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Off Central: Tempe church working harder than ever to be inclusive

(Photo: Dayspring United Methodist Church)
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PHOENIX — The pastor of Dayspring United Methodist Church in Tempe likes to think of it as truly inclusive.

All are welcome, no matter what their sexual orientation, color, or creed. It doesn’t matter if they’re skeptics, atheists or true believers, either.

“To my way of thinking, we’re only enriched by our experiences with the other – whoever the ‘other’ may be,” said the Rev. Jeff Proctor-Murphy.

Proctor-Murphy has led Dayspring United Methodist since the summer of 2014. Before that he pastored various Phoenix-area churches.

He said Dayspring UMC fit him perfectly.

“I’d call myself a progressive Christian. And, by that, I mean one who seeks to follow Jesus and live according to His teachings,” he said. “The emphasis is less around beliefs, and more around practice.

“We look to Jesus, and how he lived His life … you find that He was constantly pushing the boundaries. He was reaching out to those who had been excluded or ostracized, marginalized – and bringing them into community.”

The church has a colorful history rooted in civil rights.

It was founded in 1963 by Bufkin Oliver, a white Methodist minister from Mississippi. He was one of 28 white ministers – the so-called “Mississippi Mafia” – who signed a public statement called “Born of Conviction.” The statement opposed ‘Jim Crow’ laws, and expressed solidarity and support for African-Americans.

“Many received death threats; some, their tires were slashed,” Proctor-Murphy said. “Some, their kids were bullied.”

Oliver didn’t let that stop him. Christ Chapel began near the Tempe Mortuary and was officially incorporated in 1967. In 1979, the church was renamed Dayspring United Methodist Church.

The spirit of inclusiveness and support – no matter who the person was, their religious creed, or their skin color – has continued in the church to this day.

Dayspring UMC has invited Jewish rabbis and Muslim leaders for interfaith dialogue with members, welcomes LGBTQ+ attendees, supports organizations such as Planned Parenthood and offers programs to all, no matter their age or skin color.

Nan Lawson, the church treasurer and a member for more than 30 years, said it’s even more important in today’s world.

“I don’t think there’s any other way for the church to be going,” she said. “I believe that’s God’s intention: For us to recognize the oneness in all of humanity.”

Last year, the church received Tempe’s M.L.K. Diversity Award. Proctor-Murphy said that’s a fitting tribute to a special place and Jesus’ message of inclusion.

“That’s really what it’s about – compassion, and reaching out to those who, for whatever reason, have been left behind.”

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