If you had told me, just six months ago, that I would be spending a lot of time this year plugging the idea that there is a real need for a church movement that openly welcomes homosexuals, I would have laughed. Right now there are a lot of people laughing at me, plus a few who are quite hostile, but there are plenty more who are sympathetic and helpful.
How did I come to change my mind? In February this year I was in Los Angeles, and one Sunday afternoon a chance remark to a friend that I’d like to hear the Reverend Troy Perry preach resulted in us both going along to the Metropolitan Community Church. Like many others before us. we had read sensational press articles and so we went along out of curiosity, quite prepared to snigger and perhaps to sneer at this latest eccentric religious cult from California.
The church building is quite large, and was quite full by the start of the service. My estimate was a congregation of some 400, but I have learned that it must have been nearer 800. We were welcomed by those around us, as I believe is customary in America, and were struck by the full cross section of the public represented there: all ages, all (well, nearly) colours, male and female, gay and straight, affluent and not-so-well-off, couples and singles. I understand that 20% or more of the members of the church are sympathetic straights. As a badly lapsed, middle of the road member of the Church of England, I found the evangelical flavour of the service strange and it took me some time to warm up and feel part of things. A good stirring sermon on the Prodigal Son, and by the end of the service I was feeling for the first time in my life that here was a church that I could really feel at home with, and that homosexuality and Christianity are wholly compatible.
A couple of weekends later I was in Washington D.C., and went along to the church there, a smaller and fairly recently started branch of some forty or so members. Although I was a complete stranger to everyone there I was welcomed as a friend, and I now know that I need never feel lonely in any American city where there is a branch of the Metropolitan Community Church. This, for a start, is a lot more than can be said for going on tour with a guide to gay bars! One can feel just as much frozen hostility in American gay bars as one can over here.
So, really, I must in all honesty say that it’s as much the actively friendly social side of things as the realisation that I have a religious side to my nature after all that has warmed me to the whole idea of a church movement aimed at gays. I’ve read what I can about the Metropolitan Community Church, and found a lively organisation centred on Christian worship and charity, with a whole range of social activity, welfare work, counselling, prison visiting, law reform, non-violent anti-discrimination pressuring, all integral parts of the movement.
It is not my purpose in this article to do an exclusive advertising and selling job on the MCC. I’ve been a church drop-out for a good many years, and it’s only since I came back from the States all fired with enthusiasm that I’ve started taking an interest in church matters relating to the homosexual and meeting churchmen.
I have learned for the first time how very many ministers and clergy are actively interested in the homosexual and his problems. I keep hearing that there is no need for yet another sect of Christianity in these days of ecumenical change, and that it can all be handled very nicely .thank you, by the existing churches. Well, perhaps it can but I need to be convinced. St Paul said that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Those who are outside the church, like myself, need to see for themselves that the churches care and that they welcome homosexuals without a lot of static about a fact of our natures over which we have no control. If the churches start doing something-instead of just talking about it, jf they get out into the streets and trie bars and show us that they really have something to offer, only then will I agree that there may be no need for the MCC to start up in Britain.
Meanwhile, the Revd Troy Perry is going to be visiting London for a few days from about 20th to 26th September. He will be talking to an open meeting in the Holborn Assembly Hall, thanks to CHF, at 8pm on Friday 22nd September. Some friends and I are trying to arrange other engagements, including press coverage, and I hope you will get in touch with me or keep an eye open for further news. He has four years of campaigning in America, and I know that we can all learn something from his experiences. Don’t ask me about the MCC and the work it is doing in the States, ask him. All he is asking is that you come along and listen to what he has to say with an open mind.