Reverend Patrick Rogers wants you to come back to the church.

The newly installed senior pastor at First Congregational Church of Fort Lauderdale has a message for members of the LGBT community.

“I understand how you feel because I have lived it too,” said Rogers.

Rogers, a gay man, has experienced persecution by people using Christianity to justify their intolerance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. He witnessed this method first-hand while living in Topeka, Kansas – home of the infamous anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church.

Through all the name calling and condemnation, Rogers refused to let go of his faith. The native Tennessean returned to Fort Lauderdale this year to pastor an emerging spiritual community that is open and affirming to all walks of life.

“This church is a safe place to be who you are,” Rogers said in an interview with SFGN. “We are watching people come into their own here and it is great to see.”

Around 200 people attended a Saturday afternoon installation service for Rogers on July 11 at the church (2501 NE 30th Street), which he tenderly refers to as “the heart of Coral Ridge.” Built in 1962, the current sanctuary, with its towering triangular roof, is cited by the Broward County Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and Florida Engineering Society as a structure that exhibits “outstanding craftsmanship.”

On July 18, the sanctuary hosted a performance by the Symphony of the Americas and in weeks prior welcomed the Gay Men’s Chorus of South Florida. In addition to its arts program, the church takes an active role in helping Fort Lauderdale’s homeless population by serving a hot lunchtime meal every Thursday.

“UCC’s focus is social justice issues like helping the homeless, fighting poverty and working with immigrants,” said Rogers, referencing the church’s affiliation with United Church of Christ. At his installation service, representatives from the Florida Conference of the United Church of Christ presided over the ceremony which was attended by local clergy from other gay affirming congregations.

“This church is growing,” said Barbara West, UCC Fort Lauderdale’s Director of Missions, a founding member. “It’s a church that has gone through its ups and downs. Right now we’re going up.”

Rogers said the grace of God is the reason for UCC Fort Lauderdale’s spiritual revival. He said coming back to South Florida, where he had ministered during the early 2000s and studied seminary at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens, felt like “coming home.”

In reaching out to the LGBT community, Rogers said the church is keeping up with changing times.

“Our faith is 2,000 years old, our thinking is not,” Rogers said.