2088 Beryl Street, San Diego
Community Congregational Church of Pacific Beach
Pastor: Elvin Harrison
Born: El Centro
Formation: Jarvis Christian College, Hawkins, TX; Howard University, Washington DC
Years Ordained: 26
San Diego Reader: What’s your main concern as a member of the clergy?
Pastor Elvin Harrison: People aren’t really challenged to think critically about their faith. What I see is people being told, “This is what you need to believe and what you need to do” and people do it without thinking about their faith. People have to have a faith in a theology that is evolving. A formal theological education helps a person to become comfortable with this evolving theology.
SDR: Why did you become a minister?
PH: Even when I was in kindergarten, I never had a desire to be anything else besides a minister. My first way of formally serving the church, I think I was four or five years old, and I wanted to be an usher, and they let this little five-year-old boy serve as an usher. From that day, my service to the church began.
SDR: Why United Church of Christ?
PH: I was raised Baptist. However, being a gay man and Baptist doesn’t really match up, and after a long period of discernment, I found the United Church of Christ, which I’m able to serve as my authentic self…. My sexual orientation is part of who I am.
SDR: What is the mission of your church?
PH: I would say our mission is to serve the Pacific Beach community. We’re a diverse congregation, and the purpose of our congregation is for not only advocating for those who are less fortunate but also for helping people who are privileged, or middle class, for helping them to realize what our responsibility is to the world. We can’t simply throw money at social problems, but we have to get down and do some work.
SDR: Where is the strangest place you’ve found God?
PH: I found God at 51st St. and Park Ave. in New York City. That’s the place, right on that corner, where you have the Waldorf Astoria Hotel and a church, St. Bartholomew’s. After I came out as a gay man and could no longer serve the Baptist Church, but never thought the church abandoned me — I was living in New York at the time — and every single day I would go into St. Bartholomew’s and sit and pray and reflect. In the shadow of the Pan-Am Building, at 51st and Park Ave., everything that speaks to wealth and power, I found God there in the quiet of reflection.
SDR: Where do you go when you die?
When we die, we continue to be cared for by a God who is loving, all-merciful, and whose grace we can’t comprehend. The mercy of God extends to all creation. We think of hell as this big burning ball of fire (or whatever it might be). As Christians we say the love of God endures forever; but if there were a place of eternal torment, the mercy of God would cease to exist in that place. I’ve struggled with this concept of hell and grew up with it, but as my theology has evolved, it goes against everything we talk about when we say God’s love and mercy endure forever.