Metropolitan Community Church of Washington DC
415 M St. NW, Washington, DC
The memories come flooding back for Candace Shultis when asked about her 25-plus years on staff at Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, the District’s largest mostly gay church.
She’s been gone a few years now having left to pastor a St. Petersburg, Fla., MCC church. But so much of her ministry was in Washington, on the occasion of the church’s 4oth anniversary — the festivities kick off tonight with an event at Human Rights Campaign headquarters — she waxes nostalgic during an hour-plus phone chat from her new parish. Her memories run the gamut of human emotion — from tedium and tragedy to laughter and tears of joy.
She remembers one anniversary weekend where outside festivities were planned at the old M Street location. Members asked her to pray for good weather — “I guess they figured I had a closer connection to God about such things,” she says — only to have it rain the entire weekend. The joke for years was never to have her pray for weather again.
She also remembers feeling ridiculous blessing the current Ridge Street building with former pastor, the late Rev. Larry Uhrig, who died of AIDS in 1993, going around the new building with a plant he’d brought from Hawaii throwing water at the building, again in the pouring rain.
It never takes long, though, for talk of MCC’s history to come around to the AIDS crisis, which took a staggering toll on its members and which Shultis admits defined much of her ministry there, especially in the 1980s and well into the ‘90s.
“I think in many ways my time there, certainly for a good bulk of it even early on in the pastorate, was defined by HIV and AIDS,” Shultis says. “You just can’t say anything but that. It was just real clear, this had a huge impact on the community and we lost a lot of people. Not all from AIDS — some had heart attacks, Bob Johnson, Bob Hager, there were a couple who committed suicide. I even remember our first member who died, James Vincent McCann, Jim McCann. We named a ministry award after him … but we lost so many. We became kind of known as the place where you could come and we would do your funeral … it was just really hard on the congregation.”
MCC-D.C., as it’s casually known, is part of the Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, a liberal Christian denomination with a vastly, but not completely, LGBT membership. The D.C. church’s roots go back to 1970 when a group of gay believers started meeting as Community Church of Washington. The church was chartered as an MCC church on May 11, 1971.
Rev. Troy Perry, the denomination’s founder, remembers vividly the D.C. church joining the Fellowship.
“We said right away, yes, we’d love to have them,” Perry says by phone from Los Angeles where he’s lived for 48 years. He resigned as the Fellowship’s moderator in 2005 but is still active among the church’s 250 congregations around the globe.
“It was one of the briefest dedications we ever did,” he says, a Southern accent still palpable in his voice even after decades in California. “We got there and it was like 22 degrees. It was so cold I thought my jaws would fall off. So it only lasted about 15 minutes.”
MCC-D.C. is one of the largest churches in the Fellowship. Shultis says it’s always in the top 10 in terms of weekly attendance and often in the top five.