Queer folks and their allies have had a fraught relationship with religion and the institution of the church. Joshua Todd, a gay atheist knows this well, but for his birthday wanted to bring attention to the needs of a Norfolk, Virginia-based church that received backlash after voting to become a LGBTQ+ affirming parish.
"I found out last year that when the United Methodist Church was debating whether they should be queer-inclusive that my sister's church in Norfolk, Virginia ... had voted to be inclusive," Todd, who is the CEO and President of the youth development organization Camp Fire Columbia, said in a video he posted to a GoFundMe aimed at raising money for the church. In 2019 the United Methodist Church, as America's largest mainline Protestant denomination, had a much-discussed debate around LGBTQ+ clergy and their place within the Church. A proposal would have allowed that as well as same-sex marriage. That proposal was denied and as tensions rose as a result.
Those tensions became so pronounced that a proposal was made in January for the denomination to split. The final vote on the split was supposed to be in May but the ongoing global pandemic canceled the conference it was set to occur at, putting the process in limbo for 16 more months. Still, local parishes have had to deal with the fall out.
"[My sister's church] ended up losing half of their parish," Todd explained. "One of the reasons why it struck me because was she was telling me about the food pantry that they run that just provides a lot of dignity for folks."
The Garden United Methodist Church hosts a food pantry on the first and third Saturday of each month that allows families and individuals to shop in a grocery store-like setting at no cost to them. "We will not ask questions, we will not turn you away, we will not judge you," the project's site says. There is reportedly no paperwork to fill out. The effort was made to address the statistic that "20% of the population of the East Little Creek area lives in poverty, and food insecurity is widespread" according to the site.
Food banks and pantries have seen increased demand amid the ongoing global pandemic which has led to increased food insecurity. The Foodbank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore, that works with the food pantry, says it has been overwhelmed with the increase, and some are projecting a 50% increase in food insecurity for 2020. For The Garden, this means they are trying to give more with a smaller parish from which to pull resources from.
According to Todd, it costs about $500 per month to keep the pantry open. To help in that effort, he's hoping to raise $1,500, using his birthday as the platform.
"As a family who both had to go to food pantries growing up and at one point my parents had a bookstore that had a food pantry in it, we've been on both sides," Todd said. "So I was really just moved by what they are doing and as a gay man, even though I'm an atheist, I believe in the power and divinity of community and people coming together to support each other."