MCC Richmond's History
Celebrating Our Past, Embracing Our Future
On October 6, 1968, in Huntington Park California, the first MCC worship service occurred in Rev. Troy Perry’s living room with twelve people in attendance. During the 1970’s, the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC) continued to expand, and churches were established in many U.S. and International cities. From our humble beginnings we have grown into a world-wide movement. At MCC Richmond we are proud of this heritage and feel blessed to have joined the Fellowship just ten short years after Reverend Perry held that first service.
It is time to start an MCC in Richmond
As early as 1973 there was discussion in the MCC Eastern District about needing an MCC Church in Richmond Virginia. At first, not much came of this idea although it continued to come up from time to time. In 1977, the Rev. Frank Scott, recently named District Coordinator, wrote a note to himself that said, “It is time to start an MCC in Richmond”. After a failed first attempt, Reverend Scott continued networking which eventually led to a positive response from Tom Franz. An effort began in February 1978 to create a small committee in Richmond, and to locate a place to hold worship services. The first worship service in Richmond was held on June 11, 1978, with twenty-eight people in attendance.
Early MCC Richmond gathering at Friends Meeting House
To fully understand our history, and appreciate how big this breakthrough was for LGBTQ+ people to form a church, it is necessary to remember that a difficult awakening was taking place in the LGBTQ+ community in the 1970’s. Just five years earlier in 1973, the First MCC Church building in Los Angeles was destroyed by a suspicious fire. Also in 1973, the Upstairs Lounge fire took the lives of many MCC members in New Orleans. Renee Richards was outed as a trans-woman after entering a women’s tennis tournament. Harvey Milk was voted into office, in 1977, to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He was assassinated a year later. Locally, in 1977, Richmond Citizens for Gay and Lesbian Rights hold the first organized gay rights rally in Richmond’s Monroe Park to protest an appearance by Anita Bryant who had founded “Save our Children”, the first National Anti-Gay organization. Tim LaHaye and James Dobson were just beginning to speak out against the LGBTQ+ community.
1978 June 11: The first MCC Richmond Service with leadership support provided by MCC in Washington D.C.
1978 October 2: Rev. Frank Scott and Rev. Cliff Turpin answer a call to lead MCC Richmond
1979 May 18: MCC Richmond, with 33 active members is granted Mission status by the District Board
1982 February 28: MCC Richmond voted to call the Rev. David Gunton to be our next Pastor. Rev. Gunton’s term began on April 1 and ended 13 months later.
In Richmond in 1978, the city’s Human Rights Commission approved a proposal for non-discrimination that included sexual orientation (the City Council deleted Sexual Orientation from the list of protected classes a year later). Gilbert Baker designed the Rainbow Flag in 1978 as a symbol of community pride. The first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights occurred in October of 1979.
This was a period of pushing and pulling, progress and pushback as people were demanding recognition. Our community members, their families, their employment and indeed, their physical safety were often at risk. The notion that “It is time to start an MCC in Richmond” was to remind everyone, even in turbulent times, God loves us all.
As a result of allowing us to worship at the Friends Meeting House, the Friends received a bomb threat. MCC people volunteered to guard the Friends Meeting House at night until the threat was resolved.
Love Builds a Future
Our church has a reputation for being loving and caring to all who enter, members and visitors alike. Most of the Church’s membership were men but gradually, as our membership grew, more women joined the congregation. This was a challenging time as our members needed to learn how to “be the church” after having been excluded from many mainstream denominations. We were doing something new and sometimes we found it difficult to shed old ideas.
As our membership expanded and contracted (and expanded), one thing has remained true throughout our history. Our people have a powerful sense of service inside and outside the church. The dedication of MCC people is a constant thread that winds its way through every year of our history. This has taken many forms as the needs of the church and our community have evolved.
1979 January: our first Board of Directors was appointed.
1984 January 1: the Rev. Arthur Runyan assumes the pulpit of MCC Richmond
1984 Sept 9: MCC Richmond sponsored the first annual Lesbian/Gay Pride Festival in Richmond
It is striking to consider that during any worship service, about a third of the attendees are performing some tasks to help facilitate the service. Our sense of service and community do not stop at our door but extend to the broader community that we live in.
