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Family forced to move lesbian’s funeral as guests arrive after church refuses to show tribute video

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KDVR-TV

KDVR-TV

(CNN) — Family and friends of a gay woman in Colorado have expressed anger at a church’s refusal to show a video at her funeral that contained images of the woman kissing her partner.

The service Saturday for Vanessa Collier in a Denver suburb was abruptly moved to a funeral home across the street after mourners had already arrived at the church, according to family and friends of the deceased woman.

“People started taking their seats at 10 a.m.” at New Hope Ministries church, Jose Silva, a friend of Collier’s, told CNN affiliate KMGH. “At 10:15, the pastor said, ‘Due to technical difficulties, the funeral is being moved.'”

The reason for the sudden change was a tribute video about Collier, who died December 29 at the age of 33.

Pastor Ray Chavez of the church, New Hope Ministries, asked the family if they would be willing to edit out the images of Collier kissing her partner, said Gary Rolando, the chaplain who conducted the service.

“The family graciously declined” and asked to move the service to the funeral home across the street, Rolando told KMGH.

“They didn’t want to edit her life,” Silva said.

New Hope Ministries didn’t respond to requests for comment about what happened.

Church ‘dropped the ball’

Silva and other friends protested Tuesday outside the church in Lakewood, Colorado, holding signs saying, “Dignity in Death Vanessa” and “You will not find Jesus at New Hope but you will find HYPOCRISY.”

They are demanding an apology from Chavez.

“Vanessa was disrespected at what was to be a time to celebrate her life,” Collier’s friends wrote in a Facebook post about their protest.

Rolando, a friend of Collier’s family, said New Hope Ministries “dropped the ball” by misplacing the video that the family originally gave them the day before the funeral.

“They lost the video and asked for another copy,” he told KMGH. “When it was reviewed, they realized there was content that involved kissing.”

Rolando said the church had passed the $400 fee that the family paid for the service to the funeral home. The family wants their money back, Silva said.

‘Completely heartbreaking’

Collier leaves behind her partner, Christina Higley, and two daughters.

“Vanessa and I were together for three beautiful years. Our daughters are 12 and 7. Having to explain to them why we had to leave was completely heartbreaking,” Higley wrote in an email reported by CNN affiliate KDVR.

“New Hope is very sorry,” Rolando said. “It’s very sad that it happened the way that it did.”

The church’s website says it is “a place where those bound by drugs, alcohol, gangs and violence can find an ‘Ounce of Hope.'”

One churchgoer told KMGH that she thinks Chavez has no need to apologize.

“The pastor stood for what he believes in, and he believes in God’s truth,” said Anita Luna. “He’s not wrong, he’s right in what he did.”

But Silva, who says New Hope is a church he “once called home,” disagrees.

“This is about not being able to have dignity in death for one of God’s children,” he told KDVR. “No matter what the circumstances — if you’re black, white, brown, gay, lesbian, transgender — we all deserve that. And the church did not afford that to us.”

CNN’s AnneClaire Stapleton contributed to this report.

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17 comments

  • Mary J. Eakins

    Our Creators laws, by the way his name in English is Jehovah and his sons name is Jesus, anyway his laws are above any beliefs or laws of mankind.

    • darkjag206

      Nope. Try again. “Jehovah” is the actually Hebrew (and just so you can impress your friends, it’s pronounced “Yahowah” or “Yahweh”.) In English it is called “The Lord” or “LORD”, as Christians don’t have a name for God. So, “Jehovah”, like his son “Jesus”, is actually Jewish. Are you Jewish, Mary? Because if you’re not, you just held an idol higher than the LORD and you are in the act of committing a sin.

      Or at least according to your imaginary friend.

  • Jin Wang

    This is why I can’t belive in god or Jesus because as so called creators of man kind, how can they judge people they’ve created. It’s total BS!!! I used to be
    Christian but I no longer believe in a god that will judge his own so called creation. We are all sinners so why are we judging one another?

    • jon

      So if your parents (undeniably your creators) judged you or your life choices, would you deny them and ignore their guidance? I appreciate those who have shown me my weaknesses by criticizing them.

    • jim

      Am not a sinner …Am saved and washed in the blood free from sin Ya
      It’s good to be free from the pentlys of sin …..for there is only true peace if
      I know Jesus Christ as your savior bc for with out him there is no true peace

  • Philly Paul

    “Family Refuses Church Funeral – Prefers to Display Lesbian Photos”
    FIFY. The family is responsible. They chose to leave because they insisted on displaying photos the church did not want displayed in their building.

  • Highmtn52

    It’s sad that we can’t lay down the verbal swords even in time of death. I’m a Christian who believes it’s not my place to judge – that is God’s role.. not mine. The God I believe in preaches compassion and kindness . When compassion governs people’s reactions to things they don’t approve of or like… then we have honored God’s will. I feel for the family having to face this while attempting to mourn their loss.

    • Melanie

      But God is also a jealous, vengeful God. We cannot have it both ways. He cannot stand to be in the presence of our sin, that is why Christ died. Weare called to judge by His word. We al, sinand fall short of His glory, but wechoose to turn from our sins and those that don’t, won’t know God’s peace, true peace.

      • darkjag206

        As I remember it, Christ died to absolve us all of our sins, not because Yahweh was having a bad hair day. You’re debating Old Testament versus New Testament. If you really want to rock Old Testament, I’m sure we can find something to stone you or execute you for….

        Gotta love those literal executions of fantasy, eh?

  • jon

    No church has an obligation to host anybody’s funeral, gay or straight. If she were a stripper and her family wanted to show images of her” life style” we would not question the church refusing to show that.

  • darkjag206

    The establishment had no right to wait until the very last minute to abuse these poor customers. They paid, in advance, for a service. The so-called “church” waited until the very last minute to request a new video, and did not offer the customers their money back. Sounds like an open and shut lawsuit to me.

    • JailChiropractorsForAssault

      The church made a call based on their heartfelt beliefs… they sent the $400 deposit to a ‘supplier’ that could fulfill the customer’s needs… no lawsuit needed or called for… (now if there was an increase in cost, that’s on the church. They should have vetted the customers video)