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REFLECTIONS FROM OUR CHARTER MEMBERS

Reflections from Our Charter Members
(Written October 2008)

 

Bob Marche:

In October, 1974 I returned to Connecticut after an 18 month journey of self discovery around the United States. Having discovered that I was gay, I came back to the place where I truly wanted to be, Hartford. It was like Dorothy returning to her hearts desire: Kansas.

Newly out, I searched for a community and found a fledging mission group, MCC Hartford, less than a year old. It met on Sunday evenings in the sanctuary of St. Pauls Methodist Church on Park Street, under the leadership of a young minister, F. Jay Deacon. Attending that small worship service that October evening in 1974 was a step that was destined to change my life forever.

Jay was an inspiring leader with a high consciousness who taught us that god loved us for exactly who we were and there was no shame in being the gay person God created us to be.

I felt at home in this small blossoming community and became involved with a fervor I had seldom ever experienced. Joining with a small group of like-minded individuals, we formed MCCs first Board of Directors, writing our first mission statement and set of local bi-laws. I was to serve on that board for the next 10 years with 7 years as treasurer.

Our operating expenses in those days were much less than they are today, but they were still a lot for a small group to support. We were only able to pay Jay $50 a week as salary. He had to work a full time weekday job at a printers firm in addition to being our pastor.

When St. Pauls closed their sanctuary and merged with a Methodist church on Farmington Avenue, we were able to rent their Christian education building at $100 per month plus utilities.

Just an aside, the person who was originally responsible for MCC meeting in St. Pauls sanctuary was their minister, Reverend Jim Flynn, who later became Reverend Sarah Jean Flynn, the first transgender person I ever knew.

MCCs first real home, St. Pauls former Christian education building, was located at 11 Amity Street. It was a one-story building with a large parking lot. The ground level was a very large basement room which later served as our sanctuary with a kitchen attached. Ten of us worked diligently to rehab this building to make it ready for our church.

I solicited donations from local insurance companies and was able to acquire 50 wooden folding chairs for the sanctuary. One very long day, I made over a dozen trips transporting these chairs to the church, 4 chairs at a time. That was all that I could fit inside my VW bug- 4 chairs at a time.

So that was our first real home, 11 Amity Street, and it would serve as our home for 5 years until the autumn of 1979.

By February, 1975 we had reached the MCC criteria of 35 members and were able to become a chartered church. Clyde Proch and I are the only 2 original charter members who are still here. We hosted our first conference that month and met MCC members from New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. We also met MCC founder Troy Perry for the first time. He came to Hartford for our chartering and conference, and inspiring individual who we came to know well.

In April, 1975 I started Somewhere Coffee House at MCC. This was as true mission for me and a period of my life that I look back on with cherished memories. Once more, I solicited donations from insurance companies and came up with 10 card tables. On Friday afternoons, along with my helpers Ric, Steve and Milbrey, we would transfer the sanctuary into a coffee house complete with candlelit tables; a small sound system which I brought from home every week; and coffee, herbal teas and an array of goodies in the kitchen. WE sold these for a minimal price and the suggested donation to attend the coffee house was 50 cents. This brought a little income into MCC and helped defray costs.

We had many golden evenings at Somewhere. A lot of meaningful friendships were forged. We had many deep talks, played board games, had poetry readings and listened to gay folk singers who came from all over Connecticut and New England. One of our favorite performers was John Calvi from Vermont. He wrote a well known song which had its debut at Somewhere. It was called For The Ones Who Arent Here. He originally wrote it in reference to those friends who could not be with us due to their fear to coming out. It later had a deeper meaning, referring to those friends whom we lost due to AIDS. At the end of our golden evening, I would put Godspell on the stereo and as Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord played, we sang and transformed the room back into a sanctuary so that it would be ready for our Sunday evening service.

Somewhere met every Friday evening over 7 years and I still miss those Friday night get-togethers. It was an alternative to the bar scene and non-threatening first contact to the gay community for those people just coming out. Years later, Hartfords first openly gay city councilman told me that he came out at Somewhere. It was a place for fellowship and, for many people, their first introduction to MCC.

Many other important things went on at Amity Street. Hartfords Gay Switchboard operated out of MCC. It was an information center that connected members of Connecticuts gay community with needed services, such as gay-friendly doctors, clinics, and counselors. WE also had a counseling center manned by professional psychologists, Bob Belliveau and Thelma Sherwood among them. There was also the MCC News. At one point, it was considered one of the best MCC newsletters in the country. This was the brainchild of John Crowley and it later evolved into the Metroline. A lot of early gay history came out of MCC Hartford.

The 70s were a historic period. Homophobia, hate crimes and discrimination towards gays was rampant. Anita Bryant was in her heyday. Our minister, Hay, was not only our spiritual leader but our consciousness-raiser as well. He was truly out there and visible. He spoke at area high schools and colleges, gave interviews in the Hartford Courant and spoke on radio talk shows to educate the public as to exactly who gay people were. Often, members of MCC joined him at these venues and it was a way of truly experiencing our own gay pride. Jay also took part in numerous rallies and vigils. I can remember sitting with him at an all night candlelight vigil in front of Hartfords city hall to raise awareness of discrimination towards gays in housing. There were 5 of us. There were the early days when only those who were truly brave and proudly out came forward. Jays car was torched because of his visibility. It only served to galvanize our community.

During those early years, we sponsored an MCC mission group under the leadership of a young seminarian, Ken Theriault. This became MCC New Haven. Once started they also opened a gay coffee house that I helped them to organize. They called it Somewhere II.

In the summer of 1978, Jay left us to become pastor of MCC Chicago. On one of his last Sundays here, Hartford Mayor George Athanson attended our service and presented Jay with a proclamation stating that it was F. Jay Deacon Day in the city of Hartford. He cited Jay for his service in promoting understanding between the gay and straight communities of Hartford.

