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Gay Ga. mega-church pastor reflects on year of coming out

Bishop Jim Swilley a year after coming out

Last year, Bishop Jim Swilley spoke from his heart to his congregation at Church in the Now in Conyers, Ga. He came out as a gay man, shocking many of his mega-church congregants and making national headlines.

The Oct. 13, 2010, sermon sparked a mass exodus from the church. Attendance dropped from approximately 2,500 on any given Sunday to only about 500. The church was forced into foreclosure on its massive property and is now renting one of the buildings back from the bank for worship.

The Georgia Voice spoke with Swilley last year about his coming out, and recently went back to follow up on how he, his family and his church are doing a year later. Despite the changes to his Conyers congregation, Swilley remains confident in his journey as a gay Christian and hopeful for his new project, Church in the Now Midtown.

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Podcast: Jim Swilley a year on

GA Voice editor Laura Douglas-Brown was featured on AM 1690 | The Voice of the Arts this week in a bi-weekly segment highlighting upcoming arts and entertainment events and LGBT community news featured in our upcoming issue.

In this week's segment, Laura discusses our cover story, an in-depth interview with out pastor Jim Swilley, examines our coverage of LGBT homelessness and the continued fallout from the 2009 raid on the Atlanta Eagle.

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Gay mega-church pastor draws praise, condemnation

Our coverage of Bishop Jim Swilley’s recent decision to come out, with the support of his wife and family, touched off vigorous debate in comments on our website.

Re: “Swilley’s story: A gay pastor, his wife, and a deeper ministry” (Nov. 12)

"This article is articulate, sensitive and wonderful. Thank you for writing it with the Spirit it deserves. These people are my friends, my church family and leaders and I love them. God bless you."

"Thank you. I miss my church family and my work in youth ministry so much. Since I came out I have felt abandoned by a faith that I proclaimed my whole life. I needed this today. I never doubted that God loved me until a Christian told me that he didn’t anymore."

"Since Jim has memorized scriptures, he thinks that he is ready to “take on” anyone. Sound familiar? The devil quoted “it is written” to tempt Jesus in the wilderness. Problem is, he twisted scripture to obtain his own desire, which was to have Jesus Christ bow the knee to him. The devil hasn’t changed: still doing the same thing today, leading people to twist scripture to justify the desires of the flesh."

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New print edition on stands today

An in-depth interview with newly out Bishop Jim Swilley, a look at Cirque du Soleil, and Trans Atlanta — find these stories and more in our new issue

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Swilley’s story: A gay pastor, his wife, and a deeper ministry

Bishop Jim Swilley came out to his congregation in Oct.

Bishop Jim Swilley founded Church in the Now, the massive, non-denominational congregation in Conyers, in 1985. But as the church grew over 25 years, and throughout his almost four decades of ministry, Swilley struggled with a secret that he hid from his congregation.

“I am approaching my 39th year in ministry — All I have ever done is preach the gospel,” Swilley told his congregation in an emotional sermon last month, noting that his parents tell stories of him preaching while still in diapers.

“There are two things in my life that are an absolute: I did not ask for either one of them, both of them were imposed upon me, I had no control over either of them,” Swilley said.