EVERETT — Neighbors had a hunch the 5-year-old would one day become a pastor.
Darrell Goodwin would stand in the pews and preach along with the minister. At home, he dressed up in his Sunday suit and played church.
As a teenager, he wrote sermons in his free time. They were recorded on tape so he could share them with his grandmother.
Goodwin, now 36, joined the Everett United Church of Christ earlier this month. He is the church’s first African American and gay pastor in its 125-year history.
Goodwin was raised in Chicago. His father died from acute leukemia not long after Goodwin was born. The dying man’s wish was for Goodwin’s grandmother to introduce his son to the Christian faith.
“Her version of that was very conservative,” Goodwin said.
Coming out about his sexuality was not compatible with what he learned in church as a boy, he said.
He preached to his congregation for the first time when he was 15.
“It was a moment where I did something as a teen and everything seemed to make sense,” Goodwin said. “I realized this is what I am supposed to do.”
By 23, he was an ordained minister. He was working toward his master’s degree in higher education at the University of Vermont. A colleague asked him if he would pastor a new church that was set to open.
Goodwin had just started dating one of his classmates.
“I felt like I couldn’t start a church with a secret,” he said. “I needed to be transparent with people about who I am.”
Goodwin and his partner made the announcement together.
After graduate school, he headed west to Washington state and began looking for churches. It was a lengthy search. He had hoped to marry the conservative theology he grew up with and a new focus on inclusiveness.
He didn’t find a good fit so he formed his own church.
Liberation United Church of Christ opened in Seattle about 10 years ago. It was a safe place for people on the margins, Goodwin said.
He still is a pastor there, but now splits his time in Everett.
He had wondered what it would be like to join two different congregations that are linked by the same values.
Goodwin considers the Everett church a trailblazer. People walking by see rainbow flags, a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride. A sign out front declared the church’s support for transgender troops. President Donald Trump said last month that he would bar transgender people from serving in the military.
Goodwin begins each sermon in Everett with a message of inclusiveness.
Women have asked Goodwin if he and his husband of five years plan to have kids. They were hoping to see a baby running around the church.
“I think I can be myself here,” Goodwin said.
He takes pride in the congregation’s efforts to support people in the community. Every week volunteers feed 200 people in their fellowship hall.
Goodwin also has introduced new ideas, one of which he calls “love bags.”
People pack a sandwich, water, socks and a handwritten note into a brown bag. They offer the bags to people they meet around town.
“Everett is very different than Seattle,” Goodwin said. “It has its own needs, but both need a place that says everyone is welcome here.”
Caitlin Tompkins: 425-339-3192; firstname.lastname@example.org.