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On a June summer’s evening in 1969, a gay Catholic priest and his partner heard a disturbance a few blocks away from their Greenwich Village home. It seems a routine police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar, had gone awry, and the queers didn’t go quietly. Riots continued for the next couple of days, and the gay liberation movement was born.
A year later, the priest and his partner prepared to participate in a parade to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots. A light beamed from the Oscar Wilde bookstore, and as if drawn by a beacon, a few faceless strangers shuffled out of the shadows to gather in awkward silence. By the time the sun first peeked over Brooklyn across the East River, a crowd of hundreds milled about the bookstore that had become the de facto headquarters for the audacious planners of Christopher Street Liberation Day to celebrate the first anniversary of Stonewall. At the time, they didn’t realize they would make history in the first Gay Pride march.
Father Robert Mary Clement, a priest associated with Old Catholicism, a non-Roman spinoff, donned his priestly garb, like he did every Sunday, while his partner prepared a placard and orange flyers that they would distribute at the parade. Father Clement’s presence in the parade garnered much attention, especially by the press and the picture-takers, second only to the drag queens; after all, he marched as an openly-gay priest, in collar and cassock, carrying the banner, “Gay People This Is Your Church.” Meanwhile, his partner distributed their colored fliers inviting queers to attend The Church of the Beloved Disciple.
A few weeks later, the tiny congregation of the Church of the Beloved Disciple paid more than they could afford to rent the spacious sanctuary of Holy Apostles Episcopal church in lower Manhattan, but as the time drew near for the Sunday afternoon service, it appeared that their invitation to the Christopher Street marchers would go unheeded. Father Clement peeked out from the sacristy fifteen minutes before the start and there was no one there, but then:
Two o’clock, we opened the side sacristy door for our procession. We couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t just that every seat in the church was filled, the aisles were packed. That church, which would hold maybe six hundred plus in a squeeze, had over eight hundred people in it, and we don’t know how many people were turned away that day who couldn’t get in.
Because we had all the Protestants, the Orthodox, the Catholics. And on top of it all, you had, the most incredible thing, we had Jewish people, a lot of them. Because they wanted a home. Even though it was Christian, people were seeking God, they were seeking a relationship to the divine, and they would come to us because everyone else had rejected or turned them away. They had nowhere to go. [emphasis added]
In the early years of the decade of the ‘70s, the Church of the Beloved Disciple would be a safe haven for gays and lesbians of lower Manhattan. Father Clement and his partner would later relocate to California where Father Clement became an archbishop for an independent Catholic group, and he has remained active in the interfaith LGBT movement on the west coast.
This brief biographical sketch is merely a snippet, and Father Clement’s story receives greater treatment in Queer Clergy: A History of Gay and Lesbian Ministry in American Protestantism.
Queer Clergy recounts the journey toward full LGBT inclusion in the church, and readers will encounter many pilgrims along the way. As we countdown to the release of the book (now looking like the end of November), I will provide brief biographical sketches of some of the wayfarers who criss-cross the pages of the book.
Troy Perry was born to a family of bootleggers in the Florida panhandle, and he exhibited a youthful bent toward preaching. Perry became a Baptist preacher at age 15, married a preacher’s daughter at age 19 with whom he fathered two children, and was assigned as pastor to a Pentecostal Church in Santa Ana, California at age 22. Six years later he attempted suicide after he had been defrocked and divorced, and then life got interesting.
In October 1968, 8 months before the Stonewall riots of Greenwich Village marked the birth of the gay liberation movement, Perry held a worship service in his Los Angeles home for members of his gay community. Twelve persons dared to show up. They sang. They read Scripture. They prayed. Perry preached. They shed tears as they shared bread and wine.
That was the first worship service of what became the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) movement with hundreds of predominantly gay congregations popping up around the country and around the world in what would become the first welcoming church for gays and lesbians at a time that the rest of Christendom, including the mainline, Protestant denominations, remained hostile.
In the early years, the MCC survived several arsonist fires, including a horrendous tragedy in New Orleans that claimed the lives of 32 persons. By the time of Perry’s retirement in 2005, the MCC had grown to over 250 congregations in 26 countries with 43,000 members.
Of course, the book goes into greater detail.
Last week, I read my Queer Clergy manuscript for the umpteenth time. As I tell my wife, sometimes I really like it and other times I think it is fluff. This latest re-reading of the manuscript marked up by Pilgrim Press copy editor, Kris Firth, was positive. Perhaps it was her editorial feedback:
I applaud you on your scholarship, writing, and the scope of the material, but also on the excellent condition of the manuscript. It’s obvious that you have had editorial review prior to submission.
Actually, the MS hadn’t been edited previously, except by me, but I confess to nit-picking scrupulosity. In any case, her suggested edits are now in place, and the “page proofs” will be available for final review soon. Galley copies are in the hands of potential reviewers, and I wait, mindful of my days as a trial attorney, sucking in a long, deep breath as the jury shuffled out of the courtroom to begin deliberations.
I recently finished reading Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. I recommend it highly to those who want to know more about cancer.
It’s a long and challenging read, but it’s worth it. The main thing I learned: cancer is a many-headed hydra. Each type of cancer is a different disease that requires a different type of treatment.
The rich, the well-connected, the privileged, and the powerful have given themselves the society that they deserve. The rest of us deserve better.
On November 22nd, all of the members of Norcoh met for their second programming meeting. These cards with simple but effective drawings helped express their hopes, dreams, and goals for the neighborhood.
The cohousing design discussion on November 5, 2009, was well-attended and lively conversation sprouted afterward. Attendees included ages from very young to retirement-age, which is a perfect match for our goals for our community.
In February, we will be offering a Community Ed course in four sessions for those who would like more information. Also, stay tuned to this blog for more opportunities to engage!