COLUMBIA — Dick Blount is an 82-year-old advocate for the gay community and has inspired many people in Columbia and throughout the country.
The retired reverend was honored Thursday at the Columbia Values Diversity Awards celebration as an advocate for social justice in the community. Blount said he did not know he was being honored until he sat down and saw his name on the program for the event.
Blount said since he was a child, he has never understood discrimination. He recalled sitting outside his home in Fulton as a child, watching a bus designated only for black people drive past and thinking, "Why don't they stop here?"
He said he was raised in a blue-collar family that taught him to love God and love his neighbor. Blount said he adopted those concepts and has not departed from them since.
Blount said after taking a sabbatical in 1973, he decided to retire as a pastor because "it gave me the freedom to be who I wanted to be."
He said he has been involved in the Methodist Church throughout his life in different cities in Missouri and, in the past 10 years, has been building the Missouri United Methodist Church's relationship with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning community.
Before Blount began the Open Door Ministry — which operates out of the church and promotes LGBTQ acceptance — about a decade ago, the level of tolerance of the community was low, he said.
He said in 2000, the general conference of the United Methodist Church met in Cleveland, Ohio, and declared that homosexuality would not be included as an accepted practice in the Methodist faith. Blount said that hit him hard and he knew change was necessary.
The ministry first met in restaurants around town, but the church eventually noticed its impact, he said.
Blount said since he began his work, the Missouri United Methodist Church has taken a 180-degree turn on its stance with the help of its pastors. But, there is still work to be done. Over the years, he said he and the program have developed a tolerance in the church community.
Blount said the pinnacle of change was when Mary Ann Shaw, wife of former Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Bob Shaw, shared with Blount that her son was gay. When Shaw asked Blount to share her family's story, he said no.
"This is your story," Blount said. "You need to share it."
He said Shaw shared her story and inspired other parents in the community. Through her honesty, two close friends of Shaw shared that their children were gay, and a bond was forged.
Blount said through that bond, "it wasn't any longer talking about abstract theories." Faces could be put to the theories, and the LGBTQ community became something much more real, he said.
The next step is to go beyond the church itself, Blount said. He said he wants to build a relationship with LGBTQ groups in Columbia and the Methodist Church and create the opportunity for secular and faith communities to come together.
He said the award was a sign that the city is ready for that opportunity.
Blount said he uses the metaphor of the church being a lighthouse — a beacon of light letting people lost in the dark know that there is a safe harbor. Blount sees the work his church is doing as that beacon for the LGBTQ community. He said the people that participate in the Open Door Ministry program "gain so much strength" from it.
"We've got a long ways to go," Blount said. "All we have to do is make the light shine a little brighter."