Not A ‘Gay Church’

An Imaginary Conversation About the Fellowship In Christ The Liberator
(With apologies to the Brook Street Bureau girls!)

What exactly is this Fellowship? – It is an ecumenical Christian community, open to all, but with a special outreach to and concern for the gay community.

What ‘gay community’? – Well, perhaps it is a bit euphemistic to talk about a gay community, since it holds together only in the very loosest sense, but that is to a large extent true of the community generally. Can we settle on ‘gay people’?

You mean Christian gays? — No. FCL is concerned for all gay people, even if they do not believe in God in Christ. We are all children of our Father and our welcome is to everyone, gay or straight, Christian or non-Christian.

But you are a Gay Church? – No, we are not. Anyway, what does that phrase mean?

Alright then, a gay fellowship. – Not even that. We are a Christian Fellowship, remember?

I mean everyone in the Fellowship is gay. — Not even that, so far as I am aware. When someone comes to join with us in worship, we do not ask: “Are you a homosexual?” It’s irrelevant. If someone wishes to worship God with us, their sexual orientation just does not matter.

But isn’t this true of ordinary churches? – In some senses, yes, but many people, especially gays, feel that they must conceal some of the most essential facets of their personalities in Churches which are heterosexually-orientated and they seldom receive pastoral care and guidance that they can actually relate to. Also the public condemnation of homosexuals which persists in ‘ordinary Churches’ (even if this differs from the private attitudes of individual clergymen) often makes the Christian gays feel that the Church has rejected them. We welcome those who feel rejected.

Does the Church really reject them? – It’s arguable. I don’t think that it does in a positive way … seldom would any clergyman seriously say ‘Never darken our doorstep again’. The “rejection” is a bit more subtle than that. In any case, whether the rejection is real or imaginary is immaterial. If it is imaginary, but the Christian gay stops going to Church because of it, that rejection has become, by default, very real.

So you don’t want to attract gays from other Churches? — That is not our aim. If any Christian is happy in his or her congregation, we should not wish to interfere: we deliberately chose the time of our regular Sunday service so that no one would have to choose “either … or …” If someone does transfer their ‘allegiance’ to the Fellowship from another Christian community, it suggests that that community has failed in some way and the transfer is sad for that Church, but equally it is a happy occasion, if, with the Fellowship, that person can worship God more fully and completely. But our main aim is to provide the opportunity for the “rejected” Christian, gay or otherwise, to join us and worship God completely, freely, openly, as he or she is, not as society or even the Church might like them to be.

But you don’t call yourselves a Church. — If you look up ‘church’ in a dictionary, you’ll find that the difference between ‘church’ and ‘fellowship’ is not very much. However, some people are particularly sensitive about schisms and we respect their opinions (even if we don’t share them), so we decided not to aggravate them more than was unavoidable by calling ourselves a Fellowship rather than a Church.

“Schism”. A split. Haven’t you done just that? – No. There is only one Christian Church, with many many branches, each catering for the needs of its particular congregation. No one seems to get worried about the fact that a church in say rural Italy or France or for that matter England, is very different in flavour from a church in a metropolis such as London. The needs of the congregation differ, so, within the framework of the Christian faith, the churches differ. In just the same way, the Fellowship caters for the needs of its congregations. To talk of schism is illogical.

You talked of not aggravating people. Are you afraid of what people think or say? – Not afraid, but we have no wish to make enemies. We prefer to remain linked in the love of God with all Christian people and in friendship with all men and women of goodwill. Many people, especially clergymen, who oppose FCL are nevertheless praying for its success if it does have a place in this society and in God’s plan. We are grateful for their prayers.

You are talking about gay clergymen? — I have no idea of the sexual orientation of many of them, although if one really communicates with people, one may become aware of their orientation. But aren’t you falling into the trap that the Church has so often fallen into? Classifying people? We are Christians (those of us who believe in God in Christ) before we are gay or straight. We are all our Father’s children and welcome in His house and at His table.

