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Social-Justice Champion

Rev. Vickey Gibbs’ ministry was marked by grace, patience, and action.

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Rev. Vickey Gibbs

Houston lost one of its most powerful pastoral voices last month when Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church (RMCC) Associate Pastor Vickey Gibbs passed away from COVID-19 complications on July 10. Gibbs is survived by her wife, RMCC gospel ensemble director Cassandra White, two children, and one grandchild.

Following her death, Gibbs’ story was covered by many national media outlets, including News Break and the New York Times. In an interview with CNN, White said she’ll miss Gibbs’ passion for social justice as well as her ability to whip up beautifully colorful breakfasts that they would share.

“Gibbs’ passion for social justice extended outside of the church, as well,” White says. “Vickey would try to call out racism in daily life, and participated in countless marches and events in Houston, even though she knew that she would get sick because of her lupus.”

RMCC Senior Pastor Troy Treash says he is determined to commemorate and celebrate his close friend and colleague’s life and work. Gibbs, who first visited the church when she was 18 years old, “poked her head in the door, looking to see if it was a ‘safe’ place,” Treash remembers. “She had come from a conservative Christian background and was skeptical. She must have felt comfortable, because she stayed with us until the end of her life. She loved this church.”

Prior to becoming an ordained minister five years ago, Gibbs was active in several RMCC ministries, lending her emotive voice to its musical life and her administrative skills to the entire organization. “She had a talent for recognizing needs and putting a plan in place to address them,” Treash says. “She planned, organized, and implemented. You always wanted her on your team because she made things happen.

“I was so fortunate to be part of several significant events in Vickey’s life,” Treash says. “I participated in her ordination service, I married Vickey and Cassandra in my office, as soon as it became legal to do so, and now I’m part of remembering and commemorating Vickey’s life.”

In addition to her work locally, Vickey had been employed by the national office of Metropolitan Community Churches. “She’s known around the world,” Treash says. “Many of the tributes that have been published are in Spanish and Portuguese. People remember the work that Vickey did when she was with the MCC denominational staff, working on social-justice issues.”

Gibbs’ friend Naiyolis Palomo, who currently works for the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, was struck by her pastor’s unshakable commitment to equality. “In the summer of 2018, when family separations began at the border, RMCC was one of the churches that stepped up to help the Resource Center with our mission.”

“Pastor Vickey was a true social-justice warrior,” Palomo says. “She worked tirelessly to advance human rights, and always found a way to help anybody who she encountered—something she accomplished with patience and love, without judgment.”

Palomo came to know Gibbs professionally and pastorally. “I was looking for a church, and visited RMCC on a Sunday when Vickey was preaching. Her message of love and affirmation resonated with me. Additionally, for me to see a Black, powerful lesbian as an associate pastor of a church was revelatory. I felt instantly at home.”

Treash recalls similar attributes. “Vickey felt like RMCC was moving into what she hoped it would be, especially with regard to our social-justice values. This was something she wanted the church ‘to live, fully and without hesitation.’ When asked if RMCC was political, she would always reply, ‘Yes. That’s the gospel.’ She and I were absolutely aligned in that respect.

“We are a large church, with members from a myriad of faith traditions and political backgrounds. That diversity and breadth means that there will always be those who disagree with certain expressed viewpoints,” Treash notes. “Vickey would often preach a sermon knowing that it would provoke a variety of responses. Some people would be upset, and they would want to talk with her—usually by inviting her to lunch. On those Sundays, Vickey, anticipating their conversations, would say, ‘I’m going to have some very interesting meals this week!’”

Gibbs had an unfathomable capacity for forgiveness. “After the Pulse nightclub shooting, RMCC hosted a community-wide service with almost 1,000 people in attendance,” Treash remembers. Fourty-nine candles were lit during the service, one for each victim. “Vicki then told everyone assembled that there was one more candle to light—for the shooter. She reminded us that he also needed to be included in our prayers. Vickey’s spiritual intensity was evident, even in the midst of that collective anger.”

Treash also remembers Gibbs confronting ongoing prejudice and brutality against those in her own African-American community. “Think back to when those first videotapes surfaced, evidencing the killing of unarmed Black men and the resulting unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, and other places. During that time, Vicki was often the person who welcomed the congregation each Sunday. There were days when we would find out about a new act of violence just before starting to worship, and sometimes between our two services. Vickey had to share that news. And still, she encouraged us to pray for all involved—victims and officers. She had to assure the congregation that even though ‘the Kingdom’ was not yet at hand, we had to keep striving for it. As those shootings kept happening, she called us to trust in God, even in the absence of love.” 

Vicki could motivate people to action both gently and abruptly. “She was full of grace, patience, and action.” Treash says. “She would meet you and love you where you were, but never leave you there. She would walk with you [spiritually], sometimes for a very long time, until you could take the necessary steps on your own.

“She encouraged me to remember this: everyone isn’t where you want them to be. Keep ‘in relationship’ with people, wherever they are on their spiritual path.”   

Even though Gibbs was able to remain calm amid chaos, there was always a sense of urgency surrounding her. “Vickey was diagnosed with lupus at a young age,” Treash explains. “Doctors told her she would only live to be 30. As a result, she worked doubly hard, believing she was always running out of time. This compelled her to have an impact and make a profound difference in the world. Vickey lived every day as if it might be her last.” 

The pastoral and personal bond between Gibbs and Treash was profound. “I’ll miss having someone who always understood what I was thinking,” Treash says. “Someone who breathed at the same time I did. Someone who knew when it was time to take a break for a taco and a margarita. 

“Whatever circumstances we confronted, we knew that, together, we could do what needed to be done.”

Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church will honor Rev. Vickey Gibbs with a virtual homegoing service on August 9. For more information about RMCC, visit resurrectionmcc.org.

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Rich Arenschieldt

Rich has written for OutSmart for more than 25 years, chronicling various events impacting Houston’s queer community. His areas of interest and influence include all aspects of HIV treatment and education as well as the milieu of creative endeavors Houston affords its citizenry, including the performing, visual and fine arts. Rich loves interviewing and discovering people, be they living, or, in his capacity as a member of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers, deceased.

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