Family, friends protest New Hope Ministries' last-minute refusal to host lesbian's funeral

'New Hope is very sorry,' chaplain says

DENVER - Family and friends of a Denver woman who died Dec. 30 say they are outraged by a pastor's decision that forced the family to move their loved one's funeral from New Hope Ministries to a funeral home across the street, at the last minute, because the family refused to edit a video showing Vanessa Collier kissing her wife.

Protesters marched in front of the church on Tuesday afternoon, holding signs saying, "Dignity in Death Vanessa" and "You will not find Jesus at New Hope but you will find HYPOCRISY."

"I am a child of a lesbian mother and if my mom was to die, I would want "Dignity in her Death," said Collier's friend, Jose Silva. "I am against bigotry and stand with my friend's family in seeking an apology and refund from Pastor Ray Chavez and New Hope Ministries. The acts that took place at her funeral were wrong and no family should ever have to go through that."

The funeral was scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 10.

"People started taking their seats at 10 a.m.," said Silva. "At 10:15, the pastor said, 'Due to technical difficulties, the funeral is being moved.'"

"I thought we were being punked," Silva said. "I thought it was a joke.  It wasn't a joke."

Silva said Collier's family paid New Hope Ministries $400 to hold the service at the church and they want their money back.

7NEWS contacted New Hope Ministries and asked to talk to Pastor Ray Chavez.

The woman who answered the phone said Chavez wasn't available. She provided the phone number for Gary Rolando, the chaplain who conducted the service at Newcomer Funeral Home.

Rolando told 7NEWS that he is a friend of Collier's father.

"I love the family," Rolando said. "I knew the deceased and knew that she led an 'alternative' lifestyle."

The chaplain said the Colliers reached out to Newcomer when Vanessa died.

"Newcomer knew New Hope's policies very well," he said. "But the funeral director on that day came from a different funeral home, and wasn't familiar with New Hope's policies."

Silva says the video tribute was delivered 48 hours before the service, giving pastors at New Hope plenty of time to review it.

Rolando said New Hope dropped the ball.

"They misplaced it and asked for another copy," Rolando said. "The family delivered another copy and when it was reviewed, (church pastors) realized there was content that involved (same-sex) kissing."

"They don't want overt, open homosexuality in their sanctuary," Rolando explained.

The chaplain said they explained that policy to the family and asked if they'd be willing to edit out the kissing.

"The family graciously declined," Rolando said.

"They didn't want to edit her life," Silva told 7NEWS.

Rolando said the family asked New Hope to move the funeral to Newcomer.

Silva said New Hope gave the family no choice.

"It felt like I had been hit with a bat across the chest," he said. "It was the most horrific feeling I have ever had. Every person who dies should have an opportunity to be buried with dignity."

Collier's cousin, Jessica Maestas, told 7NEWS, "It just really hurt that they could pack us up like that and throw us out. It was disgusting. I couldn't believe it."

Rolando, who is not affiliated with the church, said it was a very difficult day.  He called the last minute rush to move the casket, a logistical nightmare.

Rolando said New Hope does a lot to reach out to people living an alternative lifestyle.

"I'm sorry this happened the way it did," he said.

When asked about the family's $400, Rolando said, New Hope walked it over to Newcomer on Monday.

"New Hope is very sorry," he said. "It's very sad that it happened the way that it did."

Print this article Back to Top