by Jessica Carreras
Rev. Mark Bidwell is the senior pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit. Ordained in 1997, the 50-year-old Ferndale resident is a father, ardent community supporter and yes, men – he is single.
What was your coming out experience?
Harriet Dart, who was president of P-FLAG the night in 1988 I called her very upset about coming out, kept me alive. She called me every half hour to make sure I was OK. I had just separated from my wife and young children. I was despondent, shaken up. Alone.
Earlier in the week I had called my own pastor, a Southern Baptist minister, for his support and prayers. He told me never to come back to his church again. I was afraid I would never see my family again.
Harriet counseled me to take things one day at a time, reassured me P-FLAG was there for me, that others had a similar faith crisis and journey to acceptance.
Spiritually, I drifted about for awhile without a church home, until I found out about MCC-Detroit through some friends. My first Sunday was so welcoming. The sermon was self affirming for me. The choir sang an old familiar hymn: “Blessed Assurance.” I was deeply moved.
I knew this was where I needed to be, and I’ve stayed ever since.
2) How do you bring your own experiences into your work at the MCC?
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. 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.
And on the joyful side, I’ve also celebrated life and love with a same-sex partner. Soon, I will welcome the birth of my first grandchild.
I believe that from all our human experiences, we have an opportunity to grow and to learn about ourselves, others and our world.
3) Many LGBT people struggle to reconcile their faith and their sexual orientation. What is your advice to them?
Too many LGBT religious seekers get hurt, disoriented, denigrated by some fundamentalist churches who thoughtlessly condemn them for being who they are, preaching a gospel that is foreign to the message of love and acceptance that Jesus taught.
My philosophy is that I’m here to help church-alienated persons restore their relationship with God in a community that affirms them as whole and worthwhile children of God.
It’s a struggle, to be sure. We have the right-wing hate mongers telling us we can’t be gay and Christian on the one hand; and we have many LGBT people, on the other, asking us why we want to be Christian in the first place. Being part of the LGBT community, we often lose a lot of advantages heterosexuals take for granted. But when we loose our faith, that is the absolute worse thing for so many of us. With open and affirming churches, we can rediscover God in a new light.
4) Why do you believe it’s important to give back to the LGBT community?
When I came out I soon also found Affirmations, PFLAG, Triangle Foundation. They were there for me. They offered me hope, inspiration, a sense of place. Along with giving back to the LGBT community, I now am blessed to give back to the city of Ferndale as a Police Chaplain.
If everyone in the world gave some of their time, talent and finances to help various non-profits, our world would be a much better place.
For LGBTs, instead of fighting among ourselves for the “almighty” dollar, we might consider sharing and offering our resources and talents with each other. When that happens, everyone wins. It isn’t just about individuals giving back – it’s about organizations giving back to others. At MCC-Detroit Detroit, we open our doors for free to organizations that need space for services or meetings.
5) In what ways do you stay involved in the gay community?
I volunteer with the Motor City Pride committee and do a mass commitment ceremony before Pride, and I’ve worked with Affirmations answering the hot line, as a youth facilitator and on the Board of Directors.
I’m also on the Transgender Day of Remembrance Committee for its annual service held at MCC -Detroit. I try to financially to support Ruth Ellis House, Triangle, Affirmations and HRC.
On another level, I help get my church involved with the community.
As pastor and as a committed Christian, I’ve been truly blessed to lead and to have a congregation that is dedicated to supporting our LGBT and allied community with dedicated time, exceptional special talents, financial support and outreach. Together, we’ve come a very long way.
To learn more about MCC-Detroit, visit http://www.mccdetroit.org.