By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
Incorporated in 1893, the oldest Unitarian church in the Southwest, will host an Ice Cream Social and Open House on Saturday, August 27 from 2 to 4 p.m. The First Unitarian Church of Oklahoma City, 600 NW 13 Street, is inviting members of the community and clergy to meet The Rev. Gregory L. Stewart, their new interim minister.
Stewart is unusual in that he is a white, gay minister who, with his husband Stillman Stewart, adopted 5 at-risk sons of color.
The Stewarts gained notoriety when they became lead plaintiffs in a law suit arguing Nebraska’s 1995 policy was unconstitutional in banning same-sex couples, unmarried heterosexual couples and platonic roommates from becoming foster or adoptive parents.
The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Nebraska filed the lawsuit on the couples’ behalf, claiming that Nebraska’s prohibitive adoption/foster policy violated their rights to equal protection and to due process under both the U.S. and Nebraska Constitutions.
The Stewarts, and two other couples – Lisa Blakey and Janet Rodriguez, along with Rodd Vesely and Joel Busch, were successful in overturning the ban in 2014.
Greg and Stillman, a former social worker, adopted their five sons through the California foster care system between 2000 and 2002. The pair were legally wed in California in 2008.
“These kids were ages two and one-half weeks to seven years old when they joined our ‘forever family’,” Greg said. “All but the youngest were in twelve to fifteen previous foster homes; two of them were still in diapers at ages four and six, and did not know how to eat with utensils.”
In an interview with reporter Michelle Bates Deakin of UU World, Greg stated, “We knew we had a very special story, but the reason we share it is to expose people to the foster care crisis in America and to encourage people of liberal faith to act on their beliefs.”
A 2008 documentary, Preacher’s Sons, produced by filmmakers Mark Nealey and C Roebuck Reed, follows the Stewart family though five years of their lives up to the boys’ adoptions.
The Stewart family was featured in the PBS program “In The Life,” and “Social Action Heroes: Unitarian Universalists Who are Changing the World,” by Skinner House Books of Boston.
The family has also appeared in the Reno Gazette-Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, and, most recently, in the Washington Post.
The minister’s photograph marrying a same-gender couple at San Francisco’s city hall was also featured in the New York Times.
“We are delighted to have Greg as our minister and excited to introduce him to the community at the open house,” said church member Marilee Peryam. “We will be having ice cream for everyone, activities for children, and a give-away of school supplies for teachers.”
The event will also feature church tours, performances by the choir and strolling musicians. Representatives will be available to discuss church programs.
Greg has served churches in Bethesda, MD, Lincoln, San Francisco, Grand Rapids, MI, Pasadena, CA, Reno, NV, Shaker Heights, OH and Chicago, IL. He holds a master of divinity degree from the University of Chicago, a master of music from Roosevelt University and Bachelor of Arts from the University of Illinois.
“I believe that First Unitarian is poised to be a welcoming community for the liberal spirit – a church for those who don’t like church,” Stewart said. “Historically Unitarianism has promoted freedom, reason and tolerance in matters of faith and practice, and has welcomed freethinkers and the faithful alike. We don’t teach people what to think; instead, we teach them to think for themselves,”
Rev. Stewart assumes the position last held by the Rev. Mark Christian. He will preach his first service on September 11.
“We say First Unitarian is ‘the church where reason and wonder thrive’. We dream big but we’re mindful of the day-to-day work necessary to realize our dreams,” said Lee Marrs, President of the Congregation. “Ministers are expected to provide inspiration in the pulpit and empathetic pastoral care; to raise funds and manage them well; to be a leader in the community, in the congregation and with the staff; to be a visionary and down to earth.
“The first time I spoke to Greg, I felt like I’d known him for years,” Marrs continued. “There’s a ‘realness’ to him that few people possess. Rev. Stewart and his family actually live the values to which we as Unitarian Universalists aspire. I’m proud to know him and we are truly fortunate to have him as our minister.”
For more information, visit www.1uc.org.