This is a long one. If you have the courage to make it all the way through, that’s super awesome!
I was very used to going to church every Sunday, singing in the Congregational Community Church choir my mother directed and father sang in, and reading along with the scripture readings. I got bored, and at age 16, I found my friend’s independent bible church to be much more entertaining, happening. It was also my first exposure to bible verse by verse teaching.
I still remember the day they taught on Romans 1. I knew I was gay, but I couldn’t quite admit it. The teaching that day made me feel so bad, so full of shame, and being very impressionable at that point, I bought it, hook, line and sinker. I played in a Christian rock band for a while from that church. After making a pass at one of the guitarists (I know, right?) He whipped out his...bible, told me God loved me but that I had to change. I had to accept Jesus as my personal savior with a prayer--or else leave the band. I really liked playing the band, so I took the prayer option. I mean really, how much damage could one little prayer do? This started a 9-year period of repression, fighting myself day after day.
Following a breakup with my girlfriend at the time, I was reached out to by the music ministry leader, who asked me to step down from participation, as I had “fallen back into my old ways,” and was not able to set a proper example leading music up front. I cried. I was angry. Then I realized I wasn’t getting what I needed spiritually, and wandered into a desert of sorts for about a year.
I attended my first gay pride celebration, San Jose Pride. I received hugs from these wonderful lesbian women at a booth hosted by Metropolitan Community Church of San Jose (MCC-SJ). It was Rev. Denis Moore and a little group of great folks who made up MCC-SJ, and provided a space where I could accept my true self. The fact is, it was the beginning of integrating my sexual and spiritual self. I came out to myself, my family, my friends.
As you might imagine, I got involved with leading music at MCCSJ, playing electric piano along with Michael Hawkins. I remember playing some wonderful, uplifting hymns and contemporary songs with Michael and Denis (who also played piano). Songs like I See the Love of God in You, Blessed Assurance, On Eagle’s Wings, Let There Be Peace on Earth and Let it Begin With Me, and others. Sadly, Rev. Denis passed away in January. I so appreciated his talks, which often included Buddhist teachings, elements of positive thinking and practical use of self-healing affirmations.
Fast forward to 1995, when I moved to San Francisco. I was looking for a bit more excitement in my life and appreciated the energy of the city, especially taking a liking to the Castro neighborhood. I got involved playing keys at MCC-San Francisco. It just so happened that keyboardist, Yanina, was moving to New York. The window opened, and I took on the role of supporting keyboardist. It was also a wonderful opportunity to learn how to play the Hammond B3 organ, bringing in my blues, jazz and gospel influences.I met Michael Cronin there, who sang in the choir. We would later grow to become very good friends and musical collaborators. (He cowrote four songs on my album, Change Coming.)
Later, I learned to play drums and switched over to role as the lead drummer for MCC-SF’s Sunday night Worship and Praise services.
I want to make it clear that even though these church communities have been centered around a Christian theology, they made (and make) space for other faith traditions as well as non-theist places of thought. I’ve found this to be rare for churches.
As I find myself in a very different place today with my spiritual journey than I was at 16, at 26, or even 36 -- less rigid in my concept of the divine and less attached to any particular faith tradition -- I am yet very grateful for these communities which I’ve been a part of and the teachers who have led them.
MCC-San Jose closed it’s doors a while back and perhaps folks from there will find another group to meet with.
I have some super amazing friends at MCC-San Francisco whom I completely adore. We’ve made some great spirit-filled music together. And as I make my move to the LA area to go deeper with my music career, I hope they know how absolutely lovely they are and that they will be in my thoughts. Namaste.