NY Liberal Flagship Church Welcomes Its First Woman Minister

Monday, 09 Jun 2014 06:48 AM

By Elliot Jager

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The new senior minister of the Riverside Church, the Rev. Dr. Amy Butler, preached her first sermon on Pentecost Sunday, The New York Times reported.

"This hurting world needs the hope that you can offer," Butler said. "God's church can be a place where we are healed, and where we heal each other, and together we heal the world."

Riverside, not far from the Hudson River on Manhattan's upper west side, is one of the nation's most renown bastions of liberal Protestantism. Butler is the first woman to head the church, which was built by John D. Rockefeller in 1927, according to the Religion News Service.

Under the Rev. William Sloane Coffin, Riverside became distinguished for its liberal politics and passionate opposition to the Vietnam War. It has long staked out a progressive religious and political stance.

Butler, 44, a divorced mother of three, comes to New York having instilled new life in Washington's Calvary Baptist Church, which had dwindled from 5,000 members to just 75. It now has 300 members and a vibrant presence. She disassociated the church from the Southern Baptist Convention because its politics were too conservative, in particular on the issue of homosexuality.

Riverside, which is affiliated with the United Church of Christ and the American Baptist Church, has been buffeted by tensions. Membership is down from 2,700 in 2007 to 1,670 today. Its past senior minister, the Rev. Dr. Brad Braxton, quit in 2009 because congregants opposed his "evangelical and scripturally focused preaching" as too conservative, and his substantial pay package, according to RNS.

Butler, whose father is native Hawaiian and mother is European, takes over the majority African-American church whose last two senior ministers have been black, according to the Times.

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