Pastor offers parting views on HB2, Franklin Graham, Cam Newton, marriage equality

Exit Interview: Departing minister on how Charlotte changed her

After 18 years in Charlotte, Pastor Nancy Kraft of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church is leaving town to lead a church in Maryland. She has been a champion of Charlotte's LGBT community.
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After 18 years in Charlotte, Pastor Nancy Kraft of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church is leaving town to lead a church in Maryland. She has been a champion of Charlotte's LGBT community.

Welcome to the debut of EXIT INTERVIEW, a periodic series in which the Observer talks about Charlotte with noted local people who are leaving town.

On Sunday, the Rev. Nancy Kraft will deliver her last sermon as pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Charlotte’s Plaza Midwood neighborhood, where the motto is “Loving Not Judging.”

She’s leaving the Queen City after 18 years to become senior pastor at Ascension Lutheran Church in Towson, Md. She offers her candid thoughts on her proudest moment here, what she won’t miss about Charlotte, and what needs to change.

The Observer caught up with Kraft to ask her these questions and more before she heads north – along with her dog Pooky and her cat Father Guido Sarducci.

A native of Hamilton, Ohio, Kraft, 63, first came to Charlotte in 1998 to serve at Advent Lutheran Church in University City. But since 2005, she’s been pastor at Holy Trinity – a position from which she emerged as a high-profile minister and champion of the city’s LGBT community. Kraft is not gay, but she became one of the clergy plaintiffs in a lawsuit that led a federal judge to rule in 2014 that North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

Why is she leaving? Kraft said she feels called to the new post and she wants to be closer to her grown children – a son in Pittsburgh, a daughter in New York – and to her grandson, Nicholas.

Here’s what else she said:

Q: What was your first impression of Charlotte?

A: That it’s really big and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to find my way (around) here. There were times when I was driving – one time in particular. I came to Queens, Queens and Queens and I literally pulled off the road and cried. I thought, ‘I’ll never be able to do this.’ This was before GPS and I just didn’t know what to do.

Q: As you leave our city, what image of Charlotte will you take with you?

A: The picture I’ll take in my mind is Charlotte during a (Gay) Pride parade. We’ve only had a few of those but they have been so glorious and they’ve been such a wonderful celebration of life and diversity – which I think is really the strength of this community.

Q: How did Charlotte change during your time here?

A: I was here at the right time and the right place for lots of changes to happen as far as the LGBT community goes – and that’s where I’ve spent the bulk of my ministry. I’ve gone from a place where my denomination didn’t welcome gay people, then they did, to when we were fighting for marriage equality and I was a plaintiff in the lawsuit. Then we were fighting for marriage equality nationally. And now we’ve dealt with the fallout from the non-discrimination ordinances in Charlotte. So there’s been a real progression. And I know people are frustrated because they may feel like it hasn’t come quickly enough. But I think it’s come really fast.

Q: Fill in the blank: I wish Charlotte had more __________.

A: More opportunities for people of diversity to dialogue.

Q: I wish Charlotte had less _____________.

A: (Chuckles). Hey, I’m leaving. I can say it, right? OK. I wish the evangelicals had less power than they do in Charlotte.

Q: In a sentence or two, how would you describe Charlotte’s faith community?

A: Diverse. Evangelicals have a lot of power here. But there also is a well-organized progressive movement in Charlotte that has made a tremendous difference. I think it’s a well-kept secret: A lot of people don’t think of progressive people of faith when they think of Charlotte. But they definitely have a presence and they’ve made a difference.

Q: As you look back on your time here, what are you most proud of?

A: Being part of the lawsuit for marriage equality that brought that to the state of North Carolina.

Q: How did Charlotte change you?

A: First of all, that word “y’all” has been permanently embedded in my brain and I will be using it for the rest of my life. But I have also learned in Charlotte what it’s like to stand on the side of justice with my interfaith partners and with the people of Holy Trinity. And I have experienced what it’s like for efforts on behalf of justice to come to fruition. I’ll never forget the day when the moral arc of the universe bent toward justice and actually touched the earth. For me, that was the day that marriage equality became legal in the state of North Carolina. The celebration was tremendous. And I know that a lot of people who work for justice never get to experience things like that. They work all their life and that day of celebration comes after they’re long gone. So I got to experience that in Charlotte and I’ll never forget it.

Q: What was the best addition to the city when you were here?

A: Most of my life here has been spent in Plaza Midwood. And Plaza Midwood has the absolute best restaurants within a small area. And there are constantly new ones popping up. I like the (Midwood) Smokehouse, Pure Pizza, Intermezzo.

Q: Besides the church, what Charlotte place will you miss the most?

A: I live in Merry Oaks, and I love my neighborhood. Great neighborhood. Very quiet. It’s safe. Friendly. People look out for one another.

Q: What will you miss most about Charlotte?

A: I’ll mostly miss the people of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. And colleagues from other faith communities.

Q: What will you miss least about Charlotte?

A: People here don’t know how to claim the intersection. That’s a pet peeve I have about Charlotte (drivers). When they’re making a left-hand turn, they don’t pull out. They stop behind the line. I’m always yelling, ‘Claim the intersection!’ In driver’s ed, I was taught you creep up.

Q: Let’s do a lightning round. I’ll mention a person or thing and you react. Cam Newton?

A: Inspiring.

Q: Jennifer Roberts?

A: Glorious.

Q: Pat McCrory?

A: An embarrassment.

Q: Franklin Graham?

A: Also an embarrassment – to his father and to Christianity.

Q: Charlotte’s LGBT community?

A: Diverse. They’re not of one mind. Even though they’re one community, there’s a lot of diversity within that community.

Q: Uptown Charlotte?

A: Hoppin’.

Q: Charlotte traffic?

A: Infuriating.

Q: North Carolina barbecue?

A: It’s always where I take my out-of-town guests, but I’m not actually a big fan. When I go to the Smokehouse, I get salmon.

Q: House Bill 2?

A: An atrocity.

Q: Holy Trinity Lutheran Church?

A: An oasis.

Q: Charlotte?

A: Probably the thing I like most about Charlotte is that everybody (here) is from someplace else. I know in the South, a lot of times, like in a small town, it can be pretty ingrown and it’s hard for a newcomer to break in. But because everybody’s from someplace else in Charlotte, it’s a great place for new people cause everybody’s new. Once in a while, I meet someone from Charlotte. As somebody who’s a Yankee, you hear all these stories of how they’re going to treat you when you move to the South. And that’s just not true in Charlotte. It’s such a diverse place, and people are from all over the world and all over the country.

Q: Any parting advice for the Queen City?

A: Celebrate the diversity of the city. Consider it a gift. Cherish it and nurture it by listening to one another.