Alex Blaze

Stretch and grow - or die

Filed By Alex Blaze | January 03, 2011 5:00 PM | comments

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The Orlando Sentinel is reporting on a local MCC church that may go the way of the gay bar or the queer bookstore:

Joy-MCC1-004.jpgStarted in 1979, the predominantly gay Orlando church is imperiled by its inability to attract a younger generation of gay and lesbian worshippers. Only about 20 of the 250 people who regularly attend the church are in their 20s and 30s, said the Rev. Lisa Heilig, interim pastor.

"The truth of the matter is the church is either going to stretch and grow -- or die," Heilig said.

The lack of young people at Joy MCC isn't unusual in itself. Only about a fourth of Americans 18 to 29 years old attend church regularly, according to the latest survey by LifeWay Research, a research organization associated with the Southern Baptist Convention.

It's not that surprising, even before declining church attendance it taken into account. As more churches become more accepting, even if they aren't 100% there, fewer LGBT people are going to feel a need to leave the churches they grew up in.


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Churches succeed only to the degree they meet their congregations' needs. Change is not in and of itself a bad thing. While mainstream denominations struggle with remaining relevant, those who embrace a new way of looking at traditional expression and interpretation of doctrine will continue to grow.

What exactly is wrong with GLBT people who don't need - or want - any church at all?

Nothing. But do I sense in your question more than you ask?

Lynn Miller | January 4, 2011 12:18 AM

You ask a fair question, and in the newspaper article one person suggested that young people neither need nor crave the sanctuary that the gay church provided previous generations.

I'm pointing out that this chuch apparently has the same attitudinal disorder that many (most?) churches have: Institutionally its approaching the point of thinking that it has an inherent right to exist that supercedes people's desire to have nothing to do with religion.

Now, by 'inherent right to exist,' I'm not referring to the right of adult indiciduals to get together and form a church (or whatever) without fear of government (or populist) coercion into disbanding. I'm taking about the attitude of religionistic superiority that you hear from the remaining members of churches that are in their death throes - an attitude that 'the people' at large have some sort of obligation to keep their religious club afloat by attending and funding it.

Why go to church when there probably isn't any god?

Community, fellowship, sense of belonging, sense of spiritual fulfillment. Some people don't get that (or are not able to get that) elsewhere.

Rev. Dee Graham | January 4, 2011 8:07 AM

Sounds like there's a lot of anger in these comments, so I doubt any of you have met the Rev. Lisa Heilig, who just arrived at Joy MCC this fall. She's a bundle of joy herself, welcoming of all spiritual traditions (even humanism). In Sarasota she gave dynamic leadership to our campus ministry team working successfully with young adults from diverse college environments, some of whom never set food on her church grounds. Incidently, she leaves an MCC here that now includes greater diversity without seeing itself as just a "gay church" mission.

A bigger issue in the story is why the reporter quotes a Southern Baptist source as an authority, knowing its biased perspective, rather than the Pew Institute, which is highly respected for its accurate studies of such things. Perhaps the slant you are perceiving is the reporter's own perspective.


Rev. Lisa Heilig | January 4, 2011 9:43 AM

As the one interviewed for the article, a few clarifications:

My first comments were in the larger context of the church in America.

And I was misquoted in my estimate of the number of young people attending Joy. What I said was 20%.

I also repeatedly pointed out that Joy is not a gay church, but a church founded in, but reaching beyond the GLBT community.

And, as for being in peril, well, God, isn't through with us yet, so I don't think so!

I have only been Pastor of this church for a short time, but already love them so. They have been through much change in the last few years, and yet, here we are 250+ strong, feeding hundreds of families monthly through our food bank, comforting those who grieve, supporting those with HIV/AIDS, participating in the larger community, striving to live out the inclusive Good News.

There is much work to do, but this church knows that and together, we are committed to discerning what work it is that God is specifically calling us to do, what God's vision, God's dream is for this church, and then moving forward into the future to fulfill that dream.


I've always been surprised that Indianapolis' MCC church is always packed to the gills - and usually with scads of younger people. I think they're up to 3 services a day now just to accommodate all the people who want to come.

If I want a sort of church type fellowship without a lot of god pushing I could be a UU.

The problem I've always had with MCC is that they don't challenge the basic precepts of religion, an institution that is fundamentally misogynistic and oppressive.

Changing one metric of an institution that is basically oppressive so that LGBT/TQ folks can be members too doesn't really make the institution any less oppressive.

It is sort of like lesbians and gays in the military (repeal of DADT did nothing for TG/TS folks). Whoopie, now gays and lesbians can go to foreign lands and murder people for the benefit of the corporations.

All of this isn't really progressive or radical. This sort of assimilationism is on a lot of levels pretty reactionary.

Sounds like there's a lot of anger in these comments, so I doubt any of you have met the Rev. Lisa Heilig, who just arrived at Joy MCC this fall. She's a bundle of joy herself, welcoming of all spiritual traditions (even humanism).
Agnosticism?

Atheism?

Which brings me back to the implicit superiority complex of churches: that anything you might believe that differs from what they want you o believe is something you're allowed to believe (even though, of course, they know you're wrong) by virtue of their goodwill and, of course, they just know that ultimately you'll be bullied into believing what they believe.

The greatest failure of the 1960s-70s wasn't not getting the ERA passed but the failure to tax the churches out of existence. With religion no longer in people's lives against their will, real equality will be but minutes away.

I have always supported eliminating the tax exemptions of all non profit entities, including churches, HRC, soup kitchens and everything else. It is easy to pay no taxes. All you have to do is take all profits and give them to the needy which results in no taxation under normal corporate and other entity provisions. There is no need for 501 c3 status.

Your assertion that such a tax code would destroy churches is ,however, unsupported by any analysis or even attempt at one. You bluster dear Kat. IMHO you err greatly.