Since St. John’s Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) — the first MCC in the Carolinas — set up shop in 1976, the face of LGBT faith institutions has continually grown. Decades later, nine MCC congregations dot the Carolinas map. Each are making in-roads among their surrounding communities and offering places of spiritual refuge for folks looking for safe, faithful harbors.
It has been a while since Q-Notes caught up with our friends at the Carolinas MCCs. We took the time to give each of them a call, and while we couldn’t get hold of all them, we were able to get updates on the life and times of many of the churches.
Like many other MCCs across the Carolinas, Imani finds itself in a state of transition.
“Things are shifting and changing everywhere,” says Rev. Phil Matthews, interim pastor.
He says the church is readying itself for an intense search process for a new senior pastor. He hopes it’ll get underway before the end of the year.
With membership holding steady over the past year, Matthews said funding and budgeting has remained on target. As such, the church is able to reach out to those in need. In June, the church raised $1,400 for HIV service organizations and other charity work.
The economy has taken its toll on almost all non-profits, including churches. But MCC Charleston pastor, Rev. Terri Stead says her congregation is doing well.
“We’re faring okay. We have faithful people who commit and continue to do so,” she says. “We’ve picked our budget a part and gotten rid of things we finally could get cut.”
Stead says an administrative assistant was let go and other programs were cut to meet the budget. “We haven’t had to anything drastic,” she adds.
Balancing the budget in times like these serves an extra reminder that folks are facing tough times. But it isn’t like this church needs that reminder. Their biggest ministry is a food bank open to anyone in the community.
Stead says that when she was elected in September 2007, the church was giving out 20 or so bags of food per month. Each bag contains 30 pounds of non-perishable foods like canned foods, rices, flour and sugar.
“By October 2008, we were giving out 70 bags per month,” she says. “In June, we gave out over 120 bags. People in the community are suffering and are in need.”
While the church can’t do a lot for the community monetarily, Stead says the congregation can give back in small ways like the food bank.
“I’m quite proud of what we’ve done and what we can do as we grow,” she says.
Perhaps the two biggest news pieces for Charlotte’s MCC congregation is the election of their new pastor and the impending sale of their church home. Rev. Catherine Houchins had served the congregation as interim pastor. On June 14, she was elected senior pastor with 100 percent of the congregation’s vote.
Houchins says it was a “God thing,” how it all came together. “It has been a tumultuous month for me personally, trying to figure out where I was going to be.”
The congregation is in the midst of selling their building on Eastway Dr. “We’ve had many people look through the building,” Houchins says. “When they find out it also includes 3.5 acres of property, that makes them a little overwhelmed. It is one thing to buy a church building and quite another to buy that many acres in Charlotte.”
She said the church has outgrown its sanctuary space, but have a lot of education space that goes unused. “The smarter thing,” when looking for a new building, she explains, “would be to have a building that fits our needs more appropriately.”
The church continues to operate a softball team in the local LGBT league and they’ve had a winning season so far. Houchins said the church is also continuing its ministry with House of Mercy, providing a dinner and fellowship with clients, residents and staff once per month. As this issue hits the streets, congregants will be heading off to Pittsburgh for their regional conference.
New Life MCC
As its sister church in Charlotte welcomes a new pastor, New Life is saying goodbye to longtime leader Dr. Tim Koch. His last Sunday was June 28. The congregation saw him off with a festive dinner on June 27 and a final, parting worship the following day.
“I’m going to law school in Arizona,” Koch informs. “So it is a transition of location and career and a number of other things.”
Koch has been the church’s senior pastor since 1996.
He said MCC holds a special place in his heart. “This is a uniquely important institution in the gay and lesbian community,” he says. “There aren’t that many LGBT institutions that exist across different cities, and this is important to people.”
New Life continues to support and reach out to various charities.
The Upstate Church
After an extended stay in Duncan, S.C., this Upstate MCC congregation is moving back into Greenville.
“The space is over double what we have right now,” says Rev. Randy Besta. “We’re moving back into ‘sacred space’ — an actual church sanctuary.”
Excited about the move, Besta says the church will gain new classroom space, a picnic area and playground. “We gain almost everything and give up so little,” he says.
They’ll be sharing space with Christ the King Lutheran Church, a progressive and LGBT-friendly congregation that’s had a presence in Greenville for 50 years.
The move is just one exciting new adventure being undertaken by the church. Besta says they are looking forward to partnering more with Sean’s Last Wish, the foundation started by Elke Kennedy, whose son Sean was killed an anti-gay attack in May 2007.
“We are moving beyond a primary focus on the LGBT community and are looking for the unchurched, the disenfranchised and whoever has not been welcome,” he says. “It doesn’t matter who you are are. We want you to know that you are welcome here.”
Their name change — from MCC of the Upstate to the Upstate Church — is a part of that new outreach. “MCC has been in the community for years, but sometimes it hasn’t always been positive,” he says. “The name change gives us a chance to talk to people who might have been upset with MCC in the past, without them immediately saying they aren’t interested in talking with us.
On July 19, the Upstate Church hosts a Community Welcome BBQ at their new sacred home,, 1925 Pelham Rd., in Greenville.
Q-Notes wasn’t able to get in touch with folks from a few Carolinas MCCs, but we wanted to give each of them a shout out. Here’s well wishes to the Asheville MCC church plant, St. John’s MCC in Raleigh, St. Jude’s in Wilmington and MCC Winston-Salem.
— For more on Metropolitan Community Churches, visit the website of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches at mccchurch.org.