Metropolitan Community Church

in Groups and Organizations

Cleveland Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), a local mission of the national United Metropolitan Community Church, was founded by Art MacDonald in 1974. Cleveland Metropolitan Community Church was a nondenominational “Christian church with an outreach into the gay community by other gay people.” Cleveland Fellowship MCC initially began as an unofficial “MCC study group that could not get [official] recognition” from the Metropolitan Community Church’s regional Great Lakes District board. In early 1974, Art MacDonald expanded the Cleveland study group into the independent Fellowship Community Church (FCC). Initially, the FCC operated out of an office space at 4128 Lorain Avenue. MacDonald frequently placed emphasis the Cleveland FCC/MCC’s ability to function as an “active force for gay liberation and awareness.” Throughout his weekly sermons, MacDonald unabashedly incorporated political calls to action alongside messages of LGBT+ acceptance, belonging, equality, and liberation. Gay liberation, and Christianity were deeply intertwined for Pastor MacDonald, who argued that it was “essential to politicize within the church, for the church is responsible for where gays are today.” As such, MacDonald reminded the FCC’s members that it was their “Christian responsibility” to “go out into the streets to change the public’s attitude about homosexuality.”

In mid-1974, MacDonald temporarily relocated to New York City and handed control of the Cleveland FCC over to newly-appointed pastor Robert Murphy. During the three short months MacDonald was absent from the FCC, pastor Murphy misappropriated church revenue and accrued thousands of dollars in debt for the fledgling religious group. Charged with “misconduct and mismanagement of funds,” Murphy was subsequently “fired as pastor.” MacDonald returned to Cleveland in December 1974 and was reinstated as pastor of the FCC shortly thereafter. In the fallout of the Murphy scandal, MacDonald “instituted several programs to help the tiny church regain its position in the community and its financial status.” With MacDonald acting as the group’s pastor and worship coordinator, Fellowship Community Church later began holding weekly worship services at St. John’s Episcopal church, 2600 Church Street, in January 1975. By February 1975, MacDonald’s FCC gained recognition from the national MCC as a “legitimate study group” and began moving toward “full chartered status” as Cleveland Fellowship MCC.

The Cleveland FCC/MCC also provided a variety of social services by and for LGBT+ communities in Cleveland, including an array of “social functions,” benefits, fundraisers, and social/political community events. In 1975, Fellowship MCC established the Alternative Coffeehouse at St. John’s Episcopal Church. Later that summer, MacDonald and the Fellowship MCC organized an unofficial 1975 gay pride celebration picnic. Fellowship MCC’s efforts to increase social and political visibility of LGBT+ Clevelanders, however, was frequently met with fierce opposition. An onslaught of homophobic threats, harassment, and violence targeted Fellowship MCC’s worship services throughout the spring and summer of 1975 as Fellowship MCC received dozens of phone calls from individuals threatening violence against church members and worship services at St. John’s Episcopal Church. Despite these threats, Fellowship MCC’s membership continued to expand. In September 1975, Fellowship MCC began hosting a second east-side weekly worship service at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Cleveland, 2728 Lancashire Road.

After several of Fellowship MCC’s members were physically attacked and their offices vandalized, St. John’s Episcopal responded to “congregational complaints about homosexuals in the church” by “withdrawing permission for MCC to continue leasing church facilities” later that month. During Fellowship MCC’s final service at St. John’s Episcopal in November 1975, MacDonald urged his congregation to “get out and work for political change so we don’t have to worry about being confronted by a man with a shotgun at one of our services as we did last summer, or worry about our brothers and sisters being brutalized on the mall, or attacked as they leave the bars.” Undaunted, Fellowship MCC established an organizational office at 2999 West 29th Street in November 1975. Cleveland FCC/MCC rented part of its West 29th Street office space to the Cleveland Gay Political Union and the GEAR Foundation. Fellowship MCC was closely intermeshed with the fledgling GEAR Foundation, including in the co-operation of Fellowship MCC’s Gay Hotline (later adapted into GEAR’s Gay Switchboard). Though Fellowship MCC was forced to halt its Alternative Coffeehouse after being forced out of St. John’s Episcopal, its east-side worship services continued at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Cleveland. In early 1976, Fellowship MCC again resumed offering weekly west-side worship services in a space rented through Bethany Presbyterian Church, 6415 West Clinton Avenue.

