Full Truth's four surviving pastors pose for a photo after the 25th anniversary celebration Sept. 7. Pictured are (from left) Rev. Darlene Franklin, current pastor Rev. Ronchele Andres, Bishop Allen Spencer and founder Rev. Dr. Renee McCoy. Rev. Darren McCarroll, who pastored the church from 1996-1999 died in 2001. Photo courtesy of Full Truth Ministries.

Black LGBT Church Founder Celebrates In Detroit

By Jason A. Michae

DETROIT - She no longer lives here, but Rev. Dr. Renee McCoy came home this month to help celebrate the 25th anniversary of the church she founded. She spoke at a Friday night revival service Sept. 5th - part of a three-day anniversary celebration the church hosted - and later spoke with Between The Lines about the church's early days and how far it has come.

A Detroit native, McCoy began her church leadership career at MCC-Detroit in 1976. She served as a deacon before relocating to New York to finish her training. It was there that she was licensed and ordained as a minister and where 1981 she started her first church, Harlem MCC, in 1981; it was the first openly LGBT congregation anywhere led and administered by black LGBT persons.

In 1987, McCoy moved to Washington to become executive director of the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays. She stayed there until late 1988, when she moved the NCBLG national offices to Detroit and returned home. She continued to do denomination level work with MCC-D, but was not on staff there.

"My ministry was NCBLG and HIV/AIDS," McCoy recalled of that time. "Around February 1989, a group of folks from the local NCBLG Detroit met with me to talk about the spiritual vacuum they experienced as black LGBT persons. We began meeting as a Bible study group. As that group explored the truth of the scriptures, it became apparent that more black LGBT persons could benefit from a positive and affirming support system beyond the bars and underground party community."

But to many, a black, gay church was a hard sell.

"The hardest part for me was convincing other blacks that we were not going to hell because we had the church," said McCoy. "Homophobia had been internalized for so long and operationalized so deeply that it was hard for many to believe they were worthy to be loved by God. Many were afraid something terrible would happen."

A couple years in, McCoy made the decision to join forces with Carl Bean and his Unity Fellowship Movement.

"At that time, Unity was a single congregation in Los Angeles and a second church was about to start in New York," McCoy remembered. "Carl Bean and I had been friends and had worked together around HIV/AIDS since I was in New York. He wanted to begin a national faith based movement and the members of Full Truth decided to become part of that effort. It made sense."

Then, in 1995, McCoy made the decision to retire from parish ministry and begin graduate school.

"Every Sunday morning, I told our congregation to reach for their dreams and live up to their full potential," said McCoy. "I was not doing that in my personal life. I wanted to do more in my own life."

So the church decided to install McCoy's assistant pastor, Allen Spencer, to lead the church. Spencer's tenure as pastor was to be a short one however. Bean decided to relocate him to New York and replace him with someone who had studied under him directly, Detroit native Darren McCarroll, in 1996. McCarroll remained with the church for three years until members from Full Truth made the decision to pull out of the Unity Fellowship Movement.

Briefly, McCoy returned.

"I was only there for a few months to help the church resolve a massive debt," she said. "We managed to raise enough to get things back on track and I went back to dealing with my life."

But before she left, McCoy ordained Darlene Franklin, a longtime deacon with the church, as minister. Franklin provided Full Truth with some much needed consistency and went on to lead the church for nine years. In 2010, she stepped down and Ronchele Andres, an assistant under Franklin, became the church's fifth pastor.

For her part, Andres saw to it that McCoy and the other two surviving pastors, Franklin and Spencer, were included in the 25th anniversary celebration.

"The weekend went beautifully," Andres said. "The best part is we had all four pastors. We had a good time all weekend. Everything just turned out great."

Somewhat fittingly, when McCoy spoke to the church, she spoke not about what the church had accomplished over the past 25 years but about the work that still needed to be done.

"I think the work of Full Truth continues," said McCoy. "My message to the congregation while I was there is that Full Truth is still standing but must resist standing still. The challenge for the church and, especially the black LGBT community, is how to move forward and really live the love of God.

"Full Truth was the first LGBT organization to buy a building in Detroit," McCoy continued. "My dream has always been and continues to be for that building to be a place where healing and growth happens for our community. The abiding charge for Full Truth is to bring the good news of God's all-accepting love for all to the world and to demonstrate that loving presence through robust and effective ministries. We must do the simple work of the Church: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless, etc. In a city so damaged by despair, it is my belief that this is the best time ever to witness the power of love, hard work, humility and compassion. This is the best time ever for the black LGBT community in Detroit to live the Full Truth of their lives, which is a commanding awakening to the beauty, powerss and capabilities emerging in each of us every day."

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