Once, as is often the case with young boys, Jeremy Rutledge found himself in the midst of building a fort out of sofa cushions. His mother, who had been observing his progress, asked him what he was building.
“A clubhouse,” he replied.
Puzzled, Jeremy’s mother noted the clubhouse lacked a front door. She asked him the name of his clubhouse.
“The Everybody Club!” exclaimed the boy.
“Who can join?” asked his mother.
“Everybody!” he said.
To some, that little anecdote might seem contrite and contrived. But anyone who knows Reverend Jeremy Rutledge of the Circular Congregational Church will recognize how he’s still that boy building sofa cushion clubhouses without doors.
As a young man, Jeremy knew he loved reading, writing, philosophy, activism and being with people. He just wasn’t sure how he could turn those things into a vocation.
“I was probably more surprised than anyone,” says Jeremy of becoming a religious leader. “I always assumed I was way too liberal to be a pastor.”
Jeremy never felt like his beliefs—religious or political—had a home within a religious institution, which is why he’s made it his mission to create a safe place for skeptics, scientists, other faiths, other religions, diverse sexual orientations, and people like him to learn from one another through their experiences. He admits his church isn’t like the others, but it’s also not alone in its uniqueness. All the same, he says, “we take pride in not being with the program.”
At the Circular Congregational Church, everyone is welcome and full equality is practiced in and out of the pew. That’s why you’ll find members involved in the local justice ministry, along with many other congregations, benefitting Coastal Conservation League, GrowFood Carolina, and advocating for marriage equality and on behalf of the environment.
“Acknowledging that we’re all a work in progress is part of being spiritual,” says Jeremy, who feels that coming to church isn’t about finding answers; it’s just where we go with questions.
Words by: Annabel Jones
Photography by: Mark Stetler