The family of Vanessa Collier came together on Saturday to mourn her loss at New Hope Ministries, a church in Lakewood, Colorado. But before they could say their last goodbyes, the minister overseeing her funeral suddenly stopped the funeral.
The Denver Post reports the memorial service, which followed the viewing of her body, had been going on for about 15 minutes when Pastor Ray Chavez stopped it. Chavez told the family the service could not continue because pictures of Collier with her wife Christina, the woman she raised two children with, needed to be removed first. Chavez said the funeral could not continue with any physical reminders that Collier was gay present in the church. The Denver Post reports her family was stunned and had to move Collier's body out of the church to a new location themselves:
Outraged, those who loved Collier, 33, picked up programs, flowers and eventually the dead woman's casket itself, moving the service to a mortuary that — thankfully, they say — happened to be across the street. "It was humiliating," said Victoria Quintana, Collier's longtime friend. "It was devastating."
The Newcomer Funeral Home became the scene of a makeshift funeral, with family and friends crammed into close quarters to pay their respects. "A church turning away a funeral. Who has ever heard of anything like that happening?" family friend Jeanette Arguello told the Denver Post.
Chavez's biography on the website for New Hope Ministries describes his goal is "to reach the lost:"
New Hope Ministries in Lakewood, Colorado is a place where those bound by drugs, alcohol, gangs and violence can find an "Ounce of Hope." If anyone knows the importance of an ounce of hope it's Ray Chavez, who along with his wife Lola, are the founders of New Hope Ministries.
New Hope Ministries began in 1981 and maintains rehabilitation homes for men, women and troubled youth. He is author of "An Ounce of Hope" that chronicles his struggles and ultimate conversion when he allows Christ into his heart and life.
"The goal is to reach the lost. There is no cost to people who use the facilities and there are so many success stories from our program. The ministry also reaches out to at-risk children and troubled youth through Center of Hope Academy, an online learning center, where each student can learn at their own pace.
Ray Chavez would like to leave you with these words: "We're a Center of Hope – with hands of Mercy."
Protesters gathered on Tuesday morning for a "Dignity in Death" march to speak out against Chavez's actions, 9News reports. One sign read "You will not find Jesus at New Hope but you will find hypocrisy."
Collier had two daughters, ages 7 and 11, with her wife Christina. She died on Dec. 30; according to the Denver Post the family chose New Hope Ministries because it was in the community where she grew up. A representative for the church refused comment and hung up on a reporter, according to the Denver Post.
Adding insult to injury, the church has reportedly not reimbursed the family for the cost of the funeral.
Image via family of Vanessa Collier.