Do you really believe a homosexual can be a Christian? – For Heaven’s sake, why not? Surely not because St Paul had a hype about the permissiveness of Greek cities in the first century AD or because about three millenia ago the Jews were anxious to ban anything that might interfere with the propagation of the race? Can’t we live in the 20th Century? And anyway, what has one’s sexual orientation got to do with one’s faith and beliefs?

But aren’t homosexual acts sinful in the eyes of the Church? — Some parts of the Church are of the opinion that they are, but I prefer to be guided by the Gospel. If homosexual or any other acts are in the context of loving and caring for the other person (which is the core of the Christian message), then those acts cannot seriously be held to be sinful.

To get back to FCL. How did it start? – A few of us saw the response to the visit of the Revd Troy Perry, which was reported in GN 10, and we became even more convinced that the Metropolitan Community Church or something like it was very much needed in Britain. That ‘something’ became the Fellowship.

How does FCL work? – Well, if you mean in terms of government, our basic principle is that the Members decide what goes in FCL, although in these early days (our foundation date was 1 October 1972), much of the impetus comes from the committee which is charged with the management of the day-to-day affairs of the Fellowship. However that committee takes account of what the Members feel.

How does one become a Member and what does it entail? — One simply says that one wants to enrol … simple as that. As well as being Christian, members are expected to uphold the general principle of FCL and to commit themselves to that principle. We hope, although it could not be in any way ‘compulsory’, that Members will covenant to pay regular sums to the Fellowship, depending on what they can afford. This gives FCL an income out of which it may be able to pay, among other things, a stipend to our Minister.

Who is your Minister? – The name of our Minister is known to many people, not just Members, but for important professional and domestic reasons, we prefer him to remain un-named publicly for the time being.

Doesn’t this anonymity make people a bit suspicious? – Perhaps it does, but, in all conscience, we must respect his wishes and the well-being of other people who are dependant on him.

Do I have to become a Member before I come to one of the services? — No, you only become a Member if you want to. Remember “A Christian community, open to all…” Anyone, everyone is welcome to join with us in our acts of worship. We hope, of course, that anyone who comes to our services will feel that they would like to become a Member, but it’s not in any way obligatory.

When and where are the services held? – Each Sunday at 8 pm. The services are at present held in a private house, so we cannot really publicise its address, but anyone can write to our Secretary (FCL, c/o 61 Earls Court Square, London SW5 9DG) or telephone our information number 01-603 9088 for full details.

Is FCL evangelistic? – Well, we aren’t going to do a ‘Billy Graham’ around all the CHE, GLF, Sappho, Challenge, etc, meetings, but it is inherent in the Christian faith that each of us should work to bring the light of the Love of God to all.

Does FCL have any connection with any of those organisations? — None whatsoever, except that, not surprisingly, some of our Members are also Members of gay organisations.

Collectively written by Members of
The Fellowship In Christ The Liberator

Men Only Marriage

HOUSTON, TEXAS: America’s first fully-legal gay marriage was performed by a minister of Troy Perry’s Metropolitan Community Church (see GN8) and it was something of an occasion because even London’s Evening Standard noticed it had happened and published a picture.

The Rev Richard Vincent, pastor of the MCC church in Dallas performed the ceremony for ex-high-school-football star Antonio Molina and William Ert, at the Harmony Chapel in Houston.

Antonio comes from Brownsville, Texas and William is a female impersonator who’s working Houston currently.

The two exchanged marriage vows and told the press that theirs was the first legal gay marriage in the USA.

After they’d exchanged rings and said: “with this ring I thee wed”, William lifted his white wedding veil above his face and they kissed.

Neither plans to have a sex change operation they told pressmen.

William, who wore white and a blonde wig for the wedding, said: “Why should I have anything removed or added when he’s marrying me for what I’ve got.

“I’m just like I was when my mother brought me into this world, and I don’t intend to change.”

The Gay Militant

19721001-01The Church Militant flew into London last week after a whistle-stop tour of Europe in the ample form of the Rev Troy Perry, the now-famous founder of the now-famous church for gays.

The Metropolitan Community Church, which Perry founded, is fast becoming known as a ‘gay church’ because Troy Perry and the pastors at the church’s 36 branches across the USA, from Hawaii to New York, will perform marriage ceremonies for gays.

19721001-04In an exclusive interview arranged with Gay News, Troy Perry said that even if he was gay and his church attracts gays back to church, the MCC is not a specifically gay church. He added: “We say gay is just as good as heterosexuality in the eyes of God. Neither is better, they are just equal.

“At the Los Angeles church about 60 per cent of the congregation is male homosexual, 20 per cent female homosexual, and the other 20 per cent heterosexual.

“But at our church in Long Beach, the proportion is about 50 per cent men to 50 per cent women.

“In Los Angeles the main Methodist church has seating for 33,000. They’re lucky to get just 300 in. Meanwhile we have standing room only at our main services on Sundays. So we must be giving people what they want.”

Troy Perry isn’t all talk though. He’s been married twice. First time around it was at the age of 19 to the attractive blonde daughter of a Pentecostal minister.

He says: “I come from the south of the USA, and there the attitude was ‘get yourself a good girl, and that will sort you out’ if you thought you were gay. It doesn’t work.”

The marriage split up when he told her he was gay and she got a court order to stop him seeing their children both of them boys.

His second marriage was in January this year to a Roller Derby star, Steve Jordan.

Troy happily describes him: “He’s just 5 ft 8 in tall, 23, Mexican-American and beautiful. We are very happy.”

The gay marriages the MCC performs have attracted most attention to the sect. But the church has strict rules about the gays it will marry. Troy Perry says: “To get married they have to have been together for at least six months – usually they have been living together for three years. Sometimes a couple who have been living together for up to 25 years want to get married.”

Are gay marriages happy? Troy Perry says: “Out of the 200 ceremonies that I have personally performed, only about four or five couples have separated.”

Are they legal? “In California the law does not say that one person who is to be married must be a man and the other a woman. So far no-one has tried to get a divorce, so we don’t know how the courts would treat the marriages. ”

Troy Perry does not see his church’s work ending at the church door. In fact, he’s arranged several gay demos in the Bay Area.

He remembers the battle of Barney’s Beanery. He says: ‘There used to be a sign in the window – ‘Faggots Stay Out’.”

“We found society never expected gays to become militant, so we got 300 gays down to Barney’s Beanery. Half of them had to take over a stool at the bar, order one drink and then sit over it all night. The other half had to go into the restaurant section and take over tables. They ordered a coffee and just sat over it all night.”

The management moved next and upped the price of a coffee to two dollars. So Troy Perry ordered a coffee, drank it. “Then I went to the check-out and refused to pay. The owner called the police. When they arrived they took one look at my collar and took the owner in the back room. They suggested it wasn’t such a good idea to bring a court case against a priest. The police said he was losing business and losing money, so why didn’t he take that sign down?

The sign came down pretty soon. It’s hanging in our kitchen now.”

He says he knew he was gay from the age of five. “I used to go to kiddies’ matinees at the movies in Talahassee, Florida and Tarzan used to turn me on. That’s when I knew I was different from the rest of the boys.

When I told my mother I was gay she was absolutely hysterical.” But now his 56-year-old widowed mother lives with Steve and Troy. He says: “There are no hang-ups in our family.”

Historically: Troy Perry became licensed to preach at the Pentecostal Church at the age of 15. When he decided that he was gay, he told his immediate superior, who told him not to be so silly. When the bishop got to hear about the gay priest, he paid him a call and asked him to resign.

So the 33-year-old son of a bootlegger founded a church that would dispense God’s love to all. That’s why he called his book The Lord is My Shepherd And He Knows I’m Gay.

A Church for Gay People

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.

05-197208xx-5How 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.

Preaching to the inverted

04-197208XX 03The Rev. Troy Perry, founder of the Metropolitan Community Church, Los Angeles (largest gay Christian group in the USA), will be in London for a week from September 20th. Dates include an open meeting on Friday September 22nd at Holborn Assembly Hall, 7.30 for 8.00pm (Small admission charge at door to cover cost of hall). Watch this space for further happenings, including plans to publish Troy’s autobiography in Britain: ‘The Lord Is My Shepherd And He Knows I’m Gay’.