It’s a much different thing to go to a Metropolitan Community Church in a major city vs. a small town and the denomination itself, founded in the late ‘60s as a Protestant fellowship for LGBT Christians, is in a time of transition as more churches, especially in Christianity’s more liberal branches, have become affirming. Roman Catholics and evangelicals — the two largest groups of U.S. believers — are the biggest holdouts.
As Christianity’s Paschal Triduum culminates with Easter this weekend, we checked in with two regional LGBT MCC clergy to find out how their parishes are doing in 2018. Rev. Deb Coggin is pastor of New Light MCC in Hagerstown, Md. Rev. Cathy Alexander is associate pastor of MCC Washington. They responded via e-mail.
New Light MCC — Hagerstown, Md.
What year was your church started? 1996
Was it always an MCC church? yes
How many weekend services do you have on a normal week? one
About how many folks walk through your doors on an average Sunday? 20-25
Are you full-time, part-time or volunteer? Part-time – 20 hours a week
What is your annual operating budget? $53,000
How do you feel the needs may be different of MCC believers/members in major cities vs. small towns or suburbs? In a small city, support and safe places for LGBT are fewer. The needs remain the same. All of us need support, a safe place to be and the affirmation that God is with us. This message is part of the DNA of MCC.
Are you doing a Good Friday or Holy Saturday service? Good Friday service is tonight at 7 p.m.
What times are your Easter services? 10:30 a.m.
How is your Easter Sunday morning worship different? We add a few extra readings and special pieces however; the base of the service remains the same.
What was your attendance for Easter 2017? 32
As the mainline churches have become more welcoming, what does MCC offer that they do not in your opinion? MCC is more than welcoming. We celebrate all of who we are as children of God. We are more than affirming. We are inclusive. Everyone is invited to full participation in the life of an MCC community of faith.
Are there many cradle Catholics and/or cradle evangelicals in your pews? As those bodies have dug in their heels against LGBT folks, how does MCC have relevance to those believers? Our congregation has many of both. It is the same for all who have been preached at as if they are evil. We help them heal and discover for themselves what God has to say. We plan services and activities so all feel accepted and comfortable. We honor some traditions of all Christian faiths while creating something new for all.
Are mainline churches in Hagerstown very affirming? In Hagerstown, we have several very affirming churches, however, most churches either tolerate or are outwardly hostile to LGBT people. We offer a safe place for healing from church abuse in all forms. We encourage the full participation in the life of our community. We seek to teach people to live in the questions of faith as opposed to declaring we have all the answers. We offer a positive biblical message about LGBT people as well as refute and explain passages which have been used to abuse LGBT people.
What kind of faith community were you raised in if any? I was 28 before I came into a faith belief with God. I quickly moved from Southern Baptist to Assemblies of God to Pentecostal to MCC.
What’s a general scripture passage that continues to resonate with you? Romans Chapter 8 resonates with me and particularly verses 37-39: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
What’s your favorite hymn or sacred musical selection? Old hymn would be “What A Friend We Have In Jesus.” Contemporary praise would be “We All Bleed The Same.”
Overall how is the MCC needle shifting? Where do you see the fellowship going in the next 10-20 years? We are being called into accountability for being as fully inclusive as we promote. I believe we will continue to be in the forefront of the fight for justice — LGBT rights, homelessness, poverty, drug addiction, human trafficking, gun control, women’s rights, etc. Wherever there is injustice in the world, MCC along with others will be in the fight for justice.
Could you imagine a day where LGBT believers will be so fully integrated that there will be no need for MCC or is that too “pie in the sky” for our lifetime? Our founder, Rev. Elder Troy Perry once believed this was possible. For MCC now, it is not only the LGBT people involved in the life of MCC but heterosexuals as well as children. My wife and I adopted five girls. They are growing up in an MCC church and my hope is they will continue into adulthood with MCC, which is about more than sexuality. We believe in Gods call to help others. I believe there will always be people in need and the need for MCC to be present and active.
What year was your church started? 1971
Was it always an MCC church? Yes, it has always been under the Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) umbrella.
How many weekend services do you have on a normal week? We have two services per Sunday in the sanctuary. We also have a monthly interactive service on the last Sunday of each month led by our Young Adult Ministry. These services are held at various locations throughout the city. The last Sunday reflective service was held at the National Portrait Gallery. We are also re-starting our monthly Spanish speaking prayer service.
