St. Petersburg – Stephen Graumlich, introducing The Rev. Elder Dr. Nancy L. Wilson, World Moderator of the Metropolitan Community Churches, to a full house at the 4TH Annual Pride Celebration at The Cathedral Church of St. Peter’s paused a moment. He reflected upon one sentence she shared with him 30 years ago, “We have to learn to fish out of the other side of the boat.”
At the time Graumlich was struggling to find a place where, as a gay man, he could reclaim his spiritual roots. And Wilson was a minister in a fledgling MCC church. Graumlich finally found his home in an inclusive Episcopalian church. Wilson now heads a church with 300 congregations in 37 countries. Her message of inclusion remains the same.
Meeting briefly before her talk, I couldn’t help but query, “How does it feel to be the keynote speaker in a place, which many believe is the bastion of tradition?” Her response was quick. “We at MCC, wanted to build a faith-based community a little quicker. Yet Episcopalians in this country have always been in the forefront of social justice issues.” It may have taken a little longer, but today both churches bless same-sex marriages.
That Wilson spoke at St. Peter’s on the eve of an important Supreme Court decision related to same-sex marriages is in itself historic. In the second year of its existence MCC founder Troy Perry sued the state of California in 1970 for the right to marry his partner. He lost that case; but began what has become a worldwide debate. Within days of same-sex marriages becoming legal in Florida this year, The Cathedral blessed its first same-sex couples in marriage.
Wilson, as World Moderator, travels a lot. She talked about a young gay man in Romania who had been told to burn himself by his priest, asking tearfully “Is there a God who can truly love me?” She shared the story of the Blessed Minority Church in Hong Kong, which fought for its existence—and won—in the Chinese courts. MCC, the United Church of Christ and the Canadian Anglican Church run a Rainbow Railroad for those who flee for their lives from countries such as Uganda, Jamaica, Egypt and Iraq where being gay is punishable by death. They are re-settled in Canada in order to continue working for justice in their home countries.
Asked about the perceived decline of interest in organized religion, Wilson said someone stating they are ‘spiritual’ is simply a code for ‘I’m alienated’. People belong only to communities they can trust. Inclusion is central to trust.
“We are where are today because people came out. Coming out is about healing. We now have to become the moral agents who stand at the intersection of faith and civil rights. The debate isn’t about LGBTQ people versus the church; but whether we, as LGBTQ people are seen bringing justice and hope into the moral arc of the universe.”