Metropolitan Community Church
2 Wellington Street
Reverend Nancy Wilson and Heather Anderson organized a branch of the MCC in Worcester in 1974, operating both out of their home at 744 Main Street and conducting services at United Congregational Church at 6 Institute Road, for which they each earned a salary of fifteen dollars a week. There were about thirty people in the congregation. The organizers hoped that the spiritual community would provide an alternative to the bars, which they saw as connected with a high rate of alcoholism in the community. The pastors also expressed concern about homosexual prostitution on the streets of Worcester. A 1975 advertisement in WPI’s student newspaper, Newspeak, announced that the MCC sponsored a “gay rap session” and a meeting of “Alcoholics Together, for gay alcoholics,” as well as a “smorgasbord supper.” In addition to working with St. Vincent’s Hospital on treating alcohol abuse among gays and lesbians, the MCC helped establish Worcester’s first Gay Pride parade in 1975.
Back in Worcester in the 1970s, the church celebrated that it had a new resident pastor, the Reverend Shelley Hamilton. The congregation moved to a new location, a converted apartment on Wellington Street in the Main South area of Worcester, with “office space in the front, while two rooms with the wall removed served as both chapel and drop-in center.” Chrysalis, the church bulletin, featured uplifting spiritual texts, announcements of social events, commentary on local bars, and a column called “Mainly for Women.” Whereas Wilson and Anderson had seen the church as an alternative to the gay bars, Hamilton worked with the local gay bars, which advertised in the newsletter, as did the Women’s Bookstore and other local businesses.
Reverend Hamilton saw herself “as much an activist as a preacher,” who was “convinced that society’s sicknesses are largely due to our emphasis on the family as the only viable social unit.” Declaring herself “a proponent of the destruction of the nuclear family,” she insisted that “without gay liberation there will be no liberation. The gay and feminist movements are the key.” Hamilton set up a gay hotline, which she believed was needed because “Worcester is oppressive toward minorities, especial gays and women.”
Johannes W. DiMaria-Kuiper took over the leadership of the MCC on January 1, 1980, with a weekly stipend of $50, a monthly housing allowance of $175, and health insurance. Kuiper arrived in Worcester as a minor celebrity. An ordained minister of the Reformed Church, he had first married a woman. After divorcing his wife, he had adopted a child and then come out as gay. When authorities attempted to take the adopted child back, he successfully sued to keep custody. The New York Times reported Judge Battista’s opinion: “The reverend is providing a good home, the boy loves his adoptive father and wants to be with him. Who knows in this world of ours? You do the best you can and hope it works out.” As one of the first openly gay people to publicly adopt a child, Kuiper received considerable coverage, including appearances on the Phil Donahue Show and a write-up in US Magazine.
From its foundation, the Worcester MCC pastors sought membership in the Worcester County Ecumenical Council, in vain. When the council rejected Shelley Hamilton’s bid in 1979, it compared the MCC’s homosexuals to “a band of sinning robbers.” In 1980 Bernard J. Flanagan, Bishop of Worcester, voted against admitting the Metropolitan Community Church because it “espouses a moral lifestyle which we hold to be contrary to the revealed word of God as set forth in the sacred scripture.” In 2006 the Ecumenical Council closed down due to lack of support.
After the ministries of Wilson and Anderson, Hamilton, and Kuiper, the MCC was less vocal and visible in the Worcester public sphere, although it continued to celebrate Gay Pride and took on a special role in ministering to people with AIDS. E. J. Watkins, Jr., the pastor in 1988, spoke candidly to the press about being an African American and HIV-positive. By this point, the church had given up its place on Wellington Street and was meeting at the Universalist Unitarian Church at 90 Holden Street. Watkins died in 1990 (according to the obituary in the Telegram and Gazette, “after a long illness”). The next pastor, Nancy Lee Alarie, died at age thirty-six, just one year later. At this point the church moved to Cherry Valley in Leicester.
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