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By Rich Arenschieldt
Photo by Dalton DeHart
Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church, a bedrock for Houston’s LGBTQ people of faith, celebrates 45 years of ministry with several special events planned during the latter part of April. A gala on April 29 celebrates “45 Years of Love and Action” with a dinner, dancing, and an art auction. Sunday services will also celebrate past successes and future plans.
“On Sunday, April 23, we will remember our history and accomplishments,” says Rev. Troy Treash, Resurrection MCC’s senior pastor. “The following week’s gathering will be focused on our present and future plans. After services on the 30th, we will host a 1972-themed ‘all come’ free event.”
Rev. Vickey Gibbs, the church’s associate pastor and a member since 1981, shared recollections from Resurrection’s modest beginnings in the early ’70s. “The MCC denomination was formed in 1969 by a Los Angeles-area evangelical pastor. Houston’s first MCC church (and its 43 members) met in a rented bicycle shop on Waugh Drive. We started as [and still are] a ‘sanctuary movement’—a church where people can worship together in safety.”
“Our mission,” Treash says, “is to demonstrate God’s inclusive love to all people through Christ-like action. Our core beliefs center on social justice, spiritual transformation, community, and inclusiveness. These comprise our ethos; everything we do responds back to them.”
Given the church’s standing in the community and its thriving campus, it’s difficult to imagine that throughout its history, calamities rivaling those chronicled in the Book of Exodus have occurred at regular intervals. Unsurprisingly, adversity always seems to energize this community rather than debilitate it.
“We have been through fire, plague, and flood,” Rev. Gibbs says. “In 1979, the Ku Klux Klan arrived and threatened to destroy our building. They ignited a cross on our lawn, but under the fierce leadership of then-pastor Jeri Ann Harvey, the congregation protected the sanctuary from damage.
“We always experience unexpected results when confronted with challenges,” says Gibbs. “During [the early days of] HIV/AIDS we lost half of our members, and still our congregation coalesced. Gay men and lesbians came together, no longer merely worshipping side by side, but jointly ministering to those in crucial need. This was our experience with ‘plague,’ and much of what we did during those years informs our work now—caring for people, speaking out for the marginalized, protecting the oppressed. Our past experience provides present-day expertise.”
And then . . . there was “flood.” Due to Resurrection MCC’s proximity to White Oak Bayou, Tropical Storm Allison inundated the church with Noah-esque floodwaters.
“In 2001, we had only been in the building six months when the storm flooded our space with four feet of water, forcing us to move to the activity center located on higher ground.” Treash says. “But again, we were able to be blessed. During reconstruction, we reconfigured space to better meet our needs.”
Trials and tribulations have a way of energizing and steeling Resurrection’s ministry—a legacy that should prove to be helpful in the current political climate. “We are living in Jesus’ time,” Treash observes. “The Romans occupied and then marginalized the Jews, while the wealthy establishment simply wanted to maintain the status quo. The parallels are unmistakable: how do we address issues surrounding ‘empire,’ wealth, and power? What does it mean to live in culturally diverse times? How are we to be disciples? For answers, we must look at the way Jesus lived.”
“As a people concerned with equality, how do we travel together so that no individual is left behind?” Gibbs says. “The power structure today works by building wedges and dividing communities. We counter that through education ‘in community’ with one another. After the failure of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance [HERO] and the backlash against marriage equality, Resurrection increased its programming related to social justice.”
Treash encapsulates it thusly: “In a familiar parable, the [despised] Samaritan renders aid to a Jew who was beaten and left for dead. The Jew wakes up and says: ‘Who helped me?’ Similarly, we must continue to see each other as human—especially those whose views differ from our own. We can walk alongside each other. The next four years will be interesting.
“Resurrection MCC has been on a 45-year experiment of what ‘love and action’ looks like. We will continue doing this work, even more explicitly than in the past.”
Rich Arenschieldt is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.