By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
DELAND - New Hope United Church of Christ is looking for a new home, and the Rev. Karen Curtis-Weakley's said it's because of comments she made in a Hometown News article that struck a nerve with some gay marriage opponents.
In the July 6 edition, the Rev. Curtis-Weakley's photo ran alongside an article about Volusia County's new domestic partner registry. In the photo, she's holding a sign proclaiming that her church supports marriage equality, that is, marriage for gay or straight couples. In the article she's quoted saying the county's domestic-partner registry is a small step toward that.
The attention the article generated helped the church. New folks showed up. The minister said it also generated complaints to the business where the church is meeting, Allen Summerhill Funeral Home, 126 E. New York Ave. She said a manager phoned her to say "four families" had threatened to take their business elsewhere if the funeral home continued letting the church meet there, because of its support for gay marriage.
"It was directly related to the newspaper article," the Rev. Curtis-Weakley said. "I never said before we moved in how we felt about marriage equality, but we did say we were progressive. I don't know if he knew I was a lesbian or not."
While the Rev. Curtis-Weakley is lesbian, she said the almost all in her congregation are straight.
Tanya Clifton, co-owner and office manager of Allen Summerhill, said there were a few reasons why the business asked New Hope to stop meeting there that had nothing to do with political or religious views, or support for gay marriage. New Hope isn't the first church that has used Allen Summerhill's chapel for services. Ms. Clifton declined to say whether anyone had called to complain about the church's support for gay marriage.
"All we want to do is remain neutral," she said. "We don't want to be put in the middle of this. I see what's happening to Chick-fil-A."
Many boycotted the Atlanta-based restaurant chain recently after its president, Dan Cathy, made comments on a radio show and Baptist newspaper against gay marriage. Chick- fil-A - which donates to groups opposed to gay marriage, according to many reports - became a public battlefield between supporters and opponents of gay marriage.
Ms. Clifton - and the Rev. Curtis-Weakley - said the church had been meeting at Allen Summerhill at no charge. Additionally, both said that the arrangement was understood to be temporary as the church sought an affordable home.
"We opened it to them for free," Ms. Clifton said. "We had some issues with them. They were moving some of our stuff to make room for their stuff. We had to clean behind them. That was one of the issues. We had families coming in when they had church members coming in."
The Rev. Curtis-Weakley said no one at Allen Summerhill had mentioned any problems before.
The Rev. BJ "Beau" McDaniels is pastor of New Church Family, Daytona Beach. The church isn't affiliated with New Hope. However, the Rev. McDaniels said that because of her church's longstanding open acceptance of gays and lesbians, it's frequently encountered unwelcoming attitudes.
"Not to offend anyone one, but this area is 30 years behind," she said. "This is a very conservative area."
The Rev. Curtis-Weakley said that she's grateful for the help the funeral home has given New Hope.
"Allen Summerhill is being penalized for their Christian generosity, really," she said.
Additionally, the pastor said she supports the right to withhold, or threaten to withhold, business to encourage companies to change policies.
"I have to respect their freedom," she said. "I'm American. I'm not eating at Chick- fil-A anymore."
The funeral home gave New Hope until Aug. 19 to meet there as the church seeks a new home. The Rev. Curtis-Weakley said the church owns property on Blue Lake Road, but can't afford to build there yet. About 12 regularly attend services, and the church has 25 members.