Metropolitan Church of the Palm Beaches (MCCPB) starts a new chapter in September. After more than seven years, Brown is stepping down from her position as Senior Pastor. She’s been with MCCPB since March 2011.
So much has happened during that time—same sex marriage legalization, the shooting at the Pulse nightclub, and the election of President Trump. Through it all, Brown has been a guiding force.
But in late July, Brown, the longest-serving senior pastor in the church’s history, announced to her congregation that she was stepping down—she and wife Sarah-Helen Land were moving on to a new chapter in their life.
They are moving to North Carolina where Brown will be a chaplain resident, training with the Veterans Administration. Eventually, she wants to be a full-fledged chaplain with the VA.
“People have always asked me how long I was going to stay (at MCC of the Palm Beaches) and my answer has always been the same,” Brown says. “Until God or the congregation tells me it’s time to go.”
Brown wants to make two things very clear—first, the decision to leave was not an easy one. “The seven-and-a-half years at this church were the best time of my life so far,” she told SFGN. She also is adamant that she decided to move on. “Anytime there’s turnover in the LGBT community people want to know ‘the real’ story. We are not leaving because anything is wrong. We are not being forced out, which makes it harder, because we love this church and we feel really loved and supported.”
Brown said that for more than a year, she’s felt like something else was stirring in her, but she didn’t know what it was. So she prayed about it for many months. She felt like God was guiding her back to where she started—in the Army. When she was studying to become ordained at age 23, she was in the Army, as a chaplain candidate, with an eye on eventually on becoming a chaplain.
“When I came out, I was forced to resign my commission, and by the time the law changed, and I could serve openly, I had aged out of being able to be a chaplain,” Brown explains. “Serving in the VA where I’m headed is not the exact same thing, but it’s as close as I’m going to get in this lifetime. I felt like God was telling me to do this new thing.”
But it’s the work she did at MCCPB that leaves an indelible mark on South Florida.
“Lea accomplished many things during her seven-and-a-half years here at MCCPB, so it's difficult to single out one accomplishment,” said MCCPBs Chris Lacharite. “But clearly one area that stands out is her unwavering commitment to issues of social justice. In addition to being a strong voice for the rights of the LGBTQ community, Lea led the congregation in providing programs and services to feed the hungry, support people living with HIV, provide temporary housing for homeless families and conduct advocacy for migrant farm workers.”
Brown said the hard work she put in could not have been achieved by her alone. “I would like to say thank you to the larger community—Compass, CAIR, Roosters, activist Mary Fisher, Temple Judea and everyone who supported us on important issues like marriage equality, AIDS stigma, and the Pulse massacre. It’s my prayer that the church continues its partnership with all these incredible organizations and individuals.”
As for the future of MCCPB, it can take anywhere from 12 to 24 months to find a new senior pastor, in the interim, Reverend Elder Tony Freeman will lead the church. “I don’t think there are better hands,” Brown said.
Brown’s final day at MCCPB is September 9. The church plans a special gathering to say goodbye that day following the 10:30 a.m. service. “I will miss most her heart,” Lacharite said. “Whatever Lea does she pours her heart into it. From providing vibrant, relevant worship to counseling a person in need, Lea is a powerful example of a woman who lives out her faith through loving others.”