The Rev. Jia Starr Brown, who made history when she was named senior pastor at Minneapolis' First Covenant Church, has resigned after six months.
In June, she became the nearly 150-year-old congregation's 12th senior pastor and the first woman, the first Black person and the first gay person to lead First Covenant.
She said she had hoped to lead the church toward being a "community resource and community anchor." But in her resignation letter, she cited the discovery of "financial obligations exceeding $6 million," which would have forced her to focus instead on preserving the congregation's downtown building.
"I think First Cov had dreams for me, and I had dreams for First Cov," Brown said. "They were in a different place than what I thought they were in and what was needed is different."
In 2019, the Evangelical Covenant Church voted to expel First Covenant from the denomination for being "out of harmony" with its policies after the Minneapolis church had affirmed it would allow gay people to fully participate and adopted a slogan of Love All.
Around the same time, Brown came out while serving as an associate pastor at Park Avenue United Methodist Church. She left that position in 2020 after parishioners who did not support gay clergy filed complaints.
When she was first installed as senior pastor at First Covenant, Brown told KARE 11 she felt that "our journeys were so aligned."
"Having this stance of really feeling like we are called to love all people and feeling like this is where the right side of justice and the right side of Christianity is — to be inclusive and welcoming of all," she said at the time.
But in her Jan. 11 resignation letter, Brown said she could not continue at First Covenant after learning of "financial obligations exceeding $6 million, partnerships involving conflicts of interest and lack of transparency, among other issues — all of which have raised grave questions and concerns. I do not want to begin my senior pastoral ministry with such a deficit," she wrote.
"In order to grow this church, complete focus and energy is needed to address the issues discovered in the audit, while also creating a healthy culture and building a sustainable infrastructure. While these actions are needed for First Covenant Church, its existing framework does not align with my discernment of God's plan for my ministry and leadership."
Elle Harris, a member of the church's leadership team, said it and the congregation were "taken by surprise" by Brown's resignation.
"We are committed to best practices at FCCM and would take action on any allegations of conflicts of interest or lack of transparency if we thought those allegations had merit," Harris said in an e-mail. "FCCM's debt is long term and structured in such a way as to take into consideration our church's ongoing operating expenses."