Religious groups – churches and synagogues – are among the LGBT community’s most durable organizations.
The Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), was founded in 1968, a year before Stonewall. (Though 15 years after Houston’s Diana Foundation, the oldest continuously active LGBT organization in the United States, was founded.)
Christ MCC in Miami opened its doors in 1970, Holy Spirit MCC (now the Sunshine Cathedral) in Fort Lauderdale started in 1972, and Congregation Etz Chaim, then the Metropolitan Community Synagogue of Greater Miami, was founded in 1974.
Though these and other LGBT-supportive religious groups had their obvious differences, they agreed on their faith-based approach to queer liberation.
For decades interfaith services have been as much a part of Pride celebrations in South Florida as Pride festivals, parades or picnics. In both Broward and Palm Beach Counties Congregation Etz Chaim joined forces with local MCCs and other faith-based communities to celebrate unity and pride. I recall attending some of the planning meetings along with my partner, CEC’s former Cantor Michael Greenspan, and even when we disagreed we knew we were working together towards a common goal.
Congregation Etz Chaim has worked with the MCCs since its birth in 1974, when Miami MCC Pastor Keith Davis helped CEC’s founders get off the ground. Under its pastors, the Rev. John Gill and the Right Rev. Grant Lynn Ford, the Fort Lauderdale MCC/Sunshine Cathedral maintained their historic friendship with a succession of Synagogue Rabbis and lay leaders. (The same may be said of the Church of Our Savior MCC in Boynton Beach, under the leadership of Rev. Renwick Bell.)
On July 3 CEC and the Sunshine Cathedral joined other faith-based groups for what they hope will be the first of a new series of interfaith services. Over a hundred people attended this event, a celebration of the recent United States Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality. The Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins, the cathedral’s Senior Minister, welcomed Rabbi Noah Kitty and other representatives of our synagogue into his cathedral’s sanctuary.
Joining Etz Chaim and the Sunshine Cathedral were representatives from the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Lauderdale, the Parish of Saints Francis and Clare, and Sacred Journeys Interfaith Seminary. Though the service was loosely based on CEC’s Friday night service, it was structured in such a way that Jews and gentiles alike could follow it without difficulty. There was no sectarianism but, rather, a mutual effort by all of the participants to come together in their common beliefs and their common goals. The recent triumph of marriage equality in the U.S. was a common theme throughout the service, from the Rev. Dr. Watkins’s comments about his own recent wedding to comments by David Griswold of the Unitarian Universalist Church and prayers by Father Joseph Spina of the Parish of Saints Francis and Clare and the Rev. Dr. Lori Cardona, interfaith minister.
As a spiritual exercise, the July 3 interfaith service was inspiring and fulfilling. Representatives from the various groups’ churches and synagogue enjoyed an almost unique opportunity to worship, socialize and network with one another and to enjoy each other’s company.
This is only the beginning.