by Laura Valentine | Photos courtesy of Elliott and Phildora Prigmore-Lewis
On the surface, the LGBT+ community and Pentecostal Church don’t seem like communities with a natural affinity for each other, but Elliott and Phildora Prigmore-Lewis have found their spiritual home at Mt. Pisgah Fellowship, an Affirming Apostolic Pentecostal Church. Located in Goodlettsville, they serve as Elders to a small congregation. That they have found a spiritual home is a testimony to just how far the LGBT+ community has come since Elliott spent his formative years in the Church of Christ.
Elliott was born Margaret and Margaret loved the Church.
He felt a “calling” at an early age to be in the ministry; teaching Sunday school and Bible Study to the girls and boys, that is until the boys turned 12 years of age. This is the age when boys can no longer receive instruction from a woman.
“It never made sense to me that [the Church of Christ] told me I couldn’t do this [teach the boys] anymore because I was female,” Elliott recalls. That injustice remained unreconciled until recently, when he delivered his first sermon at Mt. Pisgah Fellowship and ministered to their entire congregation, both women and men. It was a day of joy for Phildora to witness her spouse and life-partner of 39 years to realize his long-held dream.
Elliott and Phildora met in Tucson, Ariz., more than 40 years ago.
“I saw her across the parking lot at the VA Hospital. I turned to my friend and said, I’m going to marry that girl,” Elliott said.
Later that same day, they met in person. Their Holy Union ceremony was held in 1979 and once marriage equality was the law of the land, were legally married in 2016.
“We were in the first wave of people to be married the day the ruling came down,” Elliott recalls with a twinkle in his eye.
They credit their faith as central to sustaining their 39-year relationship. And they’ve leaned on that faith during this newest chapter. Elliott said he knew he wanted to be a boy from the age of 4 or 5 because he had a crush on the girl next door.
Crushes on girls did not diminish as Elliott grew older in the early 70s. It took trusted conversations with other trans men to help Elliott realize that her truth had to come out.
“I needed to be me and stop living a lie,” he said. Once Elliott decided to come out as transgender, he then had to come out to Phildora. For other couples, this might have been a dreaded conversation, but not for these two.
“I love Elliott, the person, not his orientation,” said Phildora who considers herself “non-conforming.” She had no problem making the shift from Margaret to Elliott and from feminine pronouns to masculine.
In fact she chuckled, saying, “It’s so much easier to keep up with one name, now that all his IDs reflect “Elliott” and “Male.”
She does, however, draw the line at facial hair.
“If Elliott tries to kiss me with a scratchy beard,” she laughed, “he’ll get the back of my head, instead of my lips!”
Together, they hope their own struggles and experiences will help other transgender people, showing them unconditional love and providing support through all stages of their transition.
“We have struggled to try to make it down that narrow path [of life] but that God is in the center of our relationship and we share a strong desire to help others,” Elliott said.
What: Mt. Pisgah Fellowship proclaims itself a ‘spirit-filled, inclusive and affirming church’
When: 7 p.m. Sundays
Where: Church of the Living Water, 731 S. Dickerson Pike, Goodlettsville