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Why You Should Know: Rev. Shanea Leonard

Through her church, as well as her various positions throughout the city, she’s working to make Pittsburgh a more inclusive place.




photo by Martha Rial

 

About: Leonard, the only out, black, ordained, woman minister in the region, founded Judah Fellowship in 2011 as a multicultural, affirming, family ministry with a focus on social justice. Through the church, as well as her various positions throughout the city (including chair of Mayor Bill Peduto’s LGBTQIA+ Advisory Council), she’s working to make Pittsburgh a more inclusive place.
 

  • Leonard, originally from Philadelphia, came to Pittsburgh to attend the University of Pittsburgh, majoring in religious studies and political science. She went on to get her master’s at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary; she was ordained in 2007.
     
  • She says the strongest parts of the outreach at Judah, which holds services in the building it shares with Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church in the Hill District, are advocacy, radical inclusivity and working toward social justice. “We are intent on bridging the gap between faith and justice, because to us they are seamless. And a lot of churches don’t live up to that.”
     
  • Judah hosts a biannual “Healing the Hurt” conference to support those who have not felt welcomed in a church setting because of their sexual orientation or other factors. Judah also is working with New Voices Pittsburgh and the Persad Center to create programming for LGBTQIA+ youth ages 17-24 — young adults who may not have support at home or may otherwise need preparation for job readiness or other skills.
     
  • Many churches in Pittsburgh aren’t as inclusive as they could be, Leonard says. “I think that Pittsburgh is a unique thing where half of its DNA is a conservative steel town ... it’s very much an old place that is not really interested in change. But it has this other side that’s creeping up the ladder very quickly that is very progressive. ... I would love to see this city open its heart and mind to being a livable city for everyone — which it has not been.” 
     

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