Alternate People Who Care service planned

By |2004-11-25T09:00:00-05:00November 25th, 2004|Uncategorized|

METRO DETROIT – A group of individuals previously involved in the planning of the annual People Who Care About People With AIDS service have charged that the organizers of this year’s service have not been completely inclusive of the LGBT community and left them with no other alternative but to plan a service of their own.
The problem is aggravated by the fact that the service’s founder, Rev. Rod Reinhart, is no longer living in Michigan and is attempting to help organize the service long distance from his new hometown of Chicago. Upon leaving Michigan, Reinhart entrusted planning of the service to Revs. Harry Cook and Linda Northcraft, both ministers within the same Episcopal church Reinhart represents.
Opponents say Cook and Northcraft contacted those who had comprised the planning committee for the past few years only after all of the service’s details were in place and offered them no input. They also claim that the service, which will feature Rev. Gene Robinson, the first openly-gay bishop ordained in the Episcopal church, has been “sanitized” for members of the church and any mainstream media who might be in tow to cover Robinson’s trip to Detroit.
“I think that they thought that they could just do the whole thing and maybe everybody else would just fall in line,” said Rev. Mark Bidwell of MCC-Detroit, a member of the planning committee for the past five years and one of the organizers of the second service. “Our impression when Rod left town was that the committee that had worked for the last few years on this would again meet and coordinate the service, that the service, itself, would not necessarily change, that we would all have a part in enabling it to continue.”
Bidwell said he was told by Cook and Northcraft that all he needed to do for the service was show up. Further conversations with the duo only increased his uneasiness.
“We started finding out that groups that had participated in the past hadn’t been contacted and weren’t going to be contacted,” he said. “My concern was that people who had been participating in the past weren’t going to be participating this year. We felt – and we could be right or wrong – that the two Episcopal ministers who were working on it this year were doing so because of Gene Robinson coming and in 2005 they would not be participating.”
David Krause, another community member who had helped plan the service in past years, was also concerned about Cook and Northcraft’s actions.
“I don’t know if they realize it, but they’ve sanitized the service,” he said. “They’ve taken the focus away from it being an inclusive AIDS service, inclusive of the entire LGBT community. I have the utmost respect for the fact that Gene Robinson is the first openly-gay ordained bishop in the Episcopal church. But this service wasn’t supposed to be an Episcopal service featuring their bishop. It was supposed to be an AIDS service that he was invited to speak at and they lost sight of that.”
Cook, lead organizer of this year’s service, says that claim is completely false.
“Nobody has been excluded from this at all,” he said. “The service, with the exception of maybe three times in its 20 year history, has been in a Episcopal church and followed the Episcopal church’s liturgy.”
Cook does not deny, however, that he and Northcraft have made attempts to mainstream the service a bit.
“I will tell you, frankly, our Episcopal church is having a battle royal over sexuality,” said Cook. “And one of the things that the Rev. Ms. Northcraft and I decided when we knew that the Bishop Robinson was coming was to make a statement to members of our own church that this is absolutely mainstream, that this is not some weird thing out of the general orbit of things. Gene Robinson is a bishop of the Episcopal church who happens to be a gay man living in a committed relationship.”
If, however, Cook and Northcraft meant to plan an inclusive service, Bidwell and Krause say they fell short of the goal. Several key groups and populations were left out of the planning, as well as the service itself, they say.
“We had worked hard to make sure that the African-American community felt welcomed at the service,” said Bidwell. “We did that by purposely inviting groups to participate like Full Truth Fellowship of Christ Church, which is the largest African-American gay church in the city. As of Nov. 4 they had not been contacted, neither their pastor nor their choir, to participate in any way, shape or form in the service.”
The Detroit Together Men’s Chorus was contacted, but just weeks ago, and then they were asked to sing one only one song as a prelude to the service. Brian Londrow, the chorus’ director, says in years past they were invited much earlier and asked to sing more than one selection.
“I felt it was kind of bad policy to be asked at the very last minute to come and do one song,” said Londrow. “I just felt we were an afterthought and it was kind of a backdoor invitation.”
