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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Castro to Lose a Piece of Queer History When Metropolitan Community Church Closes

Posted By on Thu, Jan 8, 2015 at 8:19 AM

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“My God Thinks I’m Fabulous,” reads one of the sidewalk bricks outside of the Metropolitan Community Church on Eureka Street in the Castro. Along with many others that honor lost friends and family, its future is uncertain, because the church is officially up for sale.

Led by the openly gay Reverend Robert Shively, MCC-SF’s congregation voted in December to vacate and sell the building, which dates before the 1906 earthquake and is “beyond the maintenance stage,” according to the Bay Area Reporter. They’ll also be selling the adjacent four-unit apartment building at 138-140 Eureka, purchased as an investment in the 1990s. (While tenants have been known to complain about the noise on Sunday mornings, losing the Lord as their landlord does not bode well for their long-term housing security).
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The parish plans to vacate its modest, pink-and-purple-trimmed current home (which they’ve occupied since 1979) and share space with the First Congregational Church of San Francisco, another small, gay-friendly house of worship on Polk Street.

Because the church is zoned for residential and not commercial use, it can’t be used as a theater (it has hosted numerous readings and poetry slams for LitQuake and other events). The likeliest option is that it will be torn down and turned into housing, although demolition would require a permit. (MCC-SF isn’t the only height-of-AIDS-era Castro institution that’s vanishing, either. The building that currently houses Sullivan’s Funeral Home on Market Street is going to become housing, too.)

The BAR went into detail on the tenants’ situation and the parish’s future, but aside from parishioners’ anecdotal memories, failed to explain in depth why this particular church is so important, quite likely because this is something their core readership requires no reminder of.

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Castro resident Drew Bourn remembers that MCC’s pastoral approach was, shall we say, radical. Writing by email, he told me, “The church not only was decimated by AIDS and responded in a heartfelt and defiant manner through its activism and programming (as articulated, for example, in the theology that the Body of Christ has AIDS), but also was actively involved during that period in ministering to the needs of homeless queer youth in the Castro.”

Such radicalism was at the church’s very foundations. MCC-SF was founded in 1970, and began blessing same-sex unions the next year. In 1972, they changed the wording in the hymnals to be gender-neutral, and later began a “bar ministry” on Saturday nights, encouraging people to “bring a trick to church.” But it was during the AIDS era that MCC really shined, lending space rent-free to groups such as ACT-UP as early as 1983 and working with volunteers to care for people afflicted with the disease, irrespective of religious affiliation.

Regular attendance has fallen sharply since the heyday the '70s, when some 825 people packed an auditorium to hear the Rev. Troy D. Perry (“the Homosexual Community’s Own”) speak for Spiritual Renewal Day. So this move, subletting space from a congregation with even smaller weekly attendance, carries overtones of preparing to give a venerable institution a dignified death. Let’s hope not; to see it go would be a shame. No matter how militantly secular you may be, MCC-SF is and has been San Francisco progressivism at its best. 

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Pete Kane

Pete Kane

Bio:
Pete Kane is a total gaylord who is trying to get to every national park before age 40

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