MCC members have served as volunteers or leaders of organizations that pursue economic justice, equality, environmental justice, and safety for marginalized communities. We have been involved in planning, leading or volunteering at Transgender Day of Remembrance services in Richmond, World Aids Day events, Gun-sense legislation, Prison Ministries, Food Banks, LGBTQ+ equality, and financial assistance for those in crisis, to name a few.
First Gay Pride Festival in Richmond
During the spring of 1984, our Pastor at the time, the Rev. Arthur Runyan, recognized a need for an annual Gay Pride festival to be held in Richmond. He floated the idea around the church and a few local contacts, and it was well received. He began holding meetings at a church member’s home to plan the event. A lot of people turned out to help. Knowing that we could not be ready by June (the traditional month for pride festivals) it was scheduled for September rather than delaying it for another year.
The Church reserved space in Byrd Park and obtained a permit. The first annual pride festival occurred on September 9 of that year. A local folk singer, a stand-up comedian and the Richmond Gay Men’s Chorus provided entertainment. Adam DeBaugh, District Coordinator for the Mid-Atlantic of UFMCC, was keynote speaker and Rev. Runyan served as Master of Ceremonies. MCC Richmond led this event for 2 more years until a local pride coalition was formed. The early pride festivals and marches were more about activism than celebration. Marching behind an MCC banner, our members were frequently met with slurs shouted from the sidelines. In the face of this opposition, we sang hymns and distributed bibles.
In October of 1984, the Rev. Jennie Boyd-Bull preached spiritual renewal and then led a workshop to encourage more outreach into the Women’s community. Several of the recommendations were adopted and Women’s participation continued to increase.
The AIDS Epidemic
Late in 1985, Rev. Runyan began volunteering at the Richmond Aids Information Network. He also began regular visits with incarcerated aids patients at the State Penitentiary. After receiving training by the Richmond AIDS Ministry, MCC CARES (Committee for AIDS Research, Enlightenment and Support) provided direct patient care, meal assistance, transportation, companionship, and compassion during the early days of the AIDS epidemic. An MCC women’s group called the Dolphins, sat at bedsides doing palliative care, meal preparation, cleaning or whatever was needed as we cared for and supported AIDS patients and the families of those impacted.
On October 11, 1987, MCC members went to Washington to participate in the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. The march was for LGBT rights and money for AIDS research, and because of its historical significance, the event has been called The Great March.
An outreach of MCC Richmond was established in Roanoke Virginia. Now known as the Metropolitan Community Church of the Blue Ridge, the first MCC service was held on December 14, 1986.
In October of 1988, Elaine German and Martha Pittinger were installed as Deacons at MCC Richmond.
Near the close of 1988 we were learning to have fun together and began meeting on alternate Tuesday nights at a local bar to country line dance. Funds that were raised by line dancing were used for several ministries and contributed to building repairs. 35 years later, this tradition continues every week with donations collected for the MCC Richmond Vicky Hester Food Bank. Carol Anderson faithfully and patiently continues to lead our line dancing to this day. Vicky Hester is the owner of “Babes of Carytown”, which hosts our line dancing, and is a dedicated supporter of the Food Bank.
Late in 1989 the congregation approved an increased compensation package for our Pastor. In February of 1990, he was able to leave his secular job and focus on his ministry at MCC Richmond. Rev. Runyan became our first full time Pastor at MCC Richmond.
At our Congregational Meeting in September of 1990, our members voted unanimously to apply for a Charter, which was granted the following spring.
The Spirits of Joy, our church choir, presented its first Christmas cantata at the end of 1990. At Rev. Runyan’s request, Ginny Loving became the Director of the Spirits of Joy in November of 1991. She continues to direct this important ministry today.
Our Own Worship and Ministry Space
By 1991, we had outgrown the space at the Friends Meeting House and needed to find a new home. A building search team, chaired by Tom Barks, began working with Long and Foster to find suitable space.
