Inclusion and engagement as radical ideas: aChurch4me
by Peter Holderness Nov 13, 2007
Metropolitan Community Churches
Sankofa Way home page
Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. In proportion as each one has received a gift, use it in ministering to one another as fine stewards of God's undeserved kindness expressed in various ways. – Peter 4:9-10
Founded in Los Angeles, Calif., in October 1968, one year prior to 1969's Stonewall Riots.
Includes more than 43,000 members and adherents in 22 countries from Canada to Argentina, South Africa to the Netherlands.
Churches in 48 states. The largest MCC church is Resurrection MCC (Houston, TX), with a membership exceeding 600. Belongs to the National Council of Churches and holds observer status in the World Council of Churches. Headquartered in West Hollywood, Calif.
Clergy are trained by 20 seminaries of mainline Christian denominations that accept MCC students.
Each year MCC clergy bless more than 6,000 same-sex couples with marriage and holy union ceremonies. Founder, the Rev. Troy D. Perry, has honorary doctorates from Episcopal Divinity School, Samaritan College and Sierra University, and awards from various human rights groups. He attended the first White House meeting of gay and lesbian leaders during the Carter presidency, was the first openly gay member of the Los Angeles Human Relations Commission and was appointed as a delegate to the White House Conference On Hate Crimes by President Bill Clinton. 21 different MCC congregations have been victimized by antigay hate crimes of arson or fire-bombing.
Twelve men and women gathered for communion and prayer behind closed doors in a small shotgun-style house in Huntington Park, Calif. one Autumn Sunday in 1968. A year before the Stonewall Riots in New York City inaugurated the modern gay rights movement, the Rev. Troy Perry planted the seeds for a radically inclusive Christian denomination.
Nearly 40 years later, 300 Metropolitan Community Churches serve more than 40,000 members in 22 countries.
Chicago’s aChurch4me is the latest to join the fellowship, rising from the ashes of Good Shepherd MCC, which closed in July, and joining other MCC churches in suburban Elgin and Brookfield. Just two months into its ministry, the church seems poised to unite faithful Chicagoans across lines of race, class, gender and sexuality.
“This church has more than a commitment, it has an aura of social justice to it,” explained Eugene Thomas, a retired Loyola University professor who has been involved in aChurch4me since its inception. “For us, church is not just about worship but also about service and ministry to those in need,” he said. During Sunday’s service, church members shared personal struggles and concerns with the congregation and their pastor.
Pastor Kevin Downer earned his master of divinity degree at Austin Presbyterian Seminary and returned to Chicago to found a new inclusive church. “The mission of aChurch4me is to reach out to people who usually don’t find churches welcoming,” he said.
Between 2005 and 2007 Downer undertook a feasibility study to understand how an MCC congregation could reach an underserved community in Chicago, attending scores of community gatherings to meet people and hear local concerns. In July 2007 Downer started offering interfaith service at The Center on Halsted, in the heart of Chicago’s Boystown. On Sept. 9, 2007, aChurch4me held its first service.
“I’ve been in intolerant churches and in the army … and from the first service I knew this church would be my new home,” Eugene Thomas said. “I’ll be 74 in January, and now I’m not afraid to meet anybody or do anything.”
Downer says that his MCC church is dedicated not only to nourishing the spirituality of the congregation, but also to engaging social justice struggles in its midst.
“We share a passion to engage our city and ourselves,” the church’s mission statement declares. “We dare to imagine becoming a people … who thrive in the exuberant celebration of God’s abundant love and grace found in the diversity of our relationships, our loves, and the whole of our lives.”
Perry remembers telling his first 12 congregants “We are not a gay church – We are a Christian church,” a refrain common at aChurch4me. Nevertheless, aChurch4me actively serves Chicago’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning and intersex populations.
On Saturday, the church partnered with Sankofa Way Spiritual Services, Inc. to present Black Sexuality in the 21st Century, a conference.
Sankofa’s executive director, the Rev. Deborah Lake, excoriated Christian leaders who she said have “broken from the religion of Christ” to teach exclusion of homosexuals. “Jesus loves us and wants us to feel safe,” she said, challenging Christians to stop sitting quietly in pews across the city allowing other pastors to “misinterpret the Bible and teach us to hate.”
But if intolerance and violence is a real danger for Chicago’s LGBT community, members of aChurch4me were especially impressed by the words of the Rev. Rowland Jide Macauley, the openly-gay pastor of House of Rainbow MCC church in Lagos, Nigeria.
Macauley said his church regularly convenes 60 to 90 people for worship, and that more than 1,500 have attended services so far. In a country where homosexuality and same-sex unions are still actively persecuted by the government, Macauley said his best defense is that he is a Christian, serving all the people of Christ. “We’re open to everybody, and I really mean that,” he told the audience.
Macauley’s sermon the following day had many in the congregation on the edges of their seats. “Coming out is a revolution,” Macauley said. “God wants us to be whole to be holy.”
Riffing on his favorite passage from Psalms, Macauley told the 50 conference participants that “The Lord is my shepherd, and he knows I’m a happy, holy homosexual.”