Tuesday, May 25, 2010

In Praise of Sunshine Cathedral

I am intensely aware that no one can live a life of faith in isolation. As the poet John Dunne, beautifully expressed it, "No man is an island. Every man is part of the mainland!"

No man is an island entire of itself; every man

is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

any man's death diminishes me,

because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom

the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

The essence of true Christian faith is to be part of a loving community of faith. I was forced out of my original community of faith, the Roman Catholic Church, by its homophobia. Then I was expelled from my community of choice, the Society of Jesus, by the present pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation of the Faith, because of my theological writings in defense of GLBT people. I will remain a member of the Catholic community to my dying day. And I will continue to work closely with Dignity, the Catholic GLBT defense group, to bring about reform of the Catholic church.

But in the meantime I found myself hungering and thirsting for a viable support community based in Christian love. As I traveled around the country on my several book tours I found that community within the context of Metropolitan Community Churches, a community of Churches founded by Troy Perry with the purpose of forming communities that expressly included in all the outcasts of other churches, especially the LBGT community.

I first met Troy in Los Angeles on my first book tour with my book, The Church and the Homosexual, in 1976. Troy contacted me at my hotel and invited me to lunch. He offered me his full coopration in my effort to bring about a reform of the Catholic Church and opened up the pulpit of MCC chuches to me. I still have fond memories of my first visit to an MCC church. It was to Elder Jim Mitlski's church. Jim was pastor at the MCC church on Castro Street in San Francisco. Jim had begun his ministry to GLBT people while a graduate student at Columbia by helping me found Dignity in New York City. Jim is presently pastor at New Spirit Church on the campus of Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley (where my archives are available). Charlie and I were moved to tears when, for the first time, we saw gay and lesbian couples going to communion in pairs and having their relationship lifted up in prayer by the celebrant.

This was the time when the AIDS crisis was in full bloom. I was profound impressed by folk singer Randa McNamara who sang Pete Seeger's song, "Old Devil Time" with passion.

Old devil time, I'm goin' to fool you now!

Old devil time, you'd like to bring me down!

When I'm feeling low, my lovers gather 'round

And help me rise to fight you one more time!

Old devil fear, you with your icy hands,

Old devil fear, you'd like to freeze me cold!

When I'm sore afraid, my lovers gather 'round

And help me rise to fight you one more time!

Old devil pain, you often pinned me down,

You thought I'd cry, and beg you for the end

But at that very time, my lovers gather 'round

And help me rise to fight you one more time!

Old devil hate, I knew you long ago,

Then I found out the poison in your breath.

Now when we hear your lies, my lovers gather 'round

And help me rise to fight you one more time!

No storm nor fire can ever beat us down,

No wind that blows but carries us further on.

And you who fear, oh lovers, gather 'round

And we can rise and sing it one more time!

(Words and Music by Pete Seeger (1969)) 1969, 1970 by Fall River Music, Inc. & Sigma Productions, Inc.)

I was also greatly impressed by the pastoral work and preaching of Pat Baumgartner at the MCC church in New York City as well as her missonary work in the far east. I was also delighted to be able to do some workshops with Nancy Wilson, Troy's extremely competent successor as Moderator of MCC.

In 2001, health problems made it necessary to leave New York and seek out a home in a warmer climate. Charlie and I came to Fort Lauderdale to see if that was the right place for us. We went on Sunday to services at Sunshine Cathedral. Grant Ford, the pastor at that time, gave us a very warm welcome to the Sunshine community. We instantly fell in love with the Church and our affection has grown stronger over the years.

Presently, under the leadership of Rev. Durrell Watkins, the Cathedral is one of the most aesthetically beautiful churches in South Florida. Close to one thousand parishoners gather every Sunday. The quality of the preaching is extraordinary.

Sunshine Cathedral is like an oasis in the desert. It presents a progressive, positive and practical form of Christianity. The emphasis is not on orthodoxy; people of any faith tradition are welcome. Positively the emphasis at Sunshine is on orthopraxis. The church urges all its members to be the most loving and compassionate people they can be, open to the Holy Spirit, seeking to be imitators of Christ. The spirit of love in the community is palpable. There are outreaches to the poor (Sunshine is the primary source of food for local food pantries). There are prison ministries, ministries to retirement homes, a top rate consulting service for the poor, a daycare center for elderly LBGT people, a prayer ministry, ministry to the sick and those in the hospital.

In an op-ed column in today's New York Times entitled "Many Faiths, One Truth", the Dalai Lama recalled a conversation with Thomas Merton shortly before his untimely death. They agreed that the focus on compassion is a strong unifying thread among all the major faiths. This focus on compassion I like to refer to as the Church of the Holy Spirit. The focus on compassion found in Sunshine Cathedral has the potential to open the door to harmony and unified action in all the world's great religious tradition.

The Dalai Lama ends his op-ed with these words:

Harmony among the major faiths has beome an essentual ingredient of peaceful coexistence in our world. From this perspective, mutual understanding among these traditions is not merely the business of religious believers - it matters for the welfare of humanity as a whole.

I thank God daily for the existence of the community of compassion that exists at Sunshine Cahedral.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you! I was also moved by Randa singing "Old Devil Time" at MCC-SF... and by Rev. Pat Bumgardner's example, and of course by the immortal words of John Donne.

    I just added your blog to the list of favorites at my "Jesus in Love Blog."