Rev. Delores Berry, a preacher and gospel singer who had a longtime affiliation with the Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, a liberal, LGBT-affirming denomination started when gays were not welcome in most Christian churches, died Aug. 8. She was 66. No cause of death was given.
Berry entered ministry at age 19 and was ordained in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. She came out at age 24 and said being a lesbian was central to her ministry.
She was preceded in death by her wife, Judy K. Kiser, who died in 2016. They had been together since 1984.
Berry joined the Metropolitan Community Church of Baltimore in 1974 and had her ordination transferred to MCC in 1978. Starting in 1987, she traveled as a full-time singing evangelist within the denomination. Kiser worked as her ministry coordinator. They had been Lancaster, Pa., residents.
The MCC Council of Elders issued a statement saying that Berry’s contributions to MCC were profound.
“Those with whom she prayed were changed and blessed,” they wrote. “Those who heard her sing found joy. Those who heard her preach encountered her remarkable ability to bring the word to life. Rev. Delores could pierce the veil bringing messages of healing and comfort to those she surrounded with her strong faith and compassion.”
Berry was a regular visitor to the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington. Former MCC-D.C. pastor Rev. Candace Shultis knew Berry since the 1970s and remembered many fun times spent with her over the years.
“I and so many others were blessed every time Delores preached from her heart and experience of God’s love,” Shultis said in a statement.
Berry, known for her flamboyant hats, would often tell funny stories in her sermons. She was also known to change the words to popular songs such as “You Raise Me Up” to be LGBT-specific. She recorded several albums of her gospel music.
Rev. Dwayne Johnson, senior pastor of MCC-D.C., said Berry’s annual visits to the church endeared her to many there.
“She had a special way of speaking, healing and praying that made one feel God’s particular and special embrace,” Johnson said. “MCC-D.C. and the denomination will miss her smile, her song and her tireless efforts to spread love.”