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David Bahr is leaving
Cleveland--After almost 15 years, Archwood United Church of Christ will be without their guiding light.
Rev. David Bahr came to Archwood in January 1993, their first openly gay pastor. He leaves behind a very different church as he departs for a new calling in Denver.
He immediately made a mark on his new congregation by starting a new annual tradition, the steeple vigil. Every year, Bahr would ascend into the church’s steeple, and he would not descend until a certain amount of food was donated for local social services organizations, mainly the Brookside Hunger Center.
In recent years, members of the congregation have joined him in the vigil, taking it in shifts. Whether the tradition will continue is unknown.
“They’ll have to work that out,” Bahr said.
His final sermon at Archwood was on October 14, and his first at Park Hill United Church of Christ in Denver will be on November 18.
Bahr cast his eye back on the church he came into almost 15 years ago, comparing it to the church he leaves now.
“When I came, there were about 20 to 30 elderly people, all white, and three children,” he recalled. “Today it’s a multi-racial church. One-third are African American.”
That is not the only demographic change.
“The church is half LGBT and half straight, and we have 30 to 40 children from all different types of families,” he said proudly.
Not all of the changes were at his behest. A year after coming to Archwood, the membership pushed him to make the congregation “open and affirming,” the United Church of Christ designation indicating full acceptance of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
Since then, the church has become increasingly involved in the LGBT community, including hosting the annual gospel breakfast for the Black, Gay and Proud Celebration in August.
“The think the black gay pride stuff really solidified our desire to be a multiracial church,” Bahr noted. “It really had an impact.”
Bahr wed his partner over the summer, but their move to Denver will mark the first time in their six-year relationship that they will live together.
There is another family tie to the move.
“I’m not from Cleveland,” Bahr said. “I’ve always wanted to return west. My dad died in Montana this summer and it was just hard to get there from here.”
“Living in Denver means I’ll be able to drive to my mother’s in a day,” he surmised.
Above all, however, he feels a very powerful calling to his new congregation.
When asked if he was sad to leave, he said, “No, because my sense of God calling me there has just been so strong that though saying goodbye to so many loved ones here in the church, no matter how sad that was, it’s just clear that God is calling me to Denver.”
The church will get an interim pastor while its board spends the next year or so looking for a permanent successor to Rev. Bahr. He hopes, however, that his replacement will continue the church’s work for neighborhood concerns, racial justice and LGBT equality.