Pillar of Love Fellowship United Church of Christ (UCC), founded by Bishop Phyllis V. Pennese in 2003, will be celebrating 20 years on Oct. 1 from 2-5 p.m. at the Oak Lawn Hilton Hotel, 9333 South Cicero Ave. in Oak Lawn.
The event will feature a keynote by City of Refuge UCC (Oakland, California) Senior Pastor and Fellowship of Affirming Ministries Presiding Prelate Bishop Yvette Flunder; the Never Could Have Made It Without You awards; a sit-down dinner; and other speakers. Among the featured guests will be fellow queer pastors Flunder; Living Faith Covenant Church Founder and Bishop Alex D. Byrd (which he co-pastors with his husband Pastor Marvin Roberts); and Gather Church Chicago Founder and Senior Pastor Bishop Tim Wolfe.
When asked about Pillar of Love's 20th anniversary, Byrd told Windy City Times, "I can hardly believe it has been 20 yearstime flies so fast. Yet, on the other hand, I can [believe it] because of the person Bishop Pennese isgiving, dedicated, concerned and passionate. I am overjoyed in celebration of this great 'beginning.'"
Wolfe added that, "It is impossible to overstate the impact Pillar of Love and Bishop Pennese have had on Chicago's queer community and our extended LGBTQ family worldwide. They are nurturers, meaning over the past 20 years they have taken countless folks under wing and helped them get established in life and ministry. I am one of those people and I cannot imagine my own story without Pillar of Love. It is a blessing to join this celebration."
Pillar of Love's motto is, "We live the love in our name and are courageous enough to be all God created."
Pennese said she started Pillar of Love in 2003 "to try to fill the void for Black LGBTQ folk as well as other people on the margins. We wanted to bring forth a 'radically inclusive' theology that provided extravagant hospitality to all people."
Additionally, Pennese said that Pillar of Love "provides an atmosphere for people to hear their personal calls to ministry" and give those individuals the tools to "exercise and hone those ministry gifts." This has resulted in several people developing and founding their own ministries.
Pillar of Love grew out of Flunder's mentorship of Pennese a little over 20 years ago. Pennese said that, since Flunder's church is a UCC church, she decided to learn more about the UCC.
Pennese told WCT that, "Our Association Minister at the time, Rev. Dr. Edward Goode and our Conference Minister, Rev. Dr. Jorge Morales were instrumental in our process to join the denomination and provided guidance and support the entire process."
When asked how she would describe her church to people who are unaware of it, Pennese said, "Pillar is Holy Ghost proud to have the distinction of being designated as the [thousandth] church of the United Church Of Christ that officially became 'Open and Affirming,' a designation that affirms the full inclusion of LGBTQ and non-binary persons in the church's life and ministry."
Pennese told Windy City Times that Pillar of Love would not have come to fruition without the love and support of her wife Vickie R. Sides and their son Brandon. The couple recently celebrated their 25th anniversary as a couple on May 15. They officially got married on Nov. 15, 2021.
Sides told Windy City Times that, "Being able to stand with and support Phyllis over the past 20 years as she has served this amazing church community has been a privilege, a pleasure and an adventure all rolled into one. I have experienced, learned and grown so much with this community of amazing people and I pray that I have reciprocated a fraction of the value they have brought into my life. I have loved being on this journey with Phyllis and I am excited about what our future holds."
Among the services and advocacy Pillar of Love has been involved with in its two decades are: twelve-step programs for people to find their way to recovery; marriage equality and other LGBTQ rights; a meal program to feed the community; collaborations with the Samuel De Witt Proctor Conference to address the unhoused LGBTQ youth population; educational programs for LGBTQ elders in collaboration with Age Options; and most recently providing assistance for the immigrant refugees that have arrived in Chicago.
Pennese added that, "We also are in collaboration with Artfinix Studios, [which] houses a music school and uses Pillar's church building at 7428 West 62nd Pl. in Summit, Illinois as the home base for its music ministry to the community."
Summit is where Pennese was born and raised, and is two blocks from the City of Chicago's southwest border.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pillar has joined forces with its sister church, St. John UCC of Melrose Park, to provide online worshipping services as one congregation at 9:30 a.m. each Sunday morning with Pennese presiding.
To more information about the celebration, see https://www.eventbrite.com/e/pillar-of-love-fellowship-ucc-20th-anniversary-celebration-tickets-722287761137?aff=oddtdtcreator.
See www.windycitytimes.com/lgbt/Bishop-Phyllis-V-Pennese-on-leadership-15-year-anniversary/64353.html .