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Few know that the Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, with 250 local congregations in 23 countries and a yearly operating budget of $2.3 million, is the largest GLBT-Q organization in the world.
Disbarred Pentecostal minister and human rights activist, Rev. Troy Perry, founded it one year before the 1969 Stonewall Riots. At the first meeting 12 were present in his LA home.
The Fellowship is the only Christian denomination of any size whose present spiritual leader Rev. Nancy Wilson and a 51-percent majority of its senior clergy are women. MCC has many spiritual firsts to its credit.
The Fellowship ordained its first female pastor in 1973; its first transgendered pastor in 1975. In 1986, the Fellowship initiated World AIDS Day, quickly joined by 5,000 other-faith churches. In 2001, the world’s first legal same-sex marriage was conducted by a Fellowship minister.
Rev. Wilson, 56, was installed as Fellowship Moderator last year, succeeding Perry, who, age 65, retired. 1,200 attended her installation service at the Washington National Cathedral (where President Reagan’s memorial service was held). Said Wilson, MCC-Detroit pastor, 1975-79, “It’s a little surreal – and ironic – to be here today and see where our journey has taken us.”
Rev. Wilson, preaching on Sunday, Aug. 6, at 10 a.m. at Divine Peace MCC and at 6 p.m. at MCC-Detroit, was interviewed by phone. The author of many books and scholarly articles, she’s seen by many of her flock as “the intellectual of the Fellowship.”
BTL: Is the Fellowship fundamentalist of evangelical in outreach?
WILSON: Because Troy and many of our more prominent leaders have hailed from these faith backgrounds, many might think so. Nothing could be further from reality. We strive for an openness of Spirit that transcends denomination, theology, and liturgical service.
We teach respect for all and fully embrace diversity, not only in sexuality and gender expression but also around cultural, ability, and economic status issues. Our services use inclusive language. We were among the very first denominations to do so.
We’re really like a new Book of Acts, a present-day Pentecost of inclusivity. In Europe MCC is seen not as the predominantly LGBT church but importantly as a human rights church regardless of sexual orientation.
BTL: Your good friend John Kavanaugh, 1970s Gay Liberation activist, admires your 1981 National Council of Churches caveat. What was it you said to them?
WILSON: Dear John. What I said is “We’re not here to beg your acceptance into NCC membership. We’re here so that you might have a God-given opportunity to learn about us in a spirit of Christian fellowship, understanding, and outreach. We’re here because we do not wish to continue to be segregated or isolated. We’re here to encourage all churches to do justice within their own faith communions when it comes to people with HIV/AIDS and those of us who are LGBT.” It’s been an ongoing – and frustrating – dialog. We were, however, granted official observer status at the World Council of Churches in 1991.
BTL: I personally know of 12 MCC-Detroit members who died during the mid-80s crisis. How has HIV/AIDS affected the Fellowship?
WILSON: It really was MCC’s baptism of fire. In so many ways MCC was continuously being called to around-the-clock service and deeply, deeply sad ministry of love and compassion. Each congregant’s death – over 6,000 – was a staggering blow. Yet, through it all there was spiritually present the promise of resurrection and hope.
AIDS brought lesbians and gays together, and it thrust the leadership of our Fellowship largely on the shoulders of its women. It set us back in the development of a healthy, encompassing theology of human sexuality. Not because of the virus itself, and certainly not because of any right-wing tsk, tsk: “it’s God’s judgment.”
Just carrying for and living and burying our dead was just about all many MCCs could manage during the worst of the crisis. As a community, we were too busy fighting for our lives to stop and reflect about theology.
BTL: What about the Fellowship’s encounters with the biblical right?
WILSON: We’ve done such a good job in our apologetics that many fundamentalists, evangelicals, and so-called ex-gays seldom want to engage us on the topic of homosexuality. They grow weary in realizing that we often know the scriptures better than they do, and have answers to satisfy everyone from a fundamentalist to a liberal feminist scholar (like myself).
BTL: Peace. Shalom! Welcome home.