Connect with us


Four decades of faith

MCC-D.C. celebrates 40 years of pro-LGBT gospel ministry



Metropolitan Community Church of Washington celebrates 40 years this month. (Blade file photo by Callie Marie)

The memories come flooding back for Candace Shultis when asked about her 25-plus years on staff at Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, the District’s largest mostly gay church.

She’s been gone a few years now having left to pastor a St. Petersburg, Fla., MCC church. But so much of her ministry was in Washington, on the occasion of the church’s 4oth anniversary — the festivities kick off tonight with an event at Human Rights Campaign headquarters — she waxes nostalgic during an hour-plus phone chat from her new parish. Her memories run the gamut of human emotion — from tedium and tragedy to laughter and tears of joy.

She remembers one anniversary weekend where outside festivities were planned at the old M Street location. Members asked her to pray for good weather — “I guess they figured I had a closer connection to God about such things,” she says — only to have it rain the entire weekend. The joke for years was never to have her pray for weather again.

She also remembers feeling ridiculous blessing the current Ridge Street building with former pastor, the late Rev. Larry Uhrig, who died of AIDS in 1993, going around the new building with a plant he’d brought from Hawaii throwing water at the building, again in the pouring rain.

It never takes long, though, for talk of MCC’s history to come around to the AIDS crisis, which took a staggering toll on its members and which Shultis admits defined much of her ministry there, especially in the 1980s and well into the ‘90s.

“I think in many ways my time there, certainly for a good bulk of it even early on in the pastorate, was defined by HIV and AIDS,” Shultis says. “You just can’t say anything but that. It was just real clear, this had a huge impact on the community and we lost a lot of people. Not all from AIDS — some had heart attacks, Bob Johnson, Bob Hager, there were a couple who committed suicide. I even remember our first member who died, James Vincent McCann, Jim McCann. We named a ministry award after him … but we lost so many. We became kind of known as the place where you could come and we would do your funeral … it was just really hard on the congregation.”

MCC-D.C., as it’s casually known, is part of the Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, a liberal Christian denomination with a vastly, but not completely, LGBT membership. The D.C. church’s roots go back to 1970 when a group of gay believers started meeting as Community Church of Washington. The church was chartered as an MCC church on May 11, 1971.

Rev. Troy Perry, the denomination’s founder, remembers vividly the D.C. church joining the Fellowship.

“We said right away, yes, we’d love to have them,” Perry says by phone from Los Angeles where he’s lived for 48 years. He resigned as the Fellowship’s moderator in 2005 but is still active among the church’s 250 congregations around the globe.

“It was one of the briefest dedications we ever did,” he says, a Southern accent still palpable in his voice even after decades in California. “We got there and it was like 22 degrees. It was so cold I thought my jaws would fall off. So it only lasted about 15 minutes.”

MCC-D.C. is one of the largest churches in the Fellowship. Shultis says it’s always in the top 10 in terms of weekly attendance and often in the top five.

Perry has visited most of the denomination’s churches and says visiting the Washington church is always a highlight and blessing for him.

“They absolutely believe in wonderful worship services,” he says. “They’re known widely for their gospel choir and they’ve sung at all our marches on Washington. I’ve preached there many times and I always go pray there the morning of the marches. We’ve had five so far. … They do wonderful things there.”

But not all has been easy in recent years. After stabilizing its membership and attendance after the advent of anti-retroviral therapy, the church experienced a boom era around 1999 and 2000 in which it wasn’t uncommon for 500 faithful to come through the doors on an average Sunday morning. It’s about half that now.

Shultis, who became senior pastor in 1995, remembers that “it was nice not to have as many funerals” for a change, but also remembers there was rarely a dull moment.

One of her most poignant memories started around rather banal circumstances. After settling into the magnificent Ridge Street building, a series of properties around the new church became available and members sensed a rare chance to purchase them and eventually expand the parking area. But the logistics were dicey — purchase had to be approved by the congregation and involved three contracts, the failure of any one of which could sink the whole project. They also had to move fast.

“This involved taking out, like a $700,00 or $800,000 loan and so we had a very large congregational meeting and I couldn’t believe it, the vote to do it was unanimous,” Shultus says. “I had tears in my eyes. I thought, ‘Golly gee, we’ve worked so long and people really understand what we’re trying to do here and support it.’”

Rev. Candace Shultis, center, and the late Rev. Larry Uhrig, both former senior pastors at MCC-D.C., at a groundbreaking ceremony for the church's current Ridge Street location in 1990. (Blade file photo by Doug Hinkle)

The D.C. church, as with the Fellowship as a whole, has long sought to be a place of refuge for gay Christians chastised by the churches of their youth. The church offers classes on its interpretation of the scriptures that many Christian churches use to condemn gay sex.

