She wanted to have her baby baptized. The reverend refused.
SUMRALL, Miss. (WLBT) - Kamri Mclendon is 18 years old. She lives with her boyfriend of two years, Tristan Mcphail, in Sumrall, Mississippi. In May, she gave birth to a daughter, Presleigh, who was not planned but who has become the couple’s “greatest blessing.”
Kamri grew up in the church, and thus wanted to have an infant baptism performed on Presleigh in the same church she was baptized in and the church her family has been attending for “generations.”
The church is Hickory Grove United Methodist Church. The reverend, Dewayne Warren.
As of late, the couple had only been attending the church sporadically due to their settling in with their newborn. Even so, they were in communication with Warren, who had agreed to perform the baptism.
“He knew all of the information of us not being married, all of that,” Kamri said. “And he agreed to it. He was like, Yeah, that works. His wife sent us the material of what would need to be said at the service. He even announced it to the congregation. My grandmother and my aunt and uncle were all there. And then he sent us that letter.”
That letter, which was addressed to Kamri, was sent by Warren on September 15. It was to inform Kamri and Tristan that the baptism would not be happening.
The reverend gave the following reasons: Kamri and “the baby’s father” were living together “in sin.” Presleigh was conceived before marriage. The grandmother was living with a man in sin. Kamri and Tristan were not in regular attendance at the church.
Warren wrote that if he were to perform the infant baptism, it would set a bad example for the youth and children of the church. “It would be saying to them that the lifestyle that you are living is ok for a Christian. That is not so.”
“I say all of this in Christian love,” the letter reads in the final paragraph. “I know it is harsh, but it is the truth. I was trying to wait for the Holy Spirit of God to convict you on this, but we were running out of time.”
Kamri and Tristan read the letter together and were both “shocked” by it.
“This wouldn’t have been a big deal if [Warren] had told us from the get-go [that] he wasn’t comfortable with it. Because we completely understand. Like, we know what the Bible says. We did, in fact, sin. But he knew all of that and he still agreed to it. If he had been straightforward from the get-go, this wouldn’t have been a problem with either of us,” Kamri said.
After a discussion with Tristan, Kamri would end up posting the letter on Facebook, where it would be shared over 400 times. In the post, Kamri wrote, “When people ask why there are no young people in these churches[,] this is why... How are we supposed to raise a new generation around the Lord if churches turn away the younger parents who are trying? You simply can’t.”
Kamri would later say that the post was not to “bash” the Christian faith or the church in general, but to bring attention to what she called “church hurt.”
The post soon reached the Mississippi Conference of the UMC, who would intervene in the situation. When reached for comment, the Conference stated that the incident was being handled “in a grace filled way in accordance with the Book of Discipline.”
They would also say that Rev. Larry Hilliard, the District Superintendent of the Seashore District where Hickory Grove United Methodist Church is located, had spoken with all parties involved.
In a phone call, Hilliard could not offer many details about his conversation with Warren given the “supervisory nature” of his role. He could say, however, in a general sense, that the parents of an infant being unwed would not be reason enough for a United Methodist pastor to refuse to perform an infant baptism.
Hilliard could also say that he felt his conversation with Warren ended harmoniously. Warren declined to speak to WLBT for this article, instead directing us to his conversation with Hilliard.
Kamri said that her conversation with Hilliard also went well, and that Hilliard apologized for the way the situation was handled. During their conversation, she said, Hilliard told Kamri that Warren would like to apologize, “but wasn’t comfortable reaching out.” Warren, according to Kamri, wanted Kamri to reach out first.
As of the writing of this article, the two had still not spoken.
As for Presleigh, she will not be baptized as Hickory Grove United Methodist Church and Kamri and Tristan are now in the process of finding a different church, a church “that truly welcomes us with open arms.”
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