Conway, Arkansas runs right through the Bible Belt, which is a region of the southern United States where conservative evangelism and other branches of Christianity are practiced widely. In Conway, Arkansas there are over twenty Christian and Catholic churches, of these, only two are known for being gay-affirming churches.
These two churches are St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and First Presbyterian Church.
On St. Peter’s Episcopal website, there is a statement of inclusivity that says the church seeks to include everyone. “With these ideals in mind, and in that we recognize the necessity in ensuring that all feel welcomed to join our community: Saint Peter’s affirms that all peoples, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, mental or physical ability, age, race, ethnicity, or nation of origin, are welcome to participate in the life of the church. In addition, Saint Peter’s commits to ensuring that its facilities are accessible to all, both in their current state and with any future additions and renovations.”
According to the Human Rights Campaign, a national organization made up of over three million members advocating for LGBTQ rights, The Episcopal Church nationally is an LGBTQ-accepting church made up of about two million people.
The Presbyterian Church - which according to the HRC has just over a million members nationally- is also known nationally to be a gay-affirming and accepting church. The church also works to ordain LGBTQ members and permits same-sex marriage in the church buildings performed by church-ordained ministers.
Until 2014, in Arkansas, same-sex marriage was still illegal. This was only a short six years ago. Now, in central Arkansas there are a total of 25 gay- affirming churches, with most of them being in Little Rock. In northwest Arkansas, there are 17, while in southern Arkansas there are less than 10.
According to Greg Warren, the Rector at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, the Episcopal church has been welcoming to LGBTQ members for decades. “In 1974--just 5 years after Stonewall--the church started ‘Integrity’ for LGBTQ Episcopalians. In the early 2000s, the church began ordaining LGBTQ clergy; one of the first denominations in the country to take this stand,” Warren said.
Warren also included that the national church’s stance does not just stop at that, but it is also an important part of who he is today. “In Conway, Saint Peter's was the site of Arkansas' first same-sex marriage and this has been a point of pride and celebration for the congregation ever since. I, myself, married my husband Mark in St. Peter's in 2019. We welcome, support, and lift up all our diverse groups, including LGBTQ members,” Warren said.
While St. Peters is adamant about including LGBTQ members, it is also focused on inclusion for all people. “Right now, we are focused on elevating awareness around systemic racism and bias within ourselves, the community, and the culture,” Warren said, “ Through a resource put out by our national church, called Sacred Ground, a couple dozen members have been building awareness, sensitivity, and empathy to the sin of racism.”
The work at St. Peter’s does not just end inside of church doors, however, is actively on display in the city of Conway. Not only has St. Peter’s been the site of several same-sex marriages within the last decade, but they also participate proudly in the Conway Pride Parade according to Warren.
In addition to LGBTQ affirming actions, St. Peter’s has served over 500 people in the last year with their food pantry, currently serving at the front of any natural disaster issues in the community and leading for social justice issues including - gun control, immigration, women’s rights and LGBTQ rights.