In early 1976, Art MacDonald resigned from his position as pastor of the Cleveland Fellowship Metropolitan Community Church in order to obtain further religious education in Chicago. In February 1976, Reverend Dan Richmond replaced MacDonald as pastor of Fellowship MCC. Pastor Richmond halted Fellowship MCC’s west-side worship services that same month, instead opting to continue providing worship services through the east-side Bethany Presbyterian Church. Fellowship MCC also relocated its offices from 2999 West 29th Street to a new rental space on West Clinton Avenue. By mid-1976, Fellowship MCC offered a wide range of social activities throughout the week for its growing membership. Outside of weekly Sunday services held at Bethany Presbyterian, the group’s regular Tuesday bowling league, “Wednesday evening ‘singspiration’ and bible study service,” Thursday rap groups, and Friday evening gay Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and Saturday “car washes, bake sales, or rummage sales for fundraising” provided a copious opportunities for community-based social interaction. In July 1976, pastor Richmond and the Fellowship MCC organized Cleveland’s second unofficial gay pride march. In January 1977, Fellowship MCC’s east-side services at Bethany were discontinued as the church again relocated its weekly services to the west-side Unitarian Universalist Church of Cleveland, 2728 Lancashire Road. Together with GEAR, Fellowship MCC co-organized Cleveland’s 1977 gay pride marches.

An MCC Great Lakes District regional conference, held in October 1977, brought about the end of the Cleveland Fellowship Metropolitan Community Church. Citing the group’s previous leadership and “past performances,” Great Lakes District leaders rejected the Cleveland Fellowship MCC’s application for full chartership. Ultimately, it was decided that “Cleveland MCC could no longer operate under the name MCC.” Cleveland Fellowship MCC’s “split with the Great Lakes District of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches,” ultimately resulted in the formation of the Nativity Fellowship Church in November 1977.


Additional information coming soon.

Resources

  • Barnum, George. “Gay Community.” Encyclopedia of Cleveland History.
  • “Gay Minister Returns.” High Gear. December 1974.
  • “Gay Pride.” High Gear. July 1976. Page 2.
  • “GEAR, CGF, and MCC to Share Quarters.” High Gear. November 1975. Page 19.
  • Hampton, Hugh. “MCC Now NFC.” High Gear. November 1977. Page 16.
  • “Last MCC Service at St. John’s.” High Gear. November 1975. Page 3.
  • MacDonald, Art. “Gay Pride Synopsis.” High Gear. July 1975. Page 4.
  • “MacDonald Resigns MCC – Richmond In.” High Gear. February 1976. Page 4.
  • “MCC Arrives in Cleveland and Akron.” High Gear. September 1974. Page 1.
  • “MCC Cleveland Forced to Move.” High Gear. September 1975. Page 12.
  • “MCC Cleveland Harassed.” High Gear. September 1975. Page 1.
  • “MCC Harassed.” High Gear. July 1975. Page 1.
  • “MCC History.” Metropolitan Community Church.
  • “MCC’s East Side Services.” High Gear. January 1977. Page 2.
  • Miller, William F. “Militancy is Rising in Church for Gays.” Plain Dealer. September 28, 1975.
  • “Metropolitan Community Church.” High Gear. April 1975. Page 10.
  • Nosek, John, and Leon Stevens. “Gay Community 1970s.” Encyclopedia of Cleveland History.
  • Schneck, Ken. LGBTQ Cleveland. Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2018. Page 38.
  • Scott, Jane. “Homosexuals Find Haven in Church.” Plain Dealer. July 12, 1977.
  • Sorensen, Gloria. “How is Your Spiritual Life?” High Gear. June 1976. Page 26.
  • Wheeler, Karen J. “MCC: Front Line Report.” High Gear. April 1978. Page 18.
  • Wickens, Joseph. “Saint John’s Episcopal Church.” Cleveland Historical.
2999 W. 29th St., Cleveland, OH 44113 (Cleveland Fellowship MCC former office).

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