I suppose for most of us, this last Sunday for MCC San Jose is a sad moment. And it is only right that we allow ourselves a time of grief to say goodbye to what has been a truly marvelous ministry and witness in this wonderful city. But the truth is that a church is about people in whose lives and hearts is a living flame, and that reality will never go away. It’s there forever. As Peace Pilgrim once said, “Evil only lasts until it is overcome by good. But good lasts forever.” And there is much good that has come from this ministry that will last forever.
My life, like yours, has been deeply touched and changed by the many angels who have walked through the doors of this church, disguised, of course, as ordinary people … but who were so much more. My partner in ministry for much of my time in San Jose was Rev. Chad Pifer. And Chad told me on more than one occasion that the happiest years of his life were in our shared ministry in San Jose. I could say the same. I could name many others who are no longer with us in the flesh, but who look down from the balustrades of heaven with a joyful smile and say, “Well done.”
Perhaps I could share a story with you from my time in your midst. For some reason, I had felt guided one Sunday to relate the story of an unusual person, Godfrey Mowatt, who was a blind healer in the Church of England. Through a strange accident, he had been blinded as a child. When he grew up, he became a person of many accomplishments, but he also discovered that people who were ill got better in his presence without much of anything special being done on his part. Eventually, even in the staid environment of the Church of England, he had a simple, unflashy but powerful healing ministry. When our church service was over, I was greeting people at the door as they were leaving. And a woman I had never seen before shook my hand and said, “You don’t know how much that sermon meant to me this morning. I was walking by the church and something told me to go in … so I did. My daughter had a baby two weeks ago that was born blind. And I was in such sorrow about it. But your message today gave me just the encouragement I needed.” I never saw the woman again, but she left that Sunday a changed person. A seed of truth and hope and blessing had been planted in her heart just by being here one time.
Maybe one more story. A woman talked to me following a church service and said that she was there for a school project and wanted to know if she could interview me. She knew that Metropolitan Community Church had a ministry in the LGBT community and wanted to know how all that worked. We arranged a time, and when she arrived with a friend for the interview, Karl was working in the office, so I asked to her and her friend to accompany me to the small room behind the altar area. As we stepped up onto the platform, she asked me, “Is it all right for me to go back there?” I assured her that it was, and we proceeded with the interview. As we were leaving, my curiosity got the best of me, and I queried as to why she had asked me if it were okay for her to step into the altar area. She said, “In my church, women and girls are not allowed behind the altar.” I asked her why, and she related that when she was a young girl, she had asked a priest publically in a class the same question. He replied, “Because you menstruate and you’re dirty.” It was shocking to hear that such words could be spoken, let alone thought and believed, in this day and age. It had left her deeply wounded. I immediately asked her if she would like to step back onto the platform behind the altar, and she said she would. I then asked her to touch the altar, and as she did, I gently placed my hand on her shoulder and said, “You are clean. God made you clean and beautiful, and you always have been. Your body functions just in the way God made it to function. Everything about you is beautiful and good and you are right where you are meant to be. You belong here … right here, right now, just the way you are!” The tears streamed down her face. A moment of healing was happening. Sometime later she presented to the church a book prepared for her class project about her experience at MCC San Jose, containing the full text of her interview with me and telling of her experience at the altar of this church. That book is part of the archives of MCC San Jose.
Is there time for one more? A young woman attended our church for the first time, coming through the doors in fear and trepidation. She had moved here from the east coast and had been warned by her MCC friends in their very conservative church, “Don’t go to any of the MCCs on the west coast. They’re all new age and probably not even Christian.” But she decided to check out MCC San Jose anyway. It was the Sunday of my tenth anniversary as pastor of MCC San Jose, and the lay leaders of the congregation, unknown to me, had decided to commandeer the service. “Now pastor, in honor of your tenth anniversary, you can just sit back and relax. We’ve prepared something special for you.” And the service continued, complete with a Native American drumming, smudging and blessing. Now that was unusual, even for MCC San Jose! And here, in the congregation for the first time, was this terrified person, suspicious before she ever got here that we had already gone off the deep end, and now she was sure of it! But something kept drawing her back here, and she would talk to me each week with this pained look on her face. Finally I said, “Why don’t you just go to another MCC in the bay area. I’m sure you can find one more to your liking. I’m not trying to send you away, but I want you to enjoy the church you go to, and you really find it painful to attend here.” But something drew her back week after week.
Finally, she came to me one Sunday and said, “I have a confession to make. I had always wondered what was in the little glass bowl that you kept on the altar, so last Sunday I snuck up, when no one was looking, lifted the lid and looked inside. And it was just left-over communion bread!” And I said, “What did you think was in it?” “Well I thought it had crystals!!!” “REALLY?!” I exclaimed. Oddly enough, when she found out that the bowl only contained communion bread, her fear went away and she found a home here. The Bible doesn’t call us a “peculiar people” for no reason!
There are scores of such incidents that I could tell you about, and probably many you could tell me. You never know how far and how deep this ministry has reached and the lives that have been touched and changed, sometimes unknown to us.
There are literally hundreds of people who have attended this church week after week, making their contributions, seen and unseen, each of whom added the light of their presence. My life is infinitely richer for having had the privilege of being your pastor for seventeen years. This is a day to celebrate and remember the many good times we shared.
“I see the love of God in you,
The light of Christ comes shining through,
And I am blest to be with you, O holy child of God.”
God bless you, each and every one.
— Rev Denis