Bishop Jim Swilley, founder of Church In the Now, the massive, non-denominational congregation in Conyers, made international headlines when he came out to his congregation as gay eight months ago. He said he did so in the wake of news of numerous reported suicides of LGBT youth.
At that time, he wasn’t sure what the future held for him and his church but he, and his family, had the support of thousands of people from across the world as well as well as his congregation.
Since his coming out sermon in October, Swilley has continued to preach and last week began a new ministry, Church in the Now Midtown. The first service was more than he could have hoped for, he said in an interview. Tonight is the second service that begins at 7 p.m. in the Imperial Ballroom of the Biltmore House, 30 50th St. NE, Atlanta, GA 30308.
“[Last week’s service] was great. It was everything I hoped it would be only better,” Swilley said. “Of any project I’ve ever started, last week was the most fulfilling.”
Swilley said there are no plans to shutter Church In the Now in Conyers, but that church is now named Church in the Now East. There may be plans to begin other Churches In the Now.
“We’re sort of changing the concept of a megachurch being only in one location to several locations,” Swilley explained. He and his ex-wife, Debye Swilley, and his son, Judah, work together, meaning there is “enough ministry to go around.”
“One place doesn’t have to replace another. The long range plans are for us to be all over the metro area,” he explained. “We want to take our inclusive message to where people are hungry for it.”
Sine coming out and embracing himself as a gay man and a gay pastor, Swilley said he had a particular interest in preaching in Midtown, the heart of Atlanta’s — and Georgia’s — gay community. This is also the area where he was born and raised and has a personal spot in his heart due to that history, he said.
“That’s an environment I’m comfortable in,” Swilley said. “I was born down street at Crawford Long. So much of my life happened right there in those neighborhood streets. I’m just going to see what happens. It’s not that I’m not a man of faith. But at this stage in my life I have to be very practical.
“Even though Atlanta has a lot of gay affirming churches, it’s no secret many have been traumatized by the church. Many people tell me, ‘I never thought I would go back to church again,'” he said. “After I came out, I developed a following in Midtown. And that’s where I grew up. I just felt like it was the right time to put it out there and see if there is an audience for our type of ministry.”
Church In the Now Midtown Every Thursday, 7 p.m. Imperial Ballroom of the Biltmore House 30 50th St. NE, Atlanta, GA 30308 www.churchinthenow.org