About how many folks walk through your doors on an average Sunday? We worship about 130-150 each Sunday on site and an additional 50-60 via live streaming of our services. Also an additional 40-60 views of the videos of the service. The message of love and acceptance is getting out there. MCC-D.C. is blessed to be one of the most diverse congregations in MCC on a variety of levels.
Do you have your own building? Yes
Are you full-time, part-time or volunteer? I am full time and the Senior Pastor Rev. Elder Dwayne Johnson is full time.
What is your annual operating budget? (declines to answer)
How do you feel the needs may be different of MCC believers/members in major cities vs. small towns or suburbs? The need for shelter, food, spiritual guidance, safe streets and community are consistent and driving forces for our neighbors no matter the geography. Where people congregate in a given location may differ, the ability to get around from place to place quickly may be different, and proximity to church may be a challenge. Many times in a suburban environment, the closest MCC may be hours away. This proves to be a challenge to establishing community. In an urban environment, the unpredictability of traffic is an issue in on-site attendance. It encourages us to seek different ways to reach out to and spiritually touch people (like livestream, remote campuses and other ways to make it easier for people to connect).
Are you doing a Good Friday or Holy Saturday service? One is planned for Good Friday, yes. We also held a Maundy Thursday service.
What times are your Easter services? 9 and 11 a.m.
How is your Easter Sunday morning worship different? We usually welcome more people to our services on Easter (Christmas Eve too). We have several ministries in our worship arts ministry (9 a.m. choir, 11 a.m. choir, First Sunday Choir, Moving Spirit Dance Ministry, Eclectic Praise Band, Drama Ministry, sound board, audio/visual) who minister on different Sundays throughout any given month. Most of our ministries will offer their gifts together during our Easter Sunday Services.
What was your attendance for Easter 2017? About 300 throughout Holy Week last year.
As the mainline churches have become more welcoming, what does MCC offer that they do not in your opinion? I don’t think it is so much a matter of what one offers against the other. I believe there is enough hurt and spiritual violence in the world that requires that all of our spiritual organizations reach into the communities in which they serve to help as much as possible to counteract messages of hate, violence and harm. Is there a place and a need for MCC into the future? I would say absolutely yes, without a question or doubt in my mind. Many of our congregants have let us know that they appreciate going to church where many in the church have similar perspectives and challenges as they do. They can come as their entire selves and the affinity communities in which they are a part — leather, drag and a variety of others.
Are there many cradle catholics and/or cradle evangelicals in your pews? As those bodies have dug in their heels against LGBT folks, how does MCC have relevance to those believers? We understand (mostly from membership class) the faith background of those who regularly attend our services. About 20-30 percent come from a Catholic background and 10 percent from evangelical traditions, 60 percent from other protestant faith traditions and a small number of those from the Jewish and Buddhist traditions. One thing that is difficult to do is to paint the denominations and the people in them with the same broad brush. There have been hurtful, spiritually violent and life threatening damage done as a result of some of these institutions. I think it is important to remain open to inviting conversation and common cause. There are things we can agree on and perhaps we can be the agents of change to enter in to conversation to impact hearts and minds. This is done on a personal level primarily and not necessarily on a denominational one.
What kind of faith community were you raised in if any? I was raised in a Christian tradition: Baptist and Catholic.
What’s a kernel or verse in the gospel resurrection narrative that especially resonates with you or that you may be preaching on Easter Sunday? For me, the progressive message of the Jesus who defied the oppressive Roman government forces provided a new way to be in relationship with God and each other. Our theme this year is Rising Strong, influenced by Brene Brown’s book. We are encouraged to rise strong to be our authentic and truest selves.
What’s a general scripture passage that continues to resonate with you? I’m partial to the Psalms as they sing the songs of the human condition — love, joy, connection to the Divine, lament and hope.
What’s your favorite hymn or sacred musical selection? I love all kinds of music. I particularly like “Total Praise” by Richard Smallwood and “My Help” by Jackie Gouche Farris (Psalm 121)
Overall how is the MCC needle shifting? Where do you see the fellowship going in the next 10-20 years? I see MCC continue to speak out for justice, and to live out Micah 6:8 “He has told you, human one, what is good and what the Lord requires from you: do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God.”