1992 December: Rev. Dwayne Johnson becomes our Senior Pastor
1993 February: Our first service is held at 2501 Park Avenue
1997 June 1: Rev. Gillian Storey became our first Female Senior Pastor
After looking at several properties, on January 21, 1992, we voted to buy a church building at Park and Davis. The purchase was funded by selling bonds to friends, family members and the public. For a new church, selling bonds to friends and family members was a leap of faith yet our members faithfully carried on. In February of 1992, Rev. Arthur Runyan left MCC Richmond and by May, Rev. Dwayne Johnson was installed as our Interim Pastor (in December of 1992 he became our settled Senior Pastor).
On July 29, 1992, a final vote was held to purchase the building. Funds that had been bequeathed to the church were used to buy additional bonds for the acquisition of the property. The building was structurally sound, but the condition required a lot of work that the prior owners could not afford (they had even sold all the pews). Tom Barks negotiated the asking price from $250,000 to $119,000 because of the extent of repairs that were required. During the next seven months, volunteers invested hundreds of hours of their time to bring the building to a suitable condition for our Church.
The first worship service in our new home was in February of 1993. Rev. Arthur Runyan’s Pastorate at MCC Richmond was of great consequence to our fledgling church. Although he had left MCC Richmond a year earlier, his ministry and vision brought us to this moment in our history.
Most of the money we had raised was used for the purchase and renovation of the church building with little left to renovate the adjoining Parish House. Various individuals and ministry groups adopted each of the rooms in the Parish House and paid for renovation and provided labor to prepare it for occupancy.
15 years after our first service, MCC Richmond officially dedicated our new home at 2501 Park Avenue on June 12, 1993. We were proud that the Mayor of Richmond and members of the City Council and State Legislature attended the dedication. The theme for the weekend was “Love Builds a Future”.
About this time, we started a children’s and youth ministry with Sunday School, Group Outings, and lots of fun events.
2003 July 20: Rev. Robin Gorsline answers the call to be our Senior Pastor
2007: We paid off the original bonds that were sold for the purchase of our building at Park and Davis.
In 1995, with a substantial gift, we added a handicapped-accessible elevator to the Church.
During the spring of 1996, Rev. Dwayne Johnson accepted a call at MCC Resurrection in Houston Texas. Although brief, Rev. Johnson’s time at MCC Richmond is considered an important period and he is fondly remembered and loved by many in our congregation today. Rev. Elder Charlie Arehart will serve as Interim Pastor from the fall of 1996 until the spring of 1997. Our membership at the time grew to 219 people.
Answering a call to come to Richmond in June of 1997, Rev. Gillian Storey left MCC North London (England) to serve as our Senior Pastor. It is notable that Rev. Storey was our first Female Senior Pastor. Her spouse the Rev. Elder Jeri Ann was also in residence and Rev. Judy Maynard served as an Associate Pastor.
A facility team in 2002, the “Renovation Rangers”, began working on facility and facelift improvements. Completed in May, a handicapped-Accessible restroom was built entirely with donations and grants. In September of 2002, Rev. Storey was appointed a Regional Elder and preached her last sermon at MCC Richmond. Although not yet ordained, Lisa Belongia and Stephanie Burns filled the role as Interim Co-Pastors in October.
Living Out Loud
On July 20, 2003, the Rev. Robin H. Gorsline began serving as our Senior Pastor. By this time, the effort to achieve marriage equality was growing in response to restrictions in Virginia marriage laws that were added in 2004. These restrictions made “void and unenforceable any arrangements between same-sex couples bestowing the privileges or obligations of marriage”.
In response, People of Faith for Equality in Virginia (POFEV) was founded, and their first meeting was held at MCC Richmond in 2004.
Beginning around 2004 or 2005, Rev. Gorsline and members of MCC Richmond and other faith organizations began meeting every valentine’s day at the John Marshall Courts Building in Richmond to support same-sex couples as they apply for marriage licenses (which were then not legal). The Clerk of Court was sympathetic but unable to issue the licenses.
