After several failed attempts to establish a Roanoke Valley congregation affiliated with the nationally important United Church of Christ, several supporters are concentrating on making some impact for inclusion and justice nearby.
One of these is the Rev. David Denham, founder of Journey of the Heart Ministries. He told me he started it after moving to Roanoke nine years ago with his counselor wife, Anne Lusby-Denham who is now retired.
Denham, a native of Baltimore, said he grew up as a member of a congregation affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists group – regarded as less conservative on social issues than most Southern Baptists. Later he was among the few non-Catholics to receive his theological education at St. Mary’s Seminary.
He was now affiliated with the United Church of Christ (UCC) and was ordained in 1988. The UCC became a major American denomination nearly 50 years ago, following the merger of four long-established Christian groups. Since the merger, some UCC members, clergy and lay leaders have worked closely with Unitarians and Disciples of Christ groups.
They are not connected with the Church of Christ, represented by several congregations in the Roanoke Valley and Craig County; these churches hold to conservative positions on social issues while the merged group stands firmly for inclusion of people of all races and sexual orientations.
Denham began his ministry in Frederick, Md. and later served churches in Houston, Texas, and in Arlington. In 2007, at the invitation of the Rev. Lisa Meyer Vinyard, long a chaplain for Carlilion and a UCC minister, he came to Roanoke to try to start a congregation of her faith. It didn’t succeed, he recalled, and he began a practice of counseling with an office in downtown Roanoke. Available at 540-354-4613 or firstname.lastname@example.org, he has a special interest in spiritual direction with persons with disabilities, the gay and transgendered communities and strengthening marriages, both traditional and same-sex.
Later Denham, 67, got in the news for being involved in a sit-in before the recent election at U.S. Representative Bob Goodlatte’s Roanoke office along with his wife and another local activist Angela Yarbrough. Freeda Cathcart, not a UCC member but an unsuccessful candidate for Roanoke City Council and an activist for local peace and justice causes, have also joined some of the protests aimed at inclusivity in voting and other issues. Opposition to the proposed natural gas pipelines has also fueled the protests, Denham indicated. On Nov. 30 Denham, his wife and Yarborough were fined $100 each and court costs for the Goodlatte protests.
The United Church of Christ congregation started in Rocky Mount several years ago, moved briefly to the Bonsack area and last year became established at the Co-Lab Building across from the Grandin Theatre. It’s called “Tree of Life Community Church” with services held at 10 a.m. on each Sunday. The Rev. Ron Nichols is pastor.
“We’re still very small in number as a congregation but since we are committed to inclusive support of all …this is a time for us to make our principles heard,” Denham said.
– Submitted by Frances Stebbins