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Zao MKE Church leaders advocate for radical inclusion in the church

Zao MKE Church offers weekly Sunday morning services that run from 10-11:30 A.M.
Zao MKE Church
Zao MKE Church offers weekly Sunday morning services that run from 10 to 11:30 A.M.

While pride month has drawn to a close, Zao MKE Church continues to offer resources for those with LGBTQ+ identities. The church also hosts various social events to create community around faith, such as family dinners, karaoke nights, and even beach trips.

The church is radically inclusive and run by queer and transgender pastors Jonah and Cameron Overton. Along with putting on events, they lead their congregation in weekly worship and provide pastoral care.

While Zao MKE Church is now housed in a historic church building on the East Side of Milwaukee, the parish started in Reverend Jonah’s living room. They wanted to continue strengthening their faith outside of traditional Christian leadership that typically rejects those with marginalized identities.

“I grew up in church, not feeling particularly comfortable as a queer and trans person. And now my job is to create church for and with queer and trans people and other people who have been marginalized by the church,” said Jonah.

Cameron emphasizes the church’s core tenants: to be Jesus-rooted, justice-centered and radically inclusive. He explains that he believes Jesus went to the margins of society to help those who were oppressed by the systems and structures in place. This call to justice and inclusivity often takes the shape of creating community.

“We want to do the hard work of justice and liberation so that all can celebrate and dance and eat and drink and be merry. But also, why wait until we’ve won?" said Jonah. "Let’s do those things now and create that community we’re all longing for as we fight for a world where more people can have access to that.”

Zao hosts many social events for their parishioners, and recently they engaged in a transgender clothing swap. The clothing swap was for those seeking out gender-affirming clothing free of charge. Partnering with Bounce Milwaukee, Forge, Diverse and Resilient, and the MKE LGBT Center, the swap brought in more clothes than people could even take home.

“We had that abundant excess that happened, and so when that occurred, I saw the community’s desire for something like this. So out of the bigger swap, we decided to open a boutique where, hopefully, this will be a space that looks almost like a store,” said Cameron.

While the boutique is not currently up and running, Zao has taken some community members in on appointments. They believe that clothing shapes the way we see each other and ourselves, and no one should be denied that due to a price tag.

“When we come together as a community and give what we have and take what we need, everyone has everything they need. So I say this, even when we’re talking about giving or asking people to throw in financially, we say we believe that we have enough because we have one another. And so I believe that is actually true for the whole world,” said Jonah.

Cait Flynn was an assistant producer for Lake Effect 2022 to 2023.
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