In 1968, Troy Perry was stunned when his lover Benny announced that their relationship was over. In his desperation and depression Perry attempted suicide. Following the failed suicide attempt, Perry experienced a renewed sense of spirituality. He began to pray again. And he was perplexed by the words of a stranger who prophesied, “God has a ministry for you. You are going to pastor a church.” At that time, that was the far from Troy Perry’s mind. Around the same time, a gay friend of Perry’s was harassed and arrested by the police. In his desperation, the young man said to Troy. “God doesn’t care. God doesn’t care about gay people.” That spurred Perry to hold the very first MCC worship service.
That first Sunday church service finally arrived — October 6, 1968.
I stood nervously watching the door, worried to death. I had cleaned out the living room, set up some chairs, used the coffee table for an alter. I had borrowed a robe from the Congregationalist minister that I had helped out previously. He insisted that I had to preach in a robe for that first service. I had borrowed some trays from some very close friends, Steve and his lover, Lynn. These were for communion. I set up everything, and stood in the kitchen.
Our house was one of those “shotgun” houses: From the front door, you could see all the way back. You could see right through to the back room. I could stand in the kitchen and look all the way down the hall way to the front door. I paced nervously around in my borrowed robe and clutched the Bible and thumbed through it and riffled the pages. Then, people began to gather.
My roommate and dear friend Willie Smith let them in. He greeted them, and saw that they sat down. One friend of ours brought his straight brother and the brother’s girlfriend. Other people showed. Most had heard about it, but finally, three people showed up who had read the ad in The Advocate.
There were 12 people in the living room, and I walked out, and asked everyone to stand up, and I said, “We’ll go before the Lord in prayer.” We joined hands and prayed. Then I said, “We’ll sing some hymns.” I invited everyone to turn to a page in the book. We’d borrowed the hymnals from the Congregationalist church where I had been a guest preacher the previous Easter. No one knew what to expect. Everyone was as scared as I was. They all waited around for me to lead the singing and sing out. So I did. My mother always used to say, “My boys don’t sing too well, but they sure sing loud.” And that was never more true.
As we sang, I recalled my neighbor Marianne Johnston’s reaction to the church. She thought it was a lovely idea, but she said, “You’ll be raided during your first service.”
I laughed and said, “Well, I wish the police would come in. It wouldn’t bother me at all.”
We sang several hymns. We sounded a little thin and tinny, but the spirit was what counted. We didn’t have a piano or any kind of accompaniment. Willie Smith was there, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to be a part of it. He still didn’t know just what to think.
I recall I had assured Willie, just before we started, that God was in this. I said, “I know now that I’m going to be in God’s perfect will. Not God’s permissive will as I as in my past life.”
Well, we prayed again and then I relaxed.
I introduced myself.
I told about where I was born, my age, my name, my marriage, my sons, my religious background, where I went to high school and college. I talked about the churches I had pastored in Florida, Illinois and California. I said that one in Santa Ana had been the last I pastored in 1963, and here we were now, after my army hitch. I told them that I was a division manager with one of the largest retailers in Los Angeles, and that I would continue as such until the church was large enough to support a full-time minister. Even then, I was sure that that time would come.
Then I introduced the church.
I said the church was organized to serve the religious, spiritual and social needs of the homosexual community of greater Los Angeles, but I expected to grow to reach homosexuals wherever they might be. I made it clear that we were not a gay church — we were a Christian church, and I said that in my first sermon. I also told them that we would be a general Protestant church to be all-inclusive. Then I prayed again.
And then I went into my Biblical message.
My sermon was entitled, “Be True to You.” It was actually inspired by Polonius’ advice to his son, Laertes, when the young man was about to leave. It’s early in Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, and it’s from those lines that go:
“This above all: To thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
I then moved from Shakespeare to the story of Job, to the Book of Job, chapter 19, verses 1-26, and I read them aloud.
“Oh that my words were now written! Oh that they were printed in a book! That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.”
Job had learned to be true to himself. He never wavered once he made up his mind, and knew that he was called of God. His friends came and told him that he must have sinned for some reason or he wouldn’t be visited by all these things that plagued him. He lost his family.
Everything terrible happened to him. But Job’s remark to them was, “Though God slay me, yet I’ll trust in God. I’ll come forth as pure as gold.” Even going through the refiner’s fire, he knew that he would make it. And I knew that we at Metropolitan Community Church could do that too.
I also preached about David and Goliath. David said that the same God that protected him when he had to do battle once with a bear, and once with a lion would protect him again. Even when things look awfully bad to us in the gay community, God can help. And we can win, even though it looks like everything is stacked against us. So, I said, “Be true to you. Believe in yourself, and believe in God. You have to believe in yourself as a human being first, and then God is able to help you. You are not just an individual in circumstances, but you always are the created being of God.”
I pointed out that we must be humble, spiritual human beings first, homosexuals second. We must love and build, free ourselves, and free others from their feelings against us. I closed my sermon with a quote from the Epistle of St. Paul, the Apostle to the Philippians, fourth chapter, thirteenth verse, which says,
“I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me!”
After I finished preaching, I closed my Bible, and I knew that God was in the place.
I prayed again, and then I looked up and said, “We’re going to have open communion,” there wasn’t a dry eye in the place. A hush fell over the place and everybody in that small living room was weeping silently. We all felt that we were a part of something great. God was preparing to move. We were to see God’s handiwork, and that would be unbelievable.
I offered communion. Only three came forward to take the bread and wine, but they were weeping. And then I served communion to myself.
We dismissed with a prayer of benediction. Then I invited everyone to stay for coffee and cake.
We gathered and we just couldn’t quit crying. We all sat around and said we had felt the spirit of the Lord. One young man came up to me, and said, “Oh, Troy, God was here this morning! I haven’t been in a church in eight years. And even when I left the church, the one I’d been in, I never felt anything like I felt here this morning, in this living room.”
When that service was finally over, Willie Smith said that he had really been moved by it. He insisted that he didn’t know yet about whether the church would actually take a hold and grow.
I said, “Willie, only God knows the answer to that.”