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UCC welcomes the Cathedral of Hope

Cathedral of Hope

Since the first of the year I’ve been watching the video feeds of Sunday services at the Cathedral of Hope, a Gay/Lesbian megachurch in Dallas. The services there are absolutely wonderful. I urge everyone with broadband to check them out here.

The Cathedral of Hope has just been accepted into America’s leading denomination for inclusion and justice, the United Church of Christ. That is a cause for rejoicing in heaven; more thoughts on this below.

What gets me about the worship at CoH is the music, especially the choir. For days now I haven’t been able to get this one song out of my head. They sing it at Communion, which they celebrate every week.

I actually tear up listening to that choir. They’re accompanied by the church’s own orchestra: strings, brass, woodwinds, drums. The sound quality online isn’t the greatest, so I bet they sound even better in person. But what is it about them that kills me every time?

They push two buttons in me. First is the fact that this sound is made by Gay people—by Gay Christians just like me. I identify with this choir. However we differ, their story is mine; I’ve never met them but my story is theirs.

I feel the same way when I hear a Gay or Lesbian chorus; maybe you’ve been to such a concert in your city. The musicianship is often amazing, but even more divine is how they blend together the consciousness of the singers, accompanists and audience. I’m an emotional guy; I find such performances thrilling. Put me near a GLBT marching band and I’ll probably start weeping in the street.

But these choruses and bands have a secular focus, while a Lesbigay church choir expresses the rest of me in our relationship with God.

I admit a conscious bias when I hear the Cathedral of Hope choir: I love the women but I wanna see and hear the men! I bet 90% of the men in the church feel the same way, and that 90% of the women half-wish the men would get the heck out and let the women sing!

Somehow that’s just natural, I think. We identify with our own gender; that’s the essence of Gayness. Our experience as Gay men is slightly, importantly different from the experience of Lesbians; that’s just a fact. I think that Gay men are more hated because we’re men, and that Gay women are more oppressed because they’re (also) women, so being Lesbian on top of being female is a double or triple whammy.

The other button the CoH choir pushes in me is their repertoire: it’s not at all like what I’m used to in the Episcopal Church. Music at CoH makes frequent small references to old-time (ghastly, sentimental) Protestant standards, then pushes ahead to contemporary pop inflections—the best available, as far as I can tell. This isn’t the stuff you hear on (anti-Gay) Christian radio, where every song talks about “I, I, I.” CoH sings with some theological and musical sophistication.

It gets a little showy at times, a little too show-bizzy for me; but that’s what works in a megachurch setting. I could do without the TV monitors in church, too, and without the pastors’ too-frequent injection of themselves into a service that “proper Episcopalians” think ought to be more objective. The pastors are wonderful people, but I’m not interested in their personalities; I’m interested in God. I wish they’d confine their own self-expression to the sermon. But they even manage to call attention to themselves during the Prayer of Consecration—in my view, a complete mistake. Each minister says it a little differently, always speaking spontaneously, and I’m not interested in their innovations, but in the Words of Institution spoken by Christ himself.

There are other practices I’d criticize too, and they’re hardly pointless details. But even so, it is obvious that God loves this congregation, that it’s doing a thousand things right, that it deserves to be the biggest Gay church in the world (and fourth-biggest in the UCC).

What they preach is a Gospel of inclusion. And that’s as revolutionary today as when they started 30-odd years ago as a tiny little outpost of the Metropolitan Community Church.

A few years ago they left MCC after some questions were raised about CoH’s financial management; how dare they extend health insurance to a PWA who wasn’t even an employee, just a full-time, 40-hour/week volunteer? (Sounds to me like a Christian thing to do, frankly.) MCC launched a big investigation, which CoH felt turned into a fishing expedition, so they voted 9-1 to disaffiliate, and a small group of dissenters left to form a new MCC/Dallas.

That CoH now has joined with a large, non-Gay, mainline denomination speaks volumes about CoH’s collective understanding of what it means to be the Church. “In Christ there is no east or west, no male or female, no slave or free,” no Gay or Straight.

Nearly every megachurch is independent, non-denominational. CoH could have gone that way too. But they didn’t; the Lord’s name be praised!

Churches, no matter how large, can accomplish more in mission by working together than they ever can do alone. Are you worried about genocide in Darfur? CoH has a much more potent witness on Capitol Hill, in the White House and the UN by being part of UCC than it would ever have by itself.

The same goes when Gay men are beheaded in Iran and Saudi Arabia; when girls are genitally mutilated in Africa.

The same goes in feeding the hungry: work together; join with others. Affiliate. Be enriched by the diversity inherent in the wider community of faith.

Kudos too must go to the Texas leaders of UCC for welcoming the queers; they didn’t have to, and years ago they wouldn’t have. But the entire church has been on a faith journey regarding LGBT issues, and now it’s come to a place where it can take and hold Gay hands. In Dallas, Texas!

What a blessing the Cathedral of Hope is. I’m not kidding, check out that choir.

Meanwhile, as the Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion fall victim to Republican warmongers intent on schism (that’s right, the very people who gave you the invasion of Iraq; see here), a new survey has just been released by the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership, which finds that growing churches are marked by four characteristics: contemporary worship; great location; good website; and the absence of conflict.

Cathedral of Hope has them all. (MCC even sent a minister to help bless the transition to the UCC, which was gracious on all sides.)

The Episcopal Church by and large does not have all four characteristics, just one or two. Most of our words are contemporary, but the music is classical, serious organ stuff. And of course we’re riven by conflict right now (though seldom on the parish level).

Most of our clergy consider websites an afterthought and do not have the skills to put them together; nor do they often delegate to people who do have expertise. We either have great websites or none at all.

We have some great locations and some lousy ones.

We have well-educated, sophisticated clergy who are often wonderful pastors and preachers—if you get through the door. Unfortunately they all think they’re theologians, and they’re not; besides, parishioners aren’t interested in theology, they want help for life’s problems and empowerment to minister to others. We don’t give them nearly enough of those two things.

As an Episcopalian, I’m jealous that the Cathedral of Hope has joined the United Church of Christ instead of us.

If I were the Presiding Bishop, I wouldn’t worry about the upcoming train wreck at the Primates’ Meeting in Tanzania; I’d ship every priest in the Church to Dallas and tell them not to come home until they’ve figured out church growth. The patterns are right there in the Cathedral of Hope.

And oh, those choirboys are fabulous!++

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