Reflections from Our Charter Members
(Written October 2008)
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.