Longtime member John Dewey, the church’s lay delegate who represents the parish at denominational meetings, says an underlying theme woven into nearly every sermon is that “God loves and accepts you no matter who you are.” He says the scriptures need to be considered in their proper historical context before there was any notion or understanding of sexual orientation.

“We take a non-judgmental approach to Christianity that welcomes people exactly where they are,” Rev. Dwayne Johnson, the church’s current senior pastor says. “We welcome people’s doubts and our core theology is really God’s unconditional love.”

Johnson, well respected within the Fellowship for leading a Houston MCC church through a period that saw its attendance double, succeeded Shultis in early 2010 after a lengthy national search. He volunteered at the D.C. church from ’89 to ’92 and has high praise for both Uhrig (whom he calls “incredibly passionate — prophetic in the best sense of the word”) and Shultis (“strength, integrity and grounding” in Johnson’s words).

Despite the adage that Sunday mornings provide the U.S. with its most segregated hour, MCC-D.C. is widely known for its healthy interracial mix and array of ages. Shultis says it wasn’t always that way and in its early years was dominated by white gay men, a trend she was eventually concerned about.

Shultis put her neck on the line during a heart-to-heart with Uhrig when she was still assistant pastor and said, “You have got to pay more attention to women, more attention to people of color, the music had to change, the attitudes had to change … it took a lot of time to change the ratios but I think he really listened. Things began to change after that.”

Shirli Hughes, the church’s minister of music since 2001, says it’s important to honor the church’s past, a reason she’s excited about the bounty of anniversary festivities that are planned throughout the year.

“It’s taking all of that rich history of what has been our past and all those saints who have gone on before us and the sacrifices that so many have made to make it possible to be where we are today,” she says. “It’s taking that collective wisdom and energy and using it to propel us into a new vision, to really embrace the limitless possibilities of the future.”

But now with so many mainline Christian churches opening and welcoming LGBT believers, is MCC-D.C. in danger of becoming an anachronism? Has the decline in attendance been partially due to that trend?

Johnson says no.

“The difference is we’re not just an affirming church, it’s hard to find the right language,” he says. “I don’t want to bash any other churches by any means, but I think it’s because of MCC in a lot of ways that other churches even started opening their doors [to gays]. There were many, many years when it was just us. And many others are still fighting that battle internally. … Other churches may welcome and affirm you but we are you.”

Sue Elliott, an Upper Marlboro, Md., resident who’s been active in the church since the early ‘90s, knows what that feels like first hand. It’s a big reason she’s been in the church choir and on the church’s vestry council for so long.

She says the 40th anniversary comes as no surprise considering how much the church offers.

“I never thought for a minute it wouldn’t be here to see 40,” she says. “I’m excited. We’re moving forward and have a lot of new things planned. I never doubted for a minute that it would last. I just thought we’d grow together in dynamic and exciting ways and we have.”


Celebrity News

Lizzo makes $50K donation to Marsha P. Johnson Institute

Singer is vocal LGBTQ ally



Lizzo at the 65th Grammy Awards (Screenshot from the Grammy Awards)

When Lizzo sings “If I’m shinin,’ everybody gonna shine,” in her hit song, “Juice,” she means it. Proof of that came this week on Instagram when the LGBTQ ally announced the first winner of her annual Juneteenth Giveback Campaign is the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, a national nonprofit based in Richmond, Calif., dedicated to the protection and defense of Black transgender people. 

And she did so in song: “On the first day of Juneteenth, Lizzo gave to me,” she sang in her video, posted Tuesday, as she revealed her $50,000 gift to MPJI.

“That’s right, we know who Marsha P. Johnson is. We know what Marsha P. Johnson has done for the LGBTQ, emphasis on that ‘T,’ Q community,” said Lizzo to her 13.5 million followers. “Thank you so much to the people at the Marsha P. Johnson Institute. You deserve this, and I hope this helps you so much as you help protect our Black trans family.” 

“What the Marsha P. Johnson Institute does is protects and defends the rights of Black transgender people. They do this by organizing community, advocating for the people, and creating an intentional healing community, developing transformative leadership and promoting collective power,” she said. 

“We are overjoyed for the shoutout from Lizzo today, the generosity of her sharing her platform and the recognition of MPJI and its work,” said Elle Moxley, MPJI’s executive director. “The resources from this campaign will ensure the protection and defense of Black transgender people continue at a time where it is so vitally needed. We are so grateful for the support of Lizzo and her fans.”

As one of Time Magazine’s Persons of the Year for 2019 and a 2023 Grammy winner, Lizzo is more than a pop star but an inspiration to millions of fans for her body-positive attitude, her self-confidence on stage and in her videos, her empowering music and her activism. She’s also the founder of her own clothing line, Yitty. In 2021, she made headlines when she publicly corrected a paparazzo for using “she/her” pronouns and misgendering Demi Levato.

