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Church Reaches Out to those 'Excluded from the Table'
by Cleve Adkins

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At first glance, Chicago is not one of those cities that needs another new church. We already have thousands, from cathedral-size to storefront. So when the Rev. Phyllis V. Pennese said she had been called to start a new congregation for Christian believers, some of her friends questioned her. But never one to doubt God, Pennese has plunged forward and is quickly gaining new followers.

'We started back in February and have grown to 16 full members,' she said. 'I was compelled to do it out of obedience to what I believe God was telling me to do. And I see it as an offering to people of faith—an offer for a radically inclusive justice ministry of Jesus Christ.' Pennese said the idea started from an epiphany she had three years ago when she visited the City of Refuge UCC/Fellowship 2000 in San Francisco.

'The vision I had in my life was being lived out in that community of faith,' she said. 'It was truly a representation of diversity—old, young, Black, white, Latino, Asian, straight, bi-, trans-, gay, recovering, HIV+, AIDS-infected, male and female. All of the diversity of God's landscape worshipping together in one space. I wanted to come back and create that here in Chicago. And because of my religious roots, it's sprinkled with the flavor and spirit of neo-Pentecostalism—a movement that is sweeping the community of faith.'

'I want the church to be a place of healing for those who have been excluded from the supper table of our Lord, for whatever reason. And it is also our goal to do ministry through the lens of social justice so that eventually we will be attentive to the needs of those with AIDS, in recovery or in transition from a prison environment and those who are unemployed. That's what Jesus would be doing.'

Pennese, 46, was born and raised in the Chicago area, the child of an African-American mother and an Italian immigrant father. She identifies and lives her life on a daily basis as an African-American woman. She is also in a five-year committed relationship with Vickie R. Sides, a coordinator for Chicago's Rape Crisis Hotline. And they are raising Brandon, 16, Side's biological nephew.

When asked if her life as a woman-loving-woman impacts what she does in ministry and how she does it, she says, 'It is peculiar that women are excluded from the very places for which they have a particular propensity. There are pieces of nurturing and a need for inclusion that guides my ministry.'

'In the LGBT community we have come a long way but part of what I hope for is to take our community to another level. Is our lifestyle reconciled with our spirituality? For LGBT's we are still novices at that. We have been excluded for so long that many of us are fearful at attempting to even realize the spiritual nature of our being. So creating a safe space that focuses on the grace of God is what we are all about at Pillar of Love Fellowship Church—using that to help folks reconcile themselves back into a relationship with God.'

Pennese previously worked as a coordinator for anti-violence against women programs on the local and national level and was at Rape Victim Advocates as the coordinator of programs.

She is currently working on her Master of Divinity at Chicago Theological Seminary and recently received the G. Campbell Morgan Preaching Award for 2000-2004. She also is the 2002-2003 Castenada Scholar—an award given to an LGBT seminarian that shows the greatest promise for ministry.

In June, the Rev. Yvette Flunder in Oakland ordained her at the Fellowship 2000 annual conference. Flunder officiated the ordination as her first official act after becoming a bishop of the church—the first woman and lesbian so honored.

Call (708) 458-1893. The congregation meets Saturdays at 5:30.

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