On that Sunday in 1968 when Troy Perry borrowed a minister's robe and started a church for gays in his living room, the world was a very different place.
Perry's Metropolitan Community Churches was then a lone spiritual refuge for openly gay Christians, an idea so far from the mainstream that the founders were often chased from places where they tried to worship. Four decades later, some of the most historically important American denominations, which had routinely expelled gays and lesbians, are welcoming them instead.
MCC now has a presence in dozens of U.S. states as well as overseas, reporting a total membership of more than 240 congregations and ministries. But as acceptance of same-sex relationships grows -- gay and lesbian clergy in many Protestant traditions no longer have to hide their partners or lose their careers, and Christians can often worship openly with their same-gender spouses in the mainline Protestant churches where they were raised -- the fellowship is at a crossroads.
Is a gay-centered Christian church needed anymore?
"There are many more options than there used to be," said the Rev. Nancy Wilson, moderator, or leader, of the Metropolitan Community Churches. "But there is not a mass exodus."
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The church today is a bit more diverse. MCC pastors say they see a growing number of straight friends and relatives of gays and lesbians among their new congregants, along with heterosexual parents who want their children raised in a gay-affirming environment. While some MCC congregations haven't changed much over the decades, Wilson said, many are emphasizing a broad social justice agenda including serving the homeless and poor.
"We don't have a rainbow flag on our website, nor do we have it on our building," said the Rev. Dan Koeshall, senior pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church of San Diego, which draws about 220 people for Sunday services.
"It wasn't a decision that caused any controversy or split. It's just been moving in that direction. We know that our target audience is the LGBT community. But we're also attracting people who are saying, ‘Yes, I stand in solidarity with you and I want to be part of this."'
Meanwhile, Carys Mills' Toronto Star article "Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne thanks historic gay-positive church" takes a look at how Kathleen Wynne, Ontario's premier, took solace from the church in Toronto when she was coming out.
Premier Kathleen Wynne thanked a historic Toronto church Sunday for being a place of refuge when she was coming out in the 1990s.
“I can remember the feeling of, this is a place that’s going to give me solace and strength,” Wynne, whose premiership has made history, told the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, where the country’s first gay marriages were performed.
After a standing ovation, Wynne explained how when she was coming out, she would sometimes “sneak” from North Toronto to the church near Gerrard St. E. and Logan Ave. Back when her kids were young, she and her partner, Jane Rounthwaite, would go to some evening services there, Wynne said, thanking the congregation for the “strength” it gave them.
“There was lots of turmoil in that coming out; it was not easy to do that. Jane had known her whole life that she was a lesbian and I had not known until I was 37,” said an emotional Wynne, getting laughs when she called herself a “slow learner.”