The first MCC service took place on October 6, 1968. Rev. Troy Perry’s friend and roommate, Willie Smith, was skeptical of Perry’s plans for a church that would minister to the GLBT communities. But after the very first service, Smith’s thinking began to change:
After that first service, Willie’s heart began to change. He said, “This MCC church just might work out, and I want you to know I’m with you all the way, 100%. And I’ll do anything I can to make it work.”
And he did. He started right then.
For the next Sunday, he scrounged up a phonograph and records of some religious music so that we could all sing to it. Aside from being an ace projectionist, Willie was also a singer, and music director. He made that his job with the new church.
The next Sunday, we were 14 instead of 12. I got up and looked around and said, “If you love the Lord this morning would you say ‘amen!’” They all shouted “amen” back to me. It’s been that way, too, since then. I also praised the Lord because we were growing.
The next Sunday we had 16 and I got up and said, “Well look at this. Thank you Jesus, we’re on the move!”
But, the fourth Sunday we had only nine, and I almost died. But here again, God had prepared me. He gave me a sermon entitled, “Despise Not the Day of Small Things.” And God gave me that sermon for Troy Perry, not for anyone there.
Lee, a friend from my army days, and now one of the regulars, said, “That morning, when you looked out in the group, and saw that it had shrunk, I could tell that you were upset. You got up and you preached, and you preached as though you meant it. I could tell you really meant it.”
I said, “Well, that was a sermon God gave especially for me.” The next Sunday we had 22 in attendance.
We’d jumped back up in attendance, and we’ve never dropped since.
As we started to grow and attract people from all kinds of different backgrounds, I knew that we would have to begin settling problems of organization, administration, doctrine and the church services. They had to be settled soon, so that everyone would be able to know and rely on the church, to really be a part of its body, of its identity. I knew that I was not starting another Pentecostal church. I was starting a church that would be truly ecumenical. I had asked the religious backgrounds of those first twelve. They were Catholic, Episcopal, and of various Protestant sects. I fervently sought to serve a really broad spectrum of our population. It would have to be a church that most could understand and easily identify with, and accept it as not being unusual or odd. It seemed to me that it should be traditional, almost like those they attended in childhood, or not too different from that.
It had to be completely honest. I knew that I couldn’t play games.
My sermons would have to do as they had always done, relate to the Scriptures and to God. This, I knew, would be the hard part. I am not an intellectual. I have never claimed to be the type of speaker that required the listeners to bring a dictionary to each session. I always regarded myself as a preacher, not as a teacher. Now, I knew that I must be both, especially for those who came to church either for the first time or after years of having no contact with God or established religion. But I also had to reestablish old links with God, but do it in a new way, that would be meaningful in our community.
Although I became the pastor and founder, I don’t really feel like a pastor, at least not in the sense I’m used to thinking of pastoring. A pastor has all the time in the world to devote to his congregation and knows all of them on a first-name basis. I used to be that way, but it wasn’t long before we’d grown so much that it was impossible. I am an exhorter, a preacher from the pulpit, an evangelist.
We kept our ad running in The Advocate. And we also got some great news coverage from that paper. We were news in the gay community. Most regular papers, especially the religious columns, ignored us. They felt that if they just ignored us, we weren’t there. People kept coming, and we kept growing. We were still holding services in my home and my house was bursting at the seams. We were looking for another place to hold services. We needed help on all fronts. I needed other theological minds to help me really finalize the way it was all developing.
And God brought them to us. One day, a fellow called and asked to meet with me. I met at a nearby coffee shop. We sat down and ordered. We were alone over in a corner, as he had suggested. The coffee came, and I said, “What’s on your mind?”
“I’m a minister, also,” he replied. “I teach at a Christian college in this area, where I am a dean. But it struck me that what you’re doing is a needed step in a new direction. And I am interested in participating.”
We had a long conversation, and that’s how my first ministerial recruit came in. There have been so many others, but the Reverend Richard Ploen was the first. One reason I was so glad to have him along was because of his education, and because of his work as a missionary. I knew that he would be invaluable in helping to set up an educational program.
We needed a really intensive ongoing program in Christian education, and Richard Ploen dug right in. His background intrigued a good many. He had been a missionary in Sudan, Africa. Among his many skills is the ability to use the sign language of the deaf mute. He taught that in MCC, and set up a section where other deaf mutes convey the sermon in sign language. Now others do that work, and teach those courses. Richard has a Master of Divinity degree from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and a Master of Christian Education from the Presbyterian School of Christian Education. He is a tireless scholar, and certainly a solid pillar of Christianity.
We had little trouble with doctrine. It was a church of doing: do love your God, do stand tall, do walk proud, do love your neighbor as yourself. These were the kinds of things that we wanted to state positively. And because of the large number of Catholic, Episcopal, and Lutheran people in our congregation, we relied rather heavily on those rituals.
Then we began to organize.
We decided upon such standard procedures as the one for communion. It would always be an open communion. We would always state that it was. We would extend an invitation for all to come to the Lord’s table. We would prepare ourselves by an open act of confession. We would ask for absolution, and it would be granted. We would then participate in the act of supping at the Lord’s table, by taking bread dipped in wine.
We utilized the books of worship from the Episcopal, Presbyterian and Lutheran churches as well as those that members of the congregation wanted considered. We experimented and we accommodated. It may sound like a hodgepodge, but what emerged was a straight line of well-organized ritual that allows for improvisation or change should any occasion within the church warrant it.
But it is not the mechanics of worship that we were concerned with. It was the substance of the act of worship that was the core of our service. We did have diversity. We needed that.
Ours was a working church, an active, growing church. We knew that the worship of God comes from the heart. So we were always free to move and grow. That’s the way it has always been. We felt that the diversity and the freedom and the real sincerity of worship would bring us together in unity. It has. We started a magazine called “In Unity.” Later that became “Keeping In Touch.” And with the advent of the Internet, it became a digital, e-mail newsletter which is today called “LeaderLink.” When we finally obtained our charter, it was as the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches. In that organization we establish missions and new congregations, and our whole program of social, economic and political action.
We were about ten weeks old when we really had to move to accommodate the crowds. We had three dozen every Sunday. We were in our infancy, but we were thriving. Nothing could stop us. We all felt the thrill of discovery, and the occasional clumsiness of growing pains. We knew that we stood on the threshold of great things. God was leading us, and God was moving. We had to do God’s bidding.
People came out of the shadows, out of the closets, out of the half-world. They were drawn to the Metropolitan Community Church. For what?
Some were curious.
Some were incredulous.
We were new.
We were a novelty.
We were an item in the gay world.
We were ignored in the straight world.
But not everyone in the straight world pretended we were not there. Sociologists, professional people, teachers, professors, psychologists and the enlightened came. They made a great and lasting contribution.
Our church provided a feeling of freedom to worship, to walk with God. We knew that we were on God’s side because God loved us, too. We excluded no one. We welcomed everyone. We still do. Heterosexuals came to our first services. They do today. At least 20% of our congregation is heterosexual. Their involvement is as great as anyone’s.
And we’ve never stopped growing, not since that first service. God has blessed.
MCC has touched the lives of hundreds of thousands of people over the past 36 years.
I am convinced that so long as we stay faithful to God’s calling and to God’s word, God will continue to bless Metropolitan Community Churches. There’s an old saying that goes,
“The future is as bright as the promises of God.”
And I believe that with all my heart. I really believe that.”
You can hear first hand testimonies from several MCC people at VisitMCCchurch.com.
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