The Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC, more commonly known as the Metropolitan Community Church or MCC) is a religious denomination founded by Troy Perry in 1968 to serve the Gay community. Nominally Protestant, the MCC allows theological flexibility for each congregation. The MCC led the way as a LGBTQ folk movement giving Gay people access to congregations of faith and promoting religion-based activism.
Troy Perry (born 1940) immersed himself in Christianity at a young age while living in Florida, and was a Baptist preacher by the age of fifteen. He dropped out of high school, married in 1959, and fathered two children. In 1963, he was defrocked from his ministry at the Church of God Prophecy, a Pentecostal church in Santa Ana, California. His wife and children left him, and he lived a secular life as a Gay man for the next five years. After a suicide attempt triggered by a failed romance, and witnessing the unprovoked arrest of a friend whose crime was purchasing beers in a Gay bar, Perry felt that God had called him to minister to Gay people. He then created a new denomination: the Metropolitan Community Church. In October 1968, he held his first church service for twelve men and women in his living room. The first service held outside of Los Angeles was in the back room of a Gay bar in Orange County, California.
Perry wanted his church to be mainstream Trinitarian Christian, but open to whoever wanted to attend. From the first service onward, there had been Straight as well as Gay participants. Perry opened his liturgy, incorporating elements of Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, and Evangelical services.
Oppression, Inclusion, and Expansion
The first building to serve as an MCC-owned church was an old theater in central Los Angeles’ West Adams District. Not content with providing only church services, the pastor and congregation were politically active, and they received hate mail and threats. The year after it had opened, the church was set on fire, a pattern of arson that would be replicated as new congregations formed across the USA.
The following Sunday, a crowd of 1000 people gathered on 22nd Street for an open-air service. A Gay singing group was concerned that the presence of the media could get them in trouble, and requested screens to hide them as they sang. Perry and Willie Smith, his close friend and the MCC music director, would have none of it. Smith is reported to have told the group’s spokesperson, “Sissy, the closet done burned down!”
As MCC grew, so did its influence inspire others to start their own congregations. Carl Bean, a performer who sang the overtly Gay disco song, “I Was Born This Way” (1977), joined the MCC in Los Angeles in 1972, and started the Unity Fellowship of Christ Church for African American LGBTQ people in 1982, which in turn was the mother church for affiliated congregations in America.
MCC opened its facilities to non-Christians and non-Christian services. The Lesbian Wiccan community of the Susan B. Anthony Coven #1 met in the church’s social hall, and the growing number of Gay Jewish members led to the formation of a minyan (ten or more Jews gathered together to pray) and the creation of the Metropolitan Community Temple within the MCC, with Perry’s blessing. On the night that the Jewish group took on the name Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC, Hebrew: “House of New Life”), the church was burned. The Christian altar and the Jewish arc holding the Torah (that had survived the Nazis in Czechoslovakia) were not damaged. The Jewish congregation and scroll took refuge in the school building of the Leo Baeck Temple in West Los Angeles, and eventually were given membership in the Union of Reform Judaism. BCC would purchase its own synagogue in 1977.
Theology and Ritual
Although Christian in origin, there is a range of theological expression in the UFMCC from church to church. The fundamentalist-based Christian theology of the first MCC in Los Angeles has these statements as its first two tenets in its “Shared Statement of Beliefs”:
1. We believe in one triune God, omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient, of one substance and of three persons: God – our Parent-Creator; Jesus Christ, the only begotten son of God, God in flesh, human; and the Holy Spirit – God as our Sustainer.
2. We believe that the Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God, showing forth God to every person through the law and the prophets, and finally, completely and ultimately on earth in the being of Jesus Christ.
Theology is substantially modified for a more spiritually diverse congregation in the MCC Toronto, with “Bedrock Beliefs” such as the following:
[We believe] In a loving and good God, known by many names
There are many paths to God, one of them is Christianity
Jesus is our teacher, example, saviour, and friend
In terms of liturgical style, much depends on each congregation. Services can be charismatic in the manner of the Pentecostal Church; ordered in the ceremonial fashion of High Church Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox Christians; or, like the original MCC, the service may blend several styles.
The UFMCC has certain distinctive ritual protocols that reflect its eclectic blending of Christian denominations. One is the use of both wine and grape juice served during communion to fulfill both Catholic and Fundamentalist Christian sensibilities. Another is the singspiration, started the first year by Willie Smith, which is a series of hymns before the service that is part of many MCC congregation’s Sunday service. A third feature is done during communion, where the server embraces congregants and whispers a prayer for them.
MCC congregations may also continue the tradition of activism. In 2009, a coalition of MCC communities in north Texas put up billboards along a busy highway stating that Jesus never discriminated against Gays, Jesus affirmed a Gay couple (Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:1-10, the centurion and his servant), the intimacy of Naomi and Ruth was that of a marriage (Ruth 1:11-18), and David loved Jonathan more than he loved women (Second Samuel 1:26).
Faderman, Lillian and Stuart Timmons. Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lipstick Lesbians. New York: Basic, 2006.
Perry, Troy and Thomas Twicegood. Don’t Be Afraid Anymore: The Story of Reverend Troy Perry and the Metropolitan Community Churches. New York: St. Martin’s, 1992.