In 1992, I walked into a church. I hadn’t done that for a very long time. I have to admit that my motivation was not necessarily all that pure. I was dating a woman who went to church every Sunday evening and I needed to see what or who drew her there. Yes, I was jealous! I found a place filled with love and joy, where everyone, even me, was accepted and celebrated. I saw couples holding hands. I saw same gender partners, opposite gender partners, individuals and groups of friends receive communion together. After service, nearly everyone gathered to share a meal, to laugh, to talk seriously, to simply be community together. I had found Home, just as others had found it before me. The relationship with the woman didn’t last, but I still have Home.
Today it’s hard for many of us to remember a time when simply loving another person could result in imprisonment or institutionalization. It’s hard to remember police actions where one could be arrested for dancing with another person. It’s hard to remember the fear of losing one’s job or family simply because of assumed sexual orientation. It’s hard to remember being arrested for wearing “gender inappropriate” clothing, even women wearing pants with the wrong zipper location. It’s hard to remember being asked to leave a church because of whom we love. It really wasn’t that long ago.
In 1968, a defrocked Pentecostal preacher, the Reverend Troy D. Perry, was called to let all of us know that, “God created you as you are and God loves you as you are!” That calling led him to place an ad in the local gay paper in Los Angeles. On Oct. 6, 1968, 12 people attended a worship service in Rev. Perry’s home in Huntington Park. Rev. Perry celebrated communion at that service. There were tears and smiles. Many had been denied the sacrament simply because of who they were. We continue to celebrate communion at every service, and we continue to have tears and smiles. That service was a spark that grew into a bright light for the “outsiders,” those who have been denied the fellowship of the Christian community. The Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) was born!
The light continues to spread. Today, MCC has churches on six continents. (We are still working on Antarctica!) We have grown from a gay church, to a gay and lesbian church, to a church that welcomes everyone, no matter their sexual orientation, gender identity, able-ness, language, cultural background or all of those other things that keep us apart from each other and from God.
It has not always been a smooth road. MCC churches have been bombed and set afire. Members have died. We had to learn that everyone doesn’t agree on the basics of theology and to live with that difference. We fought for marriage in the U.S. and continue to fight for it around the world. We ordained women, trans folk, people of color and so many others. We truly believe that we are loved and are called to love others.
Until recently, some had come to believe, because welcoming church communities are becoming common, that MCC’s mission was at an end, that we should simply join other communities of faith. We began to believe that our human rights were inviolable. But whenever change occurs, there is pushback. We can get married, but at least in North Carolina, we can be fired from our jobs, denied service from businesses and evicted from our houses when someone perceives that we are different. All they have to do is cite “religious conviction.” We are concerned about the young people among us. They face being shunned by their peers and evicted from their families. We are concerned about the trans folk among us. The controversial “bathroom bill” is only the tip of the iceberg here. We are concerned about our older people, who feel the need to hide who they are in assisted care facilities. We are concerned about those who find they have to hide who they are in their workplaces. We are concerned that many believe that they need to “go back in the closet” in public life and in their church communities. We are concerned that we are once again separating ourselves into communities that are afraid of “the other,” whoever that “other” may be.
It’s time for all of us, MCC and other churches, people of all sexual orientations and gender preferences, people of all races, national origins, abilities, religions, political affiliations and so many others who are on the outside to step up, to step out, and to be out. We need to speak the truth; we need to march once again. We need to display Pride flags. We need to join with all of the other “others” to stand up, to come out, to be authentically who we are and to love others for who they are: created by God and loved by God. This is our Home; we need to protect it. We need to welcome everyone Home!
info: Rev. Wendy Woodruff is the senior pastor at Metropolitan Community Church of Winston-Salem.