As part of her campaign, now in its 4th year, Lizzo recognizes Black-led grassroots organizations and businesses and encourages her fans to join her in supporting each of the five organizations she highlights this week. Fans who take action by donating are  entered into a drawing for an all-expenses paid trip to see her perform at Fuji Rock in Japan later this year. 

This week’s other nonprofits receiving gifts are: Black Girls Smile, Sphinx Music, the University of Houston and Save Our Sisters United.

Find out more about Lizzo’s 4th annual Juneteenth Giveback Campaign by clicking here.

Continue Reading

Celebrity News

Anne Heche dies after removal from life support

Actress dated Ellen DeGeneres in late 1990s



(Screenshot/YouTube Inside Edition)

Actress Anne Heche died after she was removed from life support on Sunday, nearly two weeks after her Mini-Cooper crashed through a two-story house in Los Angeles’ Mar Vista neighborhood. Investigators with the Los Angeles Police Department believe she was intoxicated at the time.

She sustained a severe anoxic brain injury along with severe burns and was being treated at the Grossman Burn Center at West Hills Hospital, near Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley.

The 53-year-old actress who was a star of films like “Donnie Brasco,” the political satire “Wag the Dog” and the 1998 remake of “Psycho,” had been declared legally dead under California law on Friday, however, her family kept her alive long enough to be an organ donor.

In a statement Friday, the LAPD announced that: “As of today, there will be no further investigative efforts made in this case. Any information or records that have been requested prior to this turn of events will still be collected as they arrive as a matter of formalities and included in the overall case. When a person suspected of a crime expires, we do not present for filing consideration.” LAPD detectives had previously made public that investigators into the crash found narcotics in a blood sample taken from Heche.

The actress’s family released a statement on Friday:

“Today we lost a bright light, a kind and most joyful soul, a loving mother, and a loyal friend. Anne will be deeply missed but she lives on through her beautiful sons, her iconic body of work, and her passionate advocacy. Her bravery for always standing in her truth, spreading her message of love and acceptance, will continue to have a lasting impact,” the statement added.

Heche was married to camera operator Coleman Laffoon from 2001 to 2009. The two had a son, Homer, together. She had another son, named Atlas, during a relationship with actor James Tupper, her co-star on the TV series “Men In Trees.”

Laffoon left a moving tribute on an Instagram reel in which he also gave an update on how their 20-year-old son Homer Laffoon is coping with the loss of his mother.

“I loved her and I miss her, and I’m always going to,” he said adding: “Homer is okay. He’s grieving, of course, and it’s rough. It’s really rough, as probably anybody can imagine. But he’s surrounded by family and he’s strong, and he’s gonna be okay.”

“Rest In Peace, Mom, I love you, Homer,” the actor’s 20-year-old son, Homer, said in a statement after Heche was declared legally dead on Friday.“ My brother Atlas and I lost our Mom,” read the statement. “After six days of almost unbelievable emotional swings, I am left with a deep, wordless sadness. Hopefully, my mom is free from pain and beginning to explore what I like to imagine as her eternal freedom. Over those six days, thousands of friends, family, and fans made their hearts known to me. I am grateful for their love, as I am for the support of my Dad, Coley, and my stepmom Alexi who continue to be my rock during this time. Rest In Peace Mom, I love you, Homer.”

Tupper, a Canadian actor who starred alongside Heche in “Men in Trees,” had a 13-year-old son, Atlas, with her. “Love you forever,” Tupper, 57, wrote on his Instagram post’s caption with a broken heart emoji, which shared an image of the actress from Men in Trees.

Between 1997 and 2000, Heche was also in a relationship with talk show host Ellen DeGeneres.

“This is a sad day,” DeGeneres posted on Twitter. “I’m sending Anne’s children, family and friends all of my love.” The year after her break-up with the comedian, in September 2001, Heche recounted in her memoir “Call Me Crazy,” about her lifelong struggles with mental health and a childhood of abuse.

KTLA’s entertainment reporter Sam Rubin noted that over the past two decades, Heche’s career pivoted several times. In 2017, she hosted a weekly radio show on SiriusXM with Jason Ellis called “Love and Heche.”

In 2020, Heche made her way into the podcast world. She launched “Better Together” which she cohosted alongside Heather Duffy Boylston. The show was described as a way to celebrate friendship. 

She also worked in smaller films, on Broadway, and on TV shows. She recently had recurring roles on the network series “Chicago P.D.,” and “All Rise” and was a contestant on “Dancing with the Stars.”