The Motor City Bears was another group that felt shunted. In years past, the Bears had produced a reception that followed the service. As they did so at their own expense, they were traditionally allowed creative freedom in planning the reception. This year they planned to serve hot food, but according to one member, those plans were quickly vetoed by Northcraft.
“[They] did not want this reception and they did not want to have anything to do with it because they wanted to have an Episcopal service,” said Brad Schenck of the Bears. “They acquiesced somewhat to let us have the reception but they gave us rules. They said you can have desert, you have punch and you can have coffee but you can’t decorate or anything else.”
The Bears, who had raised $1,000 to pay for the reception, say they were also told they could not use the church’s kitchen and that everything they served had to be proportioned.
“The kitchen manager told me that we were to follow the rules because that’s what she was told and she didn’t want to lose her job,” said Schenck.
The slights, intentional or not, quickly spurred the creation of a second service.
“I feel that what I’m trying to do is not a bad thing,” said Bidwell. “I’m trying to protect the work that has been done in inclusifying this service over the years.”
Bidwell and Krause have been joined by Full Truth, Detroit Together, the Bears and a growing list of community groups. Jointly, the committee sent a letter to organizers of the official event asking them to change the name of it.
“Given that the service you have planned is incongruent with the historical intent and inclusiveness of the annual PWCAPWA service, we therefore respectfully request that you refrain from using that name,” the letter read.
But that’s not about to happen, according to Cook.
“There is only one PWCAPWA Christmas service,” he said. “The only authorized service under that name is the one which I’m helping to plan and execute.”
The ruckus has been a matter of grave concern for Reinhart, who is planning to return to Detroit to attend the official service.
“I suspect that there’s been a breakdown in communication on both sides and that a small breakdown in communication has been blown up into a major problem,” said Reinhart. “I think these good friends of mine, Harry and Mark and David, can overcome this breakdown in communication by getting together for some calm, friendly discussion rather than taking the positions they’re taking.”
Whether that can happen remains uncertain. At this point, the lines appear clearly drawn. Krause says the traditions of previous years are too important to be sacrificed, and the service too dear to him to lose.
“It’s how I came back to God,” said Krause, who is HIV-positive. “I was thrown out of a church when the minister found out my HIV status. This woman stopped hugging my daughter and she knew my daughter wasn’t positive. I went to the service five years ago and it changed my life. It brought me back to a spiritual connection.”
His message to Cook is clear.
“If you’re going to do it, put it out there that you are going to have an Episcopal healing service featuring Bishop Gene Robinson. Don’t try to pass yourself off as being the service that it has always been, that people have come to know, cherish and love. It doesn’t matter what name we call our service or what name they call theirs, people have come to expect the annual Christmas AIDS service as being inclusive and that’s what the service on Dec. 12 is. Theirs isn’t.”
On the other side, Cook said Krause and company are still welcome at the official service on Dec. 10.
“I know that we’re going to have almost 1,000 people at St. John’s and that Fr. Reinhart is going to be there in his place as the founder and there’s just going to be a huge number of people,” he said. “It’s going to be a beautiful service and whatever’s going on elsewhere I don’t know about and have no control over.”

{ITAL The official People Who Care About People With AIDS service will take place Friday, Dec. 10 at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Royal Oak. The alternate service will take place on Sunday, Dec. 12 at Zion Lutheran Church in Ferndale. Rev. DaVita McAllister, who has spoken for the past two years at the official service, will officiate at the alternate service.

About the Author:

Jason A. Michael
Jason A. Michael earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Wayne State University before joining Between The Lines as a contributing writer in 1999. Jason has received both the Spirit of Detroit Award (presented by the Detroit City Council) and the Media Award from the Community Pride Banquet & Awards Ceremony for his writing and activism. Jason is also an Essence magazine bestselling author having written the authorized biography "Strength Of A Woman: The Phyllis Hyman Story," which he released on his own JAM Books imprint.