By Tara Cavanaugh
The community is reeling after it was discovered last week that a popular gay pastor was involved in a drug-and-sex party that left one man dead of a drug overdose.
The Rev. Mark Bidwell, formerly the head pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit, admitted to injecting methamphetamine and soliciting a man online for sex. Bidwell has since resigned from his post.
Jackie Walker, the vice moderator of the board of directors for MCC-Detroit, said Bidwell’s credentials have been temporarily suspended pending a church hearing about his conduct. Walker did not know how soon the hearing would take place.
A get-together turns grim
The announcement of Bidwell’s resignation comes after it was discovered last week that a Lincoln Park man died Wednesday, Sept. 21 after doing drugs in Bidwell’s home.
According to a report from the Ferndale Police, Bidwell picked up Steven Michael Fitch, 43, in Plymouth around 9 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 20 after connecting on a gay male website and agreeing to meet in person.
Bidwell took Fitch to his home and the two injected methamphetamine and had sex. Then Fitch went online to arrange for another man from Mount Clemens, Bret Colpaert, to come to Bidwell’s home.
Colpaert told police he did not take any drugs and said he did not know either Bidwell or Fitch previously. Colpaert said Fitch went to the bathroom for two minutes, returned and sat on the bed and started turning blue. Colpaert attempted to administer CPR to Fitch. Bidwell called the Ferndale Police. When police arrived, Fitch had no pulse.
Fitch was transported to Beaumont Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 6:53 a.m. on Sept. 21.
Ferndale Police Lt. William Wilson said Bidwell will not face charges.
“The long and the short of it is, there is no physical evidence to charge anybody with. There were some syringes remaining behind with maybe trace amounts of methamphetamines in them, but because the way the crime labs work and because of the syringes and the biohazards involved, no one’s willing to process that. We have no evidence it’s going to result in any criminal prosecution,” Wilson said.
“Unfortunately we just have a person who has died and the people have to live with it.”
Bidwell has been terminated from his position as a volunteer chaplain for the Ferndale Police.
Wilson said he did not believe Bidwell had a previous police record.
Mark Bidwell in the community
Previous BTL stories about Bidwell show a man who braved personal struggles and who was also dedicated to serving the community.
“When I get a call from someone telling me he or she is married with children and is gay or lesbian, I want to tell them: been there done that,” he told BTL in 2009. “My own experiences in being the whole gay person that I am help me relate one-on-one to those I minister to. I have children. I’ve lost jobs. I’ve filed for bankruptcy. Been without transportation for a year. Lost loved ones. Cared for a father with Alzheimer’s. Had my son serve in Iraq – not once, but twice.”
In 2004, Bidwell walked out of a chaplaincy training after the instructor promoted violence against homosexuals.
Bidwell continued encouraging civil disobedience. He co-officiated a mass “wedding” ceremony in Ferndale in 2004 at that year’s Motor City Pride. “I believe that we’re making both a political and a religious statement that God affirms our love and commitment to our spouses,” he said, “and it is time that our government acknowledge, affirm and recognize our commitment.”
Bidwell, who married his own partner in 2003 in a ceremony with 200 guests, continued pushing same-sex couples to demand their rights to marry.
The grieving process
Walker said 139 people attended Sunday’s service at MCC-Detroit. “It was almost as full as Easter,” she said.
Walker said a forum was held after the service to discuss Bidwell. Founding members of the first Detroit MCC congregation, Jim Toy and John Kavanaugh, also attended.
Many church members voiced their concerns and feelings. “I didn’t hear anybody angry,” Walker said. “People are hurt. People are sad.”
Eventually an interim pastor will be assigned to take Bidwell’s place, and then the search for a permanent replacement will begin.
“We need to go through the grieving process,” Walker said. “Then we’ll do a search for a pastor. But we have to go through a lot of stuff before we get there. There are a lot of hurt people.”