A major renovation to our Celebration Hall was completed in 2004 with new lighting, ceiling, floors, paint, and molding. In August of 2006, a corbel (decorative support) fell from the Sanctuary ceiling and into the pews. This resulted in closing the Sanctuary and moving all services into the Celebration Hall. An engineering study was then conducted to determine the extent of the repairs that would be needed to safely return services to the Sanctuary.
In the same year, Carol Anderson began teaching an Adult Sunday School class every Sunday which continues today.
2013 November: Rev. Carolyn Mobley-Bowie joins MCC Richmond as Interim Pastor
2015 January 26: Rev. Adrain Bowie delivered the Commencement Prayer at the Virginia State Senate
By 2007 we paid off the bonds sold to purchase the building. By March, the congregation contributed $30,000 to help pay for repairs to the ceiling and work began in June. This work was completed at a cost of more than $148,000 by October. The bulk of the cost was paid for by mortgaging our building with SunTrust Bank. In the first week of October, our worship services returned to the Sanctuary.
Rev. Gorsline was very active in the Richmond LGBTQ+ community and was considered a leader in our local fight for equality.
After 10 years of service to MCC Richmond as our Senior Pastor, Rev. Gorsline left in 2013 to work full time as President of People of Faith for Equality in Virginia. The first legal same-sex marriage in Richmond would occur at the John Marshall Courts Building, and was officiated by Rev. Gorsline, minutes after the prohibition was lifted on October 6, 2014. He was named an OUTstanding Virginian by Equality Virginia in 2016.
Music has always been an essential element of our worship service and took on an expanded role when Rev. Carolyn Mobley-Bowie joined us as an Interim Pastor late in 2013. After having a settled Senior Pastor at MCC Richmond for ten years, Rev. Mobley-Bowie came on board to tackle the difficult job of preparing us for our next Senior Pastor. By then, our attendance and related levels of giving had begun to decline. Although we believed we knew what we needed, we found ourselves struggling to move forward, and quite likely, resistant to change.
In the fall of 2014, we once again moved worship into the Celebration Hall. Our heating and cooling systems failed. With blankets and space heaters we carried on downstairs that winter until we could raise the money to install an up-to-date HVAC system.
On January 26, 2015, Reverend Carolyn’s partner, the Rev. Adrain Bowie was the first MCC Richmond clergy to deliver the Opening Prayer at the Virginia State Senate.
After a volunteer effort to prepare the adjoining Parish House, Rev. Mobley-Bowie moved the Pastor’s office, and that of the church staff, into the Parish House.
Spreading Our Glitter
2016 July 1: Rev. Kenny Callaghan is installed as our Senior Pastor
By 2017 our ministries were thriving
A thorough facility renovation began.
On July 1, 2016, we welcomed the Rev. Kenny Callaghan as our Senior Pastor. There was a lot of work to be done, both inside and outside the Church. Reverend Callaghan brought an energy and optimism that revitalized our ministries. During the summer months, we moved back into the Sanctuary and by the fall of 2016 the HVAC system repairs were completed. We did not know it at the time, but this began a thorough make-over of our facilities that was accomplished over the next 4 years with a substantial match donation from an anonymous donor and a successful capital campaign.
By 2017, our ministries were thriving. Every Sunday after worship, we stayed for a pot-luck lunch. Tuesday mornings, our bread ministry would deliver bread donated by Panera to several local organizations.
On Tuesday evenings, our Line Dancing continued and on Wednesday evenings, we came together for dinner in the Celebration Hall. On Thursdays, we expanded the food bank availability and provided lunch to anyone who came. One of the things that set MCC Richmond apart from similar organizations is that we worked hard to respect the dignity of everyone who entered.
We did not pre-package meals, people could choose what they wanted from the food bank, and we would prepare fresh lunches on demand.
Many of our ministries began in the early days of our Church and have been supported with volunteers and resources to fulfill their missions. These include our Ministry of Care, Fellowship and Hospitality, Children’s, Youth and Adult Sunday School, Community Connections, and so on.
Having taken up residence a block from the Church, Rev. Callaghan became a respected member of the local neighborhood. He would frequently tell stories about interactions with our neighbors, some good, some not as good, but always interesting. Years after moving into our current location, people began to recognize the good that MCC Richmond was doing in our community. Some of our neighbors said that we are the People’s Church.