People magazine reported that several of Heche’s acting projects are expected to be released posthumously.

These include “Girl in Room 13,” expected to be released on Lifetime in September, “What Remains,” scheduled to be released in 2023, and HBO Max TV series “The Idol,” created by Abel Tesfaye (The Weeknd) and Euphoria creator Sam Levinson.

In her Instagram post from earlier this year Heche stands between her sons Atlas, 13 and Homer, 20.

From KTLA:

Continue Reading

Celebrity News

‘Star Trek’ actress Nichelle Nichols dies at 89

George Takei tweets ‘we lived long and prospered together’



(Screenshot/YouTube The Smithsonian Channel)

She was a groundbreaking cultural icon who broke barriers in a time of societal upheaval and battling for the civil rights of Black Americans. An actress, a mother and thoroughly devoted to the legions of fans of “Star Trek,” Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek’s Lt. Nyota Uhura, has died at 89.

The announcement on her Facebook page by her son read:

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Friends, Fans, Colleagues, World

I regret to inform you that a great light in the firmament no longer shines for us as it has for so many years.

Last night, my mother, Nichelle Nichols, succumbed to natural causes and passed away. Her light however, like the ancient galaxies now being seen for the first time, will remain for us and future generations to enjoy, learn from, and draw inspiration.

Hers was a life well lived and as such a model for us all.

I, and the rest of our family, would appreciate your patience and forbearance as we grieve her loss until we can recover sufficiently to speak further. Her services will be for family members and the closest of her friends and we request that her and our privacy be respected.

Live Long and Prosper,

Kyle Johnson

Nichols was born in Robbins, Ill., in 1932, according to her IMDb page. Legendary composer Duke Ellington “discovered” Nichols and helped her become a singer and dancer. She later turned to acting, and joined Gene Roddenberry’s “Star Trek,” where she played Uhura from 1966 to 1969.

Out actor George Takei who played ‘Sulu’ on Star Trek the original series with Nichelle Nichols who played Lt. Nyota Uhura, at a Star Trek convention in this undated photo. (George Takei/Twitter)

It was in that role of Uhura that Nichols not only broke barriers between races, most famously her onscreen kiss, the first between a Black person and a white person, with castmate William Shatner, who played Capt. James T. Kirk, but she also became a role model for young Black women and men inspiring them to seek out their own places in science, technology, and other human endeavors.

In numerous interviews over the years Nichols often recalled how the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a fan of the show and praised her role and personally encouraged her to stay with the series.

When the first series ended Nichols went on to become a spokesperson for NASA, where she “helped recruit and inspire a new generation of fearless astronauts.” She later reprised her role in several successful “Star Trek” films and continued to advocate for the advancement of Black Americans especially in the areas of science and technology.

Formerly a NASA deputy administrator, Frederick Gregory, now 81, told the Associated Press he once saw an advertisement in which Nichols said “I want you to apply for the NASA program.”

“She was talking to me,” he recounted. The U.S. Air Force pilot would apply and later become the first African American shuttle pilot.

President Joe Biden weighed in Sunday afternoon on her passing in a statement issued by the White House:

In Nichelle Nichols, our nation has lost a trailblazer of stage and screen who redefined what is possible for Black Americans and women.
A daughter of a working-class family from Illinois, she first honed her craft as an actor and singer in Chicago before touring the country and the world performing with the likes of Duke Ellington and giving life to the words of James Baldwin.
During the height of the Civil Rights Movement, she shattered stereotypes to become the first Black woman to act in a major role on a primetime television show with her groundbreaking portrayal of Lt. Uhura in the original Star Trek. With a defining dignity and authority, she helped tell a central story that reimagined scientific pursuits and discoveries. And she continued this legacy by going on to work with NASA to empower generations of Americans from every background to reach for the stars and beyond.
Our nation is forever indebted to inspiring artists like Nichelle Nichols, who show us a future where unity, dignity, and respect are cornerstones of every society.

Nichols son said that services will be private for family members and her closest friends.

In 2008 the actress at a news conference, coordinated by the filmmakers of the motion picture “TRU LOVED,” in honor of the more than 900 students at Los Angeles’ Miguel Contreras Learning Complex’s School of Social Justice who participated in the GLSEN Day of Silence.

Nichelle Nichols speaks on LGBTQ rights:

Her fellow castmate and life long friend, openly Out actor George Takei shared his sadness on hearing of Nichols’ passing on Twitter:

From the September 2016 edition of the Smithsonian Channel: “Star Trek’s decision to cast Nichelle Nichols, an African American woman, as major character on the show was an almost unheard-of move in 1966. But for black women all over the country, it redefined the notions of what was possible.”

Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols on Uhura’s Radical Impact:

Continue Reading

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade