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When queer people first come out of the closet, they often find themselves seeking a faith tradition that ties them to the practices in which they were raised but that also welcomes them as LGBTQ. It might seem counterintuitive, considering how antagonistic religious organizations have historically been. But into the void created by religious animus stepped the Metropolitan Community Church, celebrating 49 years of service this month.
Humble Beginnings of the Metropolitan Community Church
It was on Oct. 6, 1968, that Troy Perry first gathered a congregation in his Huntington Park, California, living room. Perry had been defrocked a few years prior by a homophobic Pentecostal organization, and for his first few services he played phonograph records of religious music.
Initial worshippers found the group through ads in The Advocate, then one of the only venues in which gay people could find each other. And within a year, there were enough people that they moved out of Perry’s home and into a series of clubs, auditoriums, theaters, and churches.
Almost immediately, queer people around the country contacted Perry to express an interest in establishing similar organizations in their cities. They held a General Conference in 1970 and established contacts from Los Angeles to Phoenix to Chicago to Florida. Today, the MCC maintains chapters in two dozen countries.
Other ministers — both queer and allies — soon became aware of Perry’s flock, and he worked alongside established religious community members like Reverend Richard Ploen to grow the MCC’s outreach. Ploen was a former missionary and lent his expertise to proselytizing to a generally skeptical public.
A Broad Mission
The MCC isn’t just a civic organization. It operates just as many other religious organizations do, providing regular rituals and adhering to familiar Christian texts. But there’s also a focus on community engagement and social justice, and leaders are particularly dedicated to equality for LGBT people.
In fact, the church performed its first wedding ceremony for a same-sex couple just one year after it was founded, in 1969. The ceremony had no legal recognition, of course, but it was among the first such efforts documented in the country. MCC also welcomes women as ministers.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the organization. One of their first places of worship was a building on South Union Avenue that suspiciously burned down after two years. More recently, between 2003 and 2006, a schism fragmented a chapter in Dallas, where some members felt that the focus on LGBT issues alienated potential members. (About 20% of their membership identifies as heterosexual, according to the church.)
The Metropolitan Community Church Is Still Growing
But throughout, MCC has kept its focus on welcoming queer people who need religious experiences. They’ve deliberately opened their doors as wide as possible — for example, by making communion open to all. They also incorporate teachings from various Christian faiths, making their practices familiar to as many people as possible.
Religion isn’t for everyone — particularly when it comes to LGBTQ people, many of whom have first-hand experience with the cruelty wielded by religions against sexual minorities. But for those people who find that the absence of faith leaves a hole in their lives, MCC has been there for a half-century — and will surely continue to provide relief for many more decades to come.