Rev. Darlene Garner and MCC - The queerest church in town
Reverend Darlene Garner is an Elder in the Metropolitan Community Church, and is visiting Australia this month. Tim Hunter gets to know her and her story.
The Metropolitan Community Church (or MCC as it’s better known these days) began in California in 1968 after its founder Troy Perry found his needs as a gay man and Christian weren’t being met by organised religion. So MCC was born, with a focus on acceptance, regardless of race, culture, and especially sexuality. The church has grown, with now over 172 congregations in over 37 countries, including chapters in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.
Reverend Darlene Garner has been involved with MCC for 38 years. Back in 1976, she was a recently divorced single mother ready to explore her sexuality. Even though she’d been raised in the Baptist church, she left for two reasons.
“One, because it would not allow women to take on significant leadership roles,” she explains. “And two, because I knew that my church had no tolerance at all for LGBT people. I then joined the Anglican Church, which turned out to be no different in those respects.”
And then she found MCC. “The ministry of MCC spoke to me in a profound way,” She says. “Through MCC, I came to understand myself more fully and discovered an ever-expanding relationship with God who created me as I am and who loves me unconditionally. MCC also embraced me as a mother and allowed my children for the first time to experience non-racist, non-sexist, non-homophobic Christian teachings. My children are adults now, with children of their own. They still thank me for having created ways for them to ‘be MCC’ like me.”
[Image] Rev. Elder Darlene Garner.
Garner had never really actively pursued a path into spiritual leadership with MCC, but she was ordained in 1988. “It was an unexpected response from the depths of my heart to the moment when I heard God's voice calling me forth to do a ‘new thing in Christ’.” Since then, her ministry has been focused on social justice, including serving as a chaplain for an AIDS hospice, the Executive Director of the Office on Sexual Minorities, the pastor of three congregations, and in 1993 she was also elected to serve as a spiritual leader.
The reconciliation of sexuality and spirituality can be difficult to achieve for many gay and lesbian people, something that Garner has experienced herself. “The journey toward self-acceptance is often not easy for anyone, especially for those of us who are raised in very religious families. In most instances, our families do love us, even when they are not able to accept or affirm us. The key to my own survival was finding community. It would have been extremely difficult to reconcile my sexuality with my religious teachings if I had tried to do it alone.
“For me, being in MCC means being part of a community where I am accepted for who I am, even as I am challenged to become more of who God created me to be. Whether one is alone or in community, it is vital to read a lot, have an open mind, be willing to question tradition, and to allow for the possibility that some of what we learned about religion is just not true.”
And even though society is much more accepting and open today, there is still intolerance and bigotry to be dealt with, and Garner’s strategy is simple. “The basis for everything that I do is love,” she says. “To be loving toward others requires that I work for social justice on behalf of those for whom social justice is denied. To me, justice is simply love in action.”
[Image] Rev. Elder Darlene Garner at MCC General Conference, Chicago 2013.
Garner will be visiting Melbourne this month, with a purpose. “The focus is on fulfilling the call to be a 21st century church that responds with excellence to the needs of 21st century people. We will talk about what is needed for each of these churches to become even more healthy and vibrant, and we will also work together to plan for building up new leaders and creating additional churches in other parts of Australia so that the liberating message of God's unconditional love for all people will spread throughout the land.”
And this is just one step in what is proving to be a breakthrough year for MCC. “People from around the world are asking for MCC. Within Latin America, MCC is growing very quickly. In a few months, I will be going to Stuttgart to meet with our churches in Europe and then on to Singapore to take the next steps toward development of MCC ministry in Asia.”
[Main image] Rev. Darlene Garner.
Reverend Darlene Garner will be speaking at the MCC June 15, 7pm. St Aidans 8-10 Surrey Road Box Hill South, mccmelbourne.com.au