To many South Floridians, the Right Reverend Grant Lynn Ford is best- known as the beloved and enduring leader of Fort Lauderdale’s Sunshine Cathedral Metropolitan Community Church. When Rev. Ford became senior pastor in 1986, what was then the Church of the Holy Spirit was a small outpost of the MCCs.
Ford took that Church, re-named it the Sunshine Cathedral, and made it a power- house in South Florida’s LGBT community. When Ford “retired” in 2008, the Sunshine Cathedral was the largest MCC in the world, serving our community with its many religious, educational and social programs, as well as through its derivative organizations, Light University and SunServe.
Considering his achievements at the helm of the Sunshine Cathedral, one would think Ford would spend his “retirement years” enjoying some well-deserved R&R. Instead, Ford moved to Jacksonville—where, in December 2008, he became lead pastor of the newly-formed OdysseyChurch.
As Ford recalls, “The local MCC gave up its franchise, so Jacksonville was without an MCC. The Reverend Elder Nancy Wilson, Moderator of MCC, asked me to start a new church. A small group of people who wanted to form a new church joined the effort, and a little more than a year ago, OdysseyChurch was born.
Our mission statement (in part) says: The journey is better ... together.”
OdysseyChurch describes itself as “an innovative online, onsite, multi-service, multi-site church.”
According to Ford, “We have only one service now, but we are planning a second service soon, more contemporary. The goal is to have four locations in Duval County, each one having more than one type of service.
“We meet in the Unitarian Universalist Church with a ‘Sunday at Six’ service. The UU and the MCC folk seem to mix pretty well, and we’re engaged right now in opening an HIV testing site as a combined ministry effort.” The 20 or so core members are “about one-third heterosexual, two-thirds LGBT. It’s quite a mixed bag, and we like it like that!” One of OdysseyChurch’s innovations is its online component. “The online part of Odyssey Church is still developing,” Ford says.
“Technology requires expensive equipment which we are gradually buying. But we already have a number of people from around the country who follow what’s going on at Odyssey. Our goal is to have a very interactive site where people can do all sorts of things online. It will take another year to fully accomplish this goal, but we’re working on it. People will be able to see and hear the sermon, discuss it online, add their prayer requests and their thoughts. Then we will have a companion social-networking site where people can establish their own pages, their own blogs, etc. I hope we ultimately have a dating component. Why not? People meet at church, why not at a church website?”
Though Rev. Ford’s mission remains the same, being the lead pastor of a new, small congregation is not the same as being senior pastor of the largest MCC in the world. Ford himself admits that “there are few similarities” between the Fort Lauderdale and Jacksonville churches.
“Where I used to suggest an idea and several staff members would have input and take responsibility, now I talk a lot to my- self. But we’ve built up a good core group, including our teaching pastor, the Rev. Jim Merritt of Gainesville, who pastors Trinity MCC there and then comes over to Jacksonville every other week and preaches. We have a volunteer pastoral care minister, Barbara Dubberly, a long-time MCC activist. And we have a core of volunteers that do all sorts of things. In that regard, it’s just a matter of scale that makes it different from the largest MCC. I’ve been pastor of small churches before, but they always seem to grow on me.
I hope that will be true in northeast Florida as well!” Grant Ford also keeps busy as district president of the International New Thought Alliance (Newthoughtalliance.org). “I’ve been a Life Member of INTA for a number of years,” he says. “It’s a loose-knit organization of churches, centers and ministers who embrace the New Thought philosophy of positive, progressive spirituality. Not all groups or ministers are from the Christian tradition, which makes it quite interesting.
“The difference between northeast and southeast Florida is that there’s no connection between groups up here. So I’m slowly working to get some collegiality and connection. It’s a long, slow process, but ultimately we are all stronger when we work together. I’m also working with the Inter- faith Council of Jacksonville and will be doing the same with OneJax (successor to the National Conference of Christians and Jews). I love interfaith associations, and Jacksonville needs this kind of work.”
Ford extols Jacksonville as “a beautiful city, and very friendly—it has that southern charm, which creates a polite society. But,” he says, “it’s also the murder capital of Florida, so there’s an underbelly that’s not so pleasant. The LGBT community is still a bit in disarray with the collapse of Gay Pride a couple of years ago. But new efforts at re- unifying the community are starting to take effect. So it’s a great time for me to be involved here, getting right in on the ground floor of this new movement. I’m hoping that this will work to bring the LGBT faith communities together in a common cause.
“Most of my new friends are part of OdysseyChurch. A few of them I’ve known for years, including one or two originally from Fort Lauderdale. Now that the congregation is established, I’m starting to get out and meet some new people not connected to MCC. Gotta get a date or two, you know! I miss all my friends in South Florida, but I’m making new ones here, and that’s exciting.”