Jays departure was a traumatic time for us but he had prepared us well for the transition. We appointed a worship coordinator and learned how to form a pastoral search committee.

I visited Jay in Chicago in 1978, a few months after his move there. While there I helped MCC Chiacgo as a consultant as they planned to open a gay coffee house which they later named Somewhere III. I also met Jays assistant, a young seminarian named Steve Pieters. I encouraged him to candidate for MCC Hartford. He did and he became our 2nd pastor.

It took about 9 months for Steve to graduate from the seminary, become ordained and move to Hartford. During the interim, MCC Harford went through much turmoil.

A Pentecostal group purchased the old St. Pauls property which included their Christian education building on 11 Amity Street, our home for the past 5 years. Not approving of us, they promptly kicked us out onto the street and we were homeless.

Reverend Ken South was a member of MCC Hartford and also director of the Hill Center of Farmington Avenue, across the street from the Mark Twain House. He offered us space in the basement of the Hill Center.

Our last service on Amity Street was quite dramatic. In the middle of service we asked each member of the congregation to pick up their wooden chair and we all went en masse to the basement of the Hill Center where we finished the service. That basement served as the home of the coffee house for its last 3 years. The space, however, was too cramped to serve as our office and worship space.

The Board of Directors of MCC hit the pavement, calling on various Hartford churches to see if they would rent us space for our Sunday evening services. Repeatedly we were turned away because we were too controversial until we were accepted by the Unitarian Meeting House on Bloomfield Avenue. They rented us their smaller chapel for Sunday evening use. This is where we were when Steve came to us as pastor in the summer of 1979 and this is where we worshipped off and on for 13 years.

Steven Pieters was our pastor until 1982 when he moved to California. He was followed by J. T. Atkinson, who pastured MCC until 1988. He was followed by our only female pastor, Pat Leffler, who was with us until 1991. She was followed by Dave Jarvis, who came to us as pastor in 1992.

At this time the community center opened on Broad Street and our congregation voted to join them at that facility. Back in the late 70s and early 80s, Peter Voorhees was a dedicated member of our MCC family. He passed away in 1991 and left a large financial gift to MCC. We used these funds to create the chapel at the community center on Broad Street- the Peter Voorhees Memorial Chapel, which served as our home for 15 years.

Dave Jarvis left us in the late 1990s and we continued with Joe Simard as worship coordinator, with the assistance of Bonnie Whelan and Robert Bray. And then our beloved pastors George and Julio came to us. Two years ago, we moved to the Parish House of the Church of the Good Shepherd. And the rest of our history you know.

In my own personal religion history, I have been a Baptist, a Methodist, a Catholic, a Quaker and a Spiritualist. No other church family has held my commitment as deeply as MCC Hartford. I have been an active member for the past 34 Years. Not only has it filled me with gratitude during the good times, but it has kept me spiritually centered during the difficult times: through illness; through the ending of relationships and through the deaths of beloved friends and family. Not only this, MCC has raise my own consciousness and given me gay pride as well.

Last year I retired from a state health care position and was even given an award by the governor for years of service. I gave this service as an openly gay man for 31 years; Id like to believe that during those 3 decades I helped raise the consciousness of those people whose paths I crossed as to who a gay person was. I could only do those because MCC has raised my consciousness and helped me feel proud of whom I was as a gay person.

Having been around for 34 years, I have seen MCC go through many incarnations. I have seen times when we had 50 people at Sunday services and I have seen times when we had 4 people at Sunday services, I do not judge our success by quantity but by quality. For 35 years we have always been here for people, no matter what. The quality has never been better that it is right now: in our religious leadership and in the most balanced spectrum of people who are in our church family, a true rainbow-blending of black, white, female, male and transgender.

I love MCC and congratulate my church family on 35 wonderful life-changing years. As long as I can walk, breathe, laugh, cry, and sing, you will be an important part of my life.


Clyde Proch:

MCC Hartford began an as idea when Kalos Society, Gay Liberation Front was the only game in town. We had heard about a church for gay and lesbian people and knew there was one in Boston, which we had contacted. Their pastor, along with pastoral candidate F. Jay Deacon, drove down to a meeting hosted by Cannon Jones, a priest from the Episcopal church across from G. Foz who had established the 20 Club and other groups that worked with those on the fringe of society, and we found out more about MCC from them. After they left we thought it would be good to have an MCC in Hartford. Ironically, on their way back, Jay Deacon thought that when he completed his studies at the Cambridge Theological Seminary he would like to come to Hartford to pastor MCC there.

Our first service was in the home or Morris Pike, a pastor at the congregational church across from the Mark Twain House. There were twelve in attendance. Shortly after, we began the first in a long series of moves to the Unitarian Meetinghouse near the University of Hartford. I was the pianist through all of this. Jay was our pastor for five years and took us through our growing pains. He left for Chicago and another theological student, Stephen Pieters, became our second pastor. The joke was that they passed on Interstate 90 going in opposite directions.

There were several outreaches that sprang from MCC in the early days. One was the long-running coffee house started and run by Bob Marche, another long-time member. What is now the Metroline news magazine was started by John Crowley at MCC Hartford.

MCC is now well established in Hartford and respected by our fellow mainline churches. We now have our longest-running pastoral leadership with Reverend George Chien and Reverend Julio Flores. They are the flue that holds everything together and provide stability to our small community.

It has been my pleasure to be associated with MCC Hartford all these years, not only with the music, but as a long-time Board of Directors member.

 

 

MCC is a compassionate community of faith, and a spiritual home where all people can experience the liberating love of God.