COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Brian Blake has been attending Friends Congregational Church in College Station since 1998. The church still displays the membership book where he first signed his name.
Blake serves in just about every capacity with the church, including singing for the choir. His husband has been a member for almost as long as he has.
"What I struggled with was finding a spiritual home here where I could be who I was discovering I was, and I could be my own authentic self," Blake said. "And when I heard Friends was becoming open and affirming, I became really interested in kind of reclaiming my spirituality.”
Friends church celebrates 2022 as being the 26th year of their open and affirming practice, where they not only invite LGBTQ people to worship but openly celebrate their sexual orientations and identities. As far as senior pastor Dan De Leon knows, Friends is the only church in the Brazos Valley that practices this way.
“At the beginning of any worship service," De Leon recited, "we say 'Welcome to Friends Congregational Church. We are an open and affirming church of the United Church of Christ, where no matter who you are or where you are in life’s journey, you are welcome here.”
Other churches in the area welcome LGBTQ people to worship but still might not affirm their identities. Just last month KRHD spoke off-camera with one local church which does not allow its gay congregants to preach or teach Sunday school.
“In many cases, it’s kind of a ‘don’t ask don’t tell' approach," said De Leon. "That if you are going to be welcoming to LGBTQ+ people, to be nice to them, but not allow for them to participate fully in the ministry of the church ... that, in effect is a way to not have to talk about it.”
Brian Blake has known deep down since childhood who he is as a gay man. And, his heart has felt the call to draw close to Christ. For 26 years, Friends church has given him what no other church has – permission to serve Jesus as himself.
“I love being a part of the life of this church and doing things for others," Blake said. "A part of me learned that from President Bush [Sr.]. There’s no reward in life without service to others.”
To learn more about Friends Congregational Church, visit Home | Friends Church UCC (friends-ucc.org).