May 19, 2016 at 12:31 pm EST | by Joey DiGuglielmo
45 years of faith
MCC faith, gay news, Washington Blade

Rev. Cathy Alexander and Rev. Dwayne Johnson at Metropolitan Community Church of Washington. The church is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

MCC-DC 45th anniversary gala dinner/dance
 

Saturday, May 21
 

National Press Club
 

529 14th St., N.W.
 

6:30-10:30 p.m.
 

$70
 

Attract Millennials! Keep long-time parishioners engaged! Embrace technology! But don’t alienate traditionalists! Demands on clergy in any church these days are demanding, but for traditionally LGBT churches, there are additional factors.

“We’re human, we have ups and downs and highs and lows just like everybody else,” says Rev. Cathy Alexander, associate pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, the city’s oldest and largest mostly LGBT church which is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year with a series of events. “I try to make sure I minister from a place of abundance and overflowing rather than need. For me, it’s super encouraging when I see spiritual light in somebody’s eyes.”

The year-long celebration culminates this weekend with a dinner and dance Saturday night at the National Press Club in which senior pastor Rev. Dwayne Johnson says members are “planning to eat and dance the night away.” On Sunday, May 22, Rev. Candace Shultis, who was on staff at MCC-D.C. from 1983-2007, will return to preach at the 9 and 11 a.m. services. Long-time member Cecelia Hayden Smith coordinated a history project in which over the last 45 days, people from the church’s past have shared their testimonies at mccdc.com and in daily e-blasts to the congregation.

Known colloquially as MCC-D.C., the church is part of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, a large denomination with a special ministry to LGBT believers. The D.C. church’s roots go back to 1970 when a group started meeting as Community Church of Washington. The church was chartered as an MCC church on May 11, 1971. Membership peaked around the turn of the millennium when it wasn’t uncommon for 500 or more people to come through the doors on an average Sunday.

But with most mainline protestant denominations in Washington now welcoming gays, attendance at MCC-D.C. has waned with average Sunday attendance hovering around 210.

Johnson says this is not necessarily a bad thing.

“Part of our early mission was to change society, to transform the world and ourselves and MCC accomplished that on many levels,” Johnson says. “Yes, more churches are welcoming now but that’s not a loss for us. That speaks to the power of our message and the work we’ve done. We applaud other churches who make it possible for more people to find love and God, so all of that is good. But yes, it does make our job a different challenge.”

Other challenges range from MCC-specific matters such as parking issues, street closings for major city events and marathons often held on Sunday mornings, a maturing membership base and more to issues common to churches of all kinds — engaging Millennials and influencing visitors who approach church membership with a consumer mentality. In 2010-2012 as same-sex marriage became increasingly available, Johnson says there were more weddings than he could humanly conduct without neglecting other aspects of ministry. There were often 50-60 a year held at the church then. It’s now tapered off to a more manageable 15-20 annually.

Johnson says the church will continue to meet needs if members there keep a few key points in mind.

“We’re conditioned culturally to be shoppers and consumers so people carry that mentality with them when they go to restaurants or wherever,” he says. “But it’s so important when people come here that they experience the presence of God and for there to be authenticity and integrity and for them to be spiritually grounded. It’s not a shopping experience. It’s a God experience.”

Joey DiGuglielmo is the Features Editor for the Washington Blade.

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