved into the Black church culture and Black religious circles where I came from. It was either something that was whispered about at the homes of Black aunties or it was something that they simply did not agree with and pretended it did not exist. It is hard for an LGBTQ Black person to grow up in a Black religious household, at least from what I have observed.

Taking from this understanding, I assumed that Goodwin had to have experienced this as well. Of course, I know that not all Black experiences are the same, and I was glad to gain some insight into what Goodwin’s Black experience was also being a gay man. Growing up in church, for him, it was more of a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” type of experience that he observed. It wasn’t so much a fear of gayness, he explained, but it was something that wasn’t mentioned which leads to the hateful ignorance that was mentioned above. It’s more of a fear of the unknown coupled with the fear of what people think the Bible said about homosexuality. When it comes down to it, the “homophobia” within the Black community stems from white supremacy and toxic masculinity in Black communities.

In the time that I talked to Goodwin and truly listened to what he had to say. I learned so much about the conference, faith-based work, and Goodwin himself as a man of faith. My narrow understanding of Black churches and faith, in general, was widened in the time that we spoke.

Goodwin brings a fresh outlook on what it means to be a Black gay man in a religious position. Before speaking to him, I feared that I would meet a man who would tell me of the horrors he’s faced from homophobic and ignorant people, but who I met was a man who laughs loudly, walks proudly, and has his arms wide open for people to walk into.

He is a busy man who still makes time to walk the walk. “I want to be a minister, but I want to be a minister grounded in love, and I have to accept everybody. No matter who you send, Holy Spirit, I’m going to accept and serve them as their minister.” The Reverend’s closing remarks to me was this message, and it couldn’t have ended in a better place. I expect to see Goodwin go as far as his faith will take him and I and everyone at Options’ would love to see him represent the conference at this year’s Providence Pride.


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