BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) – At a very young age Dawn Wilder fell in love with going to church. Raised in a Lutheran household she enjoyed her faith. But she soon realized that she was not like her peers. As a young girl Wilder was attracted to other girls. It was not long until she quickly found out what her church thought of idea of someone liking the same gender.
“In my church youth group when I was in high school, we had a song that we just loved to sing, Wilder said. “It was ‘For those tears I died by Marsha Stevens’.” “I remember the day the youth group leader came to us and said, this person came out as a lesbian and we need to not sing this song anymore,” Wilder said.
It was at that moment that Wilder wrestled with the idea of ever coming out as her true self. Because of her deep love for her faith she resorted back to the only person she knew could understand her- God. Wilder began to pray for her feelings to go away.
“I would constantly pray for God to take these feelings away from me I just could not understand how God could not free me from what I clearly thought was sin,” Wilder said.
It would take Wilder years to finally build up the courage to come out. Despite disapproval from her church and many others she couldn’t let go of her faith.
Wilder attended Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena in the early 90s when very little LGBTQ voices were heard. But it was there that Wilder finally found the strength to tell everyone what she had been holding in for years.
In her fourth year after Lent she decided to come out.
“When I finished that fast that Easter morning and the only thing left was the fact that I was gay,” Wilder said. “I just said I am coming out and I don’t know what this is going to lead me to … I was certain at the moment that that would be the end of my relationship with God.”
Soon after coming out she was met with plenty of backlash from the seminary. Her own family and friends deciding to part ways. But to her surprise Wilder was allowed to graduate from the seminary. In a search to expand horizons and to make an impact in the community Wilder moved to Bakersfield.
“I don’t know if I am the first but I am right now the only out LGBTQ, lesbian pastor [in Bakersfield],” Wilder said.
Now as the pastor for Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Northeast Bakersfield on Baker Street, Wilder wants everyone to feel welcomed at her church no matter what they identify themselves as.
“The message that I always want people to come away from here is that each person who walks through these doors know that they are a beloved child of God and nothing can separate them from that love,” Wilder said.