While writing a blog post for work concerning an event with Dr. Richard Groves, the former pastor of Wake Forest Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, I came across a unique church and congregation that have gone against the pressure of looking down on same-sex unions. Here is the story of a church who defied the norms to be a welcoming and affirming congregation.
Dr. Richard Groves and Wake Forest Baptist Church are anomalies within the realm of Baptist churches and conventions. When most Baptist churches fall into the category of either conservative or moderate and are a part of either the Southern Baptist Convention or the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF), Wake Forest Baptist Church and Dr. Richard Groves have redefine the meaning of being Baptist. Not only that, they have been revolutionary in doing it.
Wake Forest Baptist Church was given its founding when Wake Forest College decided to make the not so small moved from Wake Forest, NC to Winston-Salem, NC in 1956. This was in keeping with 125-year-old tradition of having a Baptist church at the heart of campus. Even though the church has its seat of honor in the middle of Wake Forest’s campus, the congregation and the university share a unique and at times slightly tense relationship. The congregation and the university operate on autonomous grounds even though Wake Forest University is Baptist but this is where the tension starts.
While Wake Forest Baptist Church has always been on the progressive side of social issues like race, supporting those with AIDS, the needy, abused, those with learning disabilities, welcoming to the LGBTQ community and many others, the congregation, Dr. Richard Groves and the university were thrown into the spotlight in 2000 when Wake Forest Baptist Church decided to recognize a same-sex relationship involving two of the congregants. The two congregants that took part in the blessing ceremony to have their relationship blessed were Wendy Scott and Susan Parker, a second year student at Wake Forest’s Divinity school. The senior pastor of twenty-three years and one of six ministers presiding over the blessing ceremony (a ceremony recognizing a couple’s relationship but is non-binding) was Dr. Richard Groves. Even though blessing ceremony was non-binding and not considered a marriage, it none the less there were raised eyebrows amongst conservative and moderate Baptists across the country. Many wondered how Wake Forest University could have let this happen and why the university didn’t stop it from happening. The board of trustees at the university urged the Wake Forest congregation not to go through with the ceremony but as the two entities are autonomous they board of trustees could not prevent the ceremony from happening.
As a result of the blessing ceremony and the ensuing fall out between Wake Forest Baptist Church and various conventions, the church was removed from the Pilot Mountain Baptist Association, Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, and voluntarily left the Southern Baptist Convention. The congregation then joined the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship until 2008 when Dr. Richard Groves decided to withdraw support of the fellowship over discriminatory hiring practices. Wake Forest Baptist Church is currently affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists and the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists both of which are open and accepting of the LGBTQ community.