John M. Becker

CO Pastor Stops, Cancels Married Lesbian's Funeral

Filed By John M. Becker | January 14, 2015 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Living
Tags: Christian love, Colorado, funeral, obituary, shameful, spiritual bullying

vanessa-collier.jpgThe flowers were in place, the casket was open, and at least 170 grieving friends and family members were assembled at New Hope Ministries in Lakewood, Colorado last Saturday. They were gathered to remember and mourn the untimely death of Vanessa Collier, a 33-year-old wife and mother of two who died on December 29 when her gun went off while cleaning it.

An hour-long viewing of Collier's body had concluded and the memorial service had just begun, when about 15 minutes in, pastor Ray Chavez stopped the service. Why? Because the memorial video contained photos of Collier with her wife. The Denver Post reports:

The memorial could not continue, Pastor Ray Chavez said, as long as pictures of Collier with the love of her life, the spouse she shared two children with, were to be displayed.

Chavez said there could be no images of Collier with her wife, Christina. There could be no indication that Collier was gay.

Outraged, those who loved Collier, 33, picked up programs, flowers and eventually the dead woman's casket itself, moving the service to a mortuary that -- thankfully, they say -- happened to be across the street.

"It was humiliating," said Victoria Quintana, Collier's longtime friend. "It was devastating."

Collier's friends, many of them lesbians, already were accustomed to dealing with the social and political challenges of their sexual orientation. Then they were faced with the death of a friend who, Thornton police say, may have committed suicide. Then last weekend, as they mourned, they were confronted with a church that wouldn't let them celebrate Collier's life because of what the minister called an "alternative lifestyle."

Appalling, right? More details after the break.

Collier's friends, who chose New Hope for her service because of its location in the neighborhood where they all grew up, told the Post that they provided the church with the remembrance video a week before her service was scheduled to take place -- meaning that Chavez could have voiced his objections or even stopped the funeral from happening long before it actually started.

But the church says they lost the video and didn't get around to reviewing another copy until the day of the funeral -- and when they saw the images (including one of Vanessa proposing to Christina), they demanded that the family remove them. They declined to censor her life or write her spouse out of her final remembrance, so the church refused to allow her service to continue.

vanessa-collier2.jpgCollier's friends gathered outside the church yesterday to protest the disgraceful way "Pastor" Chavez mistreated her in death. They say that while New Hope didn't want to sully their sanctuary with an openly married lesbian, they were more than happy to take their gay money -- the church has not yet reimbursed them for the costs of the funeral that Vanessa was not even allowed to have.

Chaplain Gary Rolando, who presided over the funeral at Newcomer, says he's a friend of Collier's father who "knew the deceased and knew that she led an 'alternative lifestyle' [sic]." Although not affiliated with New Hope Ministries, Rolando seemingly defended the church's anti-gay policies, telling KMGH-TV that the church welcomes gay people but doesn't "want overt, open homosexuality in their sanctuary."

In remarks to KUSA-TV, he added that he thinks it's "a shame that Collier's friends are using her death to push an agenda." (Apparently, in Rolando's eyes, the real victim here is New Hope Ministries, not his friend's daughter who was so grievously disgraced in death. Some friend!)

New Hope Ministries is refusing to comment on the story.

Sadly, this isn't the first time a church has used a funeral as a weapon of punishment against an LGBT person: in August, a church in Tampa, Florida (coincidentally also called "New Hope") cancelled a man's funeral -- during his wake -- when they found out he had been married to another man. And at least twice in the past three years, Catholic priests have denied lesbian women Communion at their mothers' funerals.

As I've written before, I don't remember Jesus Christ turning anyone away, but I guess these "pastors" think they know better than the man they profess to follow. Shame on them all.

If you'd like to contact New Hope Ministries, here are their Facebook and Twitter profile pages.

Video news reports are below.

KMGH-TV

KUSA-TV

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