29 October 2019
October has been quite the month. It was real delight to attend the CUSEN Network Gathering in Dayton, Ohio, USA, at the beginning of the month. (CUSEN stands for Central United States East Network). I have chosen to attend network gatherings so that I can meet MCCers from as many different churches as possible during my first year as Moderator. Eternal Joy MCC hosted the event, with amazing food (including a traditional English breakfast), great workshops, and wonderful worship.
It was really important to me, after all the emotion and grandeur of General Conference, to touch base once again with who we are as MCC - on the ground, in the community, in the everyday, and so I funded this trip myself. It was so inspiring and moving to hear the stories of people at the network gathering, as they shared their joys, their challenges, and their hopes. Ordinary people, are transforming their own lives and the lives of those around them in extraordinary ways, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
From Dayton, Orgena and I flew to Washington, DC, to be witness to and part of a truly historic occasion. In a very inspiring worship service on Sunday morning at MCCDC, I was humbled to read the Declaration from the Mayor of Washington to Reverend Troy Perry, acknowledging his life and ministry, and his contribution to LGBT rights around the world. Several of us accompanied Rev. Perry and his husband, Phillip DeBlieck, to the Smithsonian Institution, as he presented artefacts to be included in the National Museum of American History. Rev. Perry’s copy of the Book of Common Prayer, with well thumbed pages and handwritten notes, his sermon book and many other items from MCC’s story will now be cherished and preserved, with as much care and reverence as possessions belonging to Abraham Lincoln.
The curator responsible for accepting the MCC artefacts had selected a small display of items for us to see. Putting on white cotton gloves, so that the items would not be damaged by her touch, she explained the origin of each item and its significance for being included in the museum’s collection. For me, the most poignant moment was when she showed us a pair of leather sandals, still with soil ingrained in the soles. These belonged to Matthew Shepard, the gay teenager who was kidnapped, tied to a fence, severely beaten and left to die. The attack took place on 6 October 1998, and Matthew died of his injuries a few days later, a life stolen by vicious homophobic violence. The ministry of MCC will still be needed while ever there are empty sandals like these.
Afterwards, at lunch, Phillip shared photos that he had taken of Troy at the Martin Luther King Jr memorial. In one photo, Troy stands, head bowed in prayer, giving thanks for the life of Dr. King. Two men, each committed to justice, to liberation for all, starting from the point of their own life experience and expanding their vision to include others. Troy shared some of his own observations of racism, growing up, and also when he served in the military. His passion for justice is not confined to LGBT rights.
Last week, I received 84 handwritten notes that shared some experiences of those who attended the MCC People of African Descent Conference in 2017. Participants at the conference, which was attended by both people of African and of European descent, were asked to share their experience and observation of racism within MCC. These 84 represent just some of the stories that people shared. Experiences of black women being talked over by white men. A woman of colour explaining why celebrating Kwanzaa is important to her and being told by a white congregant “That means nothing to me, and it doesn’t belong at the church." (Kwanzaa is a celebration to honour African heritage in African-American culture). A white board [of directors] member stating that they do not want a black pastor when discussing the pastoral search process. Only two African-American women in the congregation who look completely different from each other, and yet some people still get them confused.
These stories are as much part of MCC’s history, and present, as the artefacts presented to the Smithsonian. However, racism had no place in the vision that inspired Rev. Perry 51 years ago and certainly has no place in MCC’s future, any more than the homophobia that killed Matthew Shepard. We can do this differently. In several of the stories, people shared how they learned from the situations and stated how they would be willing to act differently if they were confronted with racism again. That opportunity is open to all of us. Most of us can describe a situation where we were silent when we should have spoken up for justice. When we look at our own behaviour and look at how we need to grow and change, we join with Rev. Perry and Dr. King in changing the world for the better.