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By Marene Gustin
Leslie Lynwood Christopher Jackson says he first felt called to the ministry as a teenager attending Lakewood Church, which was then led by John Osteen, its founder and the father of the congregation’s current pastor, Joel Osteen.
But it would be a long time before the Rev. Jackson began to preach—and even longer before he had his own flock. The reason was simple. “Teenage years can be very hard, particularly when you’re beginning to explore your own sexuality,” Jackson says.
As the native Houstonian began to identify as gay, he felt less and less comfortable with the church. As a young man, he found his “church” was more about parties and nightclubs and less about sanctuaries. It was a difficult time. “God used all of my pain for his glory,” Jackson says, adding that he has no regrets.
Jackson’s stint in the Navy finally taught him discipline and control. After that, he found his way back to the church, joining Houston’s Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church, where he met his husband, Marcus Carter, a dancer who studied with Alvin Ailey. After earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix, Jackson worked at the Houston Food Bank as manager of organizational culture. But when he turned 30, he reassessed his career goals. “Marcus asked me what it was I really wanted to do with my life, and I knew then it was to minister,” he says. His career goal was the same as it had been as a young teen.
The couple relocated to New York City, where Jackson graduated from Union Theological Seminary in 2012. But he wasn’t ordained until 2016.
After returning to Space City, the couple visited many churches before settling on Cathedral of Hope Houston, a United Church of Christ congregation. The pastor, Rev. Lynette Ross, whom Jackson had met in seminary, encouraged him to get ordained and join her as the church’s minister of education. He hasn’t looked back since.
When Ross told Jackson of her plans to retire, he thought, “Oh no, I don’t want to learn to work with a new pastor.” But she just laughed and said, “No, you’re going to be the new pastor!”
And so, on July 2, Jackson preached his first sermon. Almost four months later, he was officially installed as pastor. “It’s like a small, family church,” Jackson says. “We are very small, maybe 40 to 45 regulars who attend Sunday service—and several ‘frequent flyers’ who come often but aren’t yet members.”
In 2009, Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, known as the world’s largest LGBTQ church, planted the Houston congregation as an “outpost.” In 2013, Cathedral of Hope Houston became an independent congregation.
Cathedral of Hope Houston moved several times before landing in West Houston. Jackson and his husband live nearby in Oaks of Inwood with their cat, Langston Hughes (named for the African-American poet and playwright) and their dog, Josephine Baker (named for the black dancer, singer, and activist who took Paris by storm in the 1920s and ’30s). They are clearly artsy fur-parents.
Jackson is also active in the Diana Foundation and serves on the board of the Houston Association of the United Church of Christ Foundation. His hobbies include reading about stoicism and minimalism and listening to podcasts. He uses social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter, to reach his congregation and encourage new members.
“I’m an African-American gay, and the congregation is largely white lesbians. While I identify as a progressive evangelical, we encourage everyone to join—gay or straight, UCCers, Baptist and New Age, agnostics, and even a few atheists,” he says. “We want diversity. We encourage different views and ideas, as long as all are open to listening and learning.”
Cathedral of Hope Houston
• 9022 Long Point Road
This article appears in the December 2017 edition of OutSmart Magazine.