Pastor finally at peace being gay, Christian
Phyllis Hunt knows the pain of rejection and isolation and now leads others on the path to inclusion and love.
By SHERYL KAY
Published July 29, 2005
TEMPLE TERRACE - Throughout her life Phyllis Hunt recalls being told there were some things she could neither do nor be.
At 14 she signed up for her desired role in a youth group-led service at her Southern Baptist church. She put down "preacher."
"I remember I was called in and I was read Scriptures that say women are to be silent, and I cried," Hunt said. "I knew I could beg all I wanted, but I knew nothing was going to change."
That same year Hunt, now 47, said she called a youth group leader to express her fear that she might be a lesbian. The thought terrified her, as she identified completely as a Christian, and had been taught that homosexuality was an abomination.
"The leader laughed and told me not to worry, that it was just a phase I was going through, and the conversation ended," Hunt recalled.
With both thoughts buried inside her, Hunt coasted through high school and approached adulthood confused and with little future orientation. Always feeling like a "helper-caretaker," she decided at age 20 she would try to get into nursing school and sat for the entrance exams. When she received the results, Hunt said she was devastated.
"I scored fifth grade level in math, and third grade level in reading," she said. "I was so stripped of my character. I was convinced that I would be a drain on society, that I had nothing to contribute."
The result was an attempted suicide. While that moment was the lowest point in Hunt's life, it also launched her on a decade-long journey. She found and accepted herself as a gay woman, learned to educate herself despite a diagnosis of dyslexia, and went on to obtain a master's of divinity. With it, she set out to prove just how wrong some people had been.
Hunt was 25 when she kissed her first woman.
"A light bulb went off in my head," she said. "I had just come home to a part of my soul I had never been able to find words to describe."
Shortly thereafter, she attended a service at the Metropolitan Community Church in St. Petersburg, where the primary mission is to provide Christian outreach to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
"It was the first time I saw a woman as an ordained minister, and the first time I saw gay people having a church service," she said. "It was the first time I felt normal - the first time I realized I can be gay and be a good Christian."
For the next several years Hunt struggled through a bachelor's degree, and then learned about her dyslexia. When she entered seminary she said she could read about five pages an hour, but after in-depth tutoring, she was reading 25 pages an hour.
Today Hunt, who lives just outside Temple Terrace, is also called the Rev. Phyllis. She has been in a committed relationship for 13 years with 48-year-old Vilia Corvison, a former network engineer who will become a full-time music student this fall at the University of South Florida. The two were married last summer in Toronto.
Hunt is pastor at the MCC church in Seminole Heights, where the couple plan to make their home. Corvison is the church's music director.
"My whole life I really felt my experience of knowing God loved me was something the world should know, something we should all feel," Hunt said. "It took on different forms, even during a phase when I doubted it, but my whole life I felt it was a calling, something deeper than just from a salvation standpoint."
Dennis Smith, 39, first became acquainted with Hunt when she joined MCC and he was on its board of directors.
"We had had a couple of turbulent years with several pastors, and I was a little skeptical because she had only been a pastor for a year," said Smith, today the office administrator at MCC. "But over the time I've gotten to know her I've seen she has some of the greatest abilities to touch people, to make a difference in the lives of people who have been marginalized by conservatives in the church, by teaching them how to rebuild their relationships with God that other people say they can't have."
Smith estimates that 200 people attend Sunday morning services at MCC, which are fairly traditional. There are processional and recessional hymns, a welcome and announcements, a children's Bible story, prayers and Scripture reading, Hunt's sermon, an offering, music and Communion. Most attendees are gay; at least 10 percent are heterosexual.
"MCC is a house of prayer for all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, ability, education, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious affiliation or any other aspect of likeness or difference," said Hunt. "This is the commitment of a Christian community, inclusion and welcome, and that's what many people, gay and straight, long for in a church."
Sharing that commitment are Donna and Dennis Blaha of West Meadows, who searched for an Episcopalian church for months before they happened on MCC.
"There are gay, there are straight, but the bottom line is that they're people and they're friendly, they've got good hearts and they're all welcoming Christians," said Donna Blaha, 55, an executive office assistant. "Phyllis is a shepherd to these people. She's a healer. She speaks to social injustice and validates people, people who are rejected by their families and by other churches. She ministers to anyone who has been rejected, and we can all relate to that."
Recalling her childhood, Hunt today is carrying her message of inclusion beyond her congregation at rallies and marches. The Hillsborough County Commission's vote to not acknowledge or promote gay pride events has been a lightning rod for her activism.
"I don't know a single gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person who attributes his or her orientation to the exposure of someone's relationship," Hunt said. "Everyone I know, including myself, was raised by heterosexual parents, who raised their children with spoken or unspoken heterosexual ideals."
To reach Pastor Hunt, or for more information on the Metropolitan Community Church at 408 E Cayuga St., go to www.mcctampa.com CQ or call 813 239-1951.
You can contact reporter Sheryl Kay at firstname.lastname@example.org
[Last modified July 28, 2005, 08:19:13]
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