2020, April: We maintain our lunch and food bank availability while most other Church activities become virtual due to Covid-19
2020, August 8: In-person worship service returns with limitations
2020, December: We paid-off our Mortgage
A thorough facility renovation began.
MCC Richmond continued to show up for our community. In 2017 and 2018, we became very vocal advocating for underrepresented people. This led us to participate in several marches for Women’s Equality, LGBTQ+ equality, Healthcare, and the March for our Lives to ban assault weapons.
A complete remodel of the Parish House was nearing completion by October 2018. The new space included offices and meeting rooms. Recognizing its new function, we renamed it the MCC Richmond Community Center. Several community organizations routinely use the community center and conduct monthly meetings and special events.
The COVID Pandemic
In early 2020 we began to feel the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. At a special board meeting held on April 2nd, the Board restated our commitment to feeding our community and agreed that there would be no interruption to this critical ministry.
In response to CDC and State Health Department recommendations, most other in-person ministries and services were suspended in April. This began a period of revisioning what it meant to be a church community. Our volunteers began hosting “check-in” meetings, virtual happy hours, Sunday School, and prayer meetings on Zoom. We began broadcasting our Worship Service live on Facebook, later transitioning to YouTube. The weekly lunch buffet was moved to the porch at the front of the Church. We staggered entry into the food bank and maintained social distancing. We returned to in-person worship in August with limited attendance, social distancing guidelines, and a mask mandate.
In December 2020, blessed with the generosity of a donor, we paid off our mortgage.
In response to the George Floyd murder in Minneapolis, from March of 2020 and throughout the year, protests and marches were held in the shadow of Confederate Memorials on Monument Avenue in Richmond. As we were one short block away from the Jefferson Davis monument, we experienced minor vandalism. The City of Richmond responded to calls to take down the monuments and eventually did so in late 2020 and early 2021.
Throughout 2021, we continued the process of reopening our facilities by gradually increasing in-person Worship and welcoming NA, AA and Primetimers back. Worship Services and Sunday School became hybrid events, in-person and aired live on-line. Our restroom facilities were remodeled and reconstructed into gender neutral restrooms. The Sanctuary ceiling needed attention and an engineering study confirmed it was safe, so we began new fundraising and developed plans with several contractors for repair.
2022, June: Rev. Callaghan answered a call to serve in Minneapolis
2022, September: Rev. Gail Minnick began an Interim ministry at MCC Richmond. The Church Board and Rev. Minnick formalized the ministry on January 1, 2023
In June of 2022, we released Rev. Callaghan as he had been called to serve at MCC in Minneapolis. The ceremony coincided with our 44th Anniversary celebration. Although a somber goodbye, everyone enjoyed the street party our members had arranged for our anniversary.
Following Rev. Callaghan’s departure, our members took on additional tasks. There are numerous examples of extraordinary service and voluntarism to the church and our community. The Rev. Gail Minnick joined MCC Richmond as our Interim Pastor in September of 2022.
A Last Word about History, It's Personal
We have a long and rich history. There are many moments that are not recorded anywhere except for the impressions those moments have left on our hearts. Each person that enters MCC Richmond has a personal need, sometimes visible and obvious but often unknown to anyone. Our personal histories are just that: personal. These are the moments that a kind word or a hug has filled an emptiness. It is a wonder that sometimes a sermon will be delivered exactly when we need to hear that specific message. When we realize that there is always someone to listen to us and we open ourselves to healing. Always, how we feel when we have helped someone. How we feel when we have served our community. We know that something has happened, something important and perhaps even lifechanging. The air seems to change around us, and we feel an essential shift occurring. We experience those moments. These are the moments that God has touched us. Our history is about how we felt in those moments. It is right to take it personal.
Every Pastor has come to us with a fresh style, focus and vision for MCC Richmond. We are blessed by the diversity of ideas these teachers and leaders have brought to our Church. Our members have been a constant example of what generosity and faith mean. Even amidst all the challenges we continue to meet God’s call as a faith community.
We are mindful of our mission of Loving God by Caring for and Serving Others.