By Sharon Gittleman
FERNDALE – The congregation at the Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit in Ferndale stood, swaying and clapping their hands as the choir sang with passion.
It was a full house; every seat set in the rows surrounding the central alter was taken.
Then Reverend Elder Troy Perry stepped into the worship hall.
Cheers sounded out.
Members hugged each other as the anticipation built.
The Sunday service was just one of the celebrations planned for the 35th anniversary of the founding of the LGBT-friendly church. Parishioners enjoyed a potluck meal, a brunch at a Ferndale cafe, a dinner dance and two worship services with Perry leading the service.
The congregations’ cries of “Halleluiah,” and “Amen,” greeted Perry’s preaching and the words spoken by Rev. Mark Bidwell, the pastor of the church.
Perry’s sermon focused on the importance of listening to the will of God, with examples drawn from stories about Noah and Moses and his own experiences with his fellow church leaders from other faiths.
Before he led the service, Troy told BTL he wouldn’t dream of missing the celebration.
“This was one of our earliest churches,” he said, in a soft southern accent.
Perry is genuine, open and honest, said Bidwell.
“He was born and raised in a Pentecostal background. He was kicked out from the church in the 60’s when they found out he was gay,” Bidwell said. “He founded the denomination in ’68, to create a spiritual home for LGBTQ people. He’s a very compassionate person.”
Bidwell took the helm of MCC in 1989.
He’s proud of his congregations’ accomplishments over the years.
“We’ve fed the homeless and strived for human rights and justice for all people,” he said. “We realize that a church is more than Sunday services. We’re called to do great things in the world.”
They’ve raised money to assist victims of the recent tsunami abroad as well as hurricane Katrina, closer to home, he said.
“We provide funding for people in the community that need assistance with rent, groceries and medications,” he said.
He’s most grateful for his congregation’s willingness to serve, said Bidwell.
“When things happen in the world, they step up to it,” he said.
While Episcopalian John Kavanaugh is not a member, he helped bring MCC into existence.
“It was founded in my apartment,” he said. “I think gays should have alternatives to going to some church that rejects them or not going to church at all.”
Roland Smith first came to MCC a year ago.
“I met Mark at a fourth of July celebration,” he said. “I never met such a warm and compassionate man. He loves people. That impressed me.”
Diane Trombley has enjoyed MCC services for four years.
“I feel I’m home. I feel welcomed,” she said.
Churchgoers are a true community, she said.
“It’s a wonderful place to gather with people,” she said.
Bidwell hopes his congregation will continue to do good work over the next 35 years and the decades to come.
“So many churches are struggling to survive,” said Bidwell. “We just can’t be subsumed with our own welfare. We’ve got to reach out.”