“All these things you’re saying Freda was, she really was all of that and more to me.”
(partner of Rev. Elder Freda Smith)
I had the tremendous opportunity to make a visit to Northern California recently. This was my first chance to spend time doing the “Development” part of my job as the new Team Lead for Resource Development. I am grateful to Rev. Elder Jim Mitulski, himself a well-experienced development professional for multiple organizations (including MCC), for the invitation, hospitality, and one-on-one coaching he provided.
On Sunday, March 1 – the start of Womens’ History Month in the United States, I had the pleasure of preaching at Island United Church in Foster City, California. This is the church where Rev. Mitulski is serving as the Interim Pastor, and they were very kind and generous. Later that day, Jim and I visited Many Journeys MCC in San Mateo, California where Rev. Terri Echelbarger, who founded the church in 2005, still serves as the much-loved Pastor. It was a privilege to personally thank Many Journeys for their commitment to MCC and their faithfulness in supporting MCC through their assessments. It was also wonderful to speak with so many members and hear about their journeys and their passions about the ministry of MCC.
One of the primary reasons for this visit was to join Pacific School of Religion (PSR) in Berkeley, California for a time of combined celebration of PSR’s 50 year Partnership with Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) and time of honoring and remembering Rev. Elder Freda Smith. How appropriate it was to begin Women’s History Month (in the US) by honoring Freda, the first woman ordained in MCC and a feminist activist, poet, prophet, preacher, and pastor for more than 40 years.
Rev. Elder Cecilia Eggleston, Moderator of MCC, met with PSR President, Rev. David Vasquez-Levy, to nurture the ongoing partnership between MCC and PSR. Rev. Mitulski and I also had the pleasure of meeting with PSR’s Interim Vice President of Development, Katherine Kunz, to talk about the ongoing collaboration between MCC and PSR.
During our worship celebration on March 3, Cecilia was the featured preacher at the chapel service and she gave an inspired sermon. Additionally, she gave official recognition and thanks to PSR and The Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion (CLGS). We are proud that CLGS and PSR are willing to host the MCC Denominational Archives at the Graduate Theological Union. Cecilia expressed our gratitude also to Dr. Bernie Schlager who personally curated the artifacts and memorabilia for the first exhibition of MCC Archive items ever to take place at a seminary. And, she also recognized and thanked Rev. Todd Atkins-Whitley (Interim Worship Director), Madeline Guekguezian (Chapel Assistant), and Andrew Jamieson (Musician) for their time, creative energies, and amazing support for all things worship-related.
We also had the opportunity to honor a number of people with special recognition:
Rev. Betty Pederson was presented with the CLGS Leading Voice Award. In 1972, Betty was the first MCC and first openly-gay student admitted to PSR. The school even commissioned a special committee and process to “deal with” Betty’s application and interview. She paved the way for many other students to attend PSR, which has educated more MCC students than any other seminary.
Marsha Raulston was presented with the MCC Pioneer Award. Marsha was the first MCC person elected to serve as a Trustee of PSR or of any seminary. On the heels of Marsha’s 9 years of exemplary service to PSR, other seminaries realized that LGBTQ people were not a problem to be solved but a rich resource to be included at the table. MCC has since had trustees at PSR, Lancaster Theological Seminary, Union Theological Seminary, Episcopal Divinity School, and Chicago Theological Seminary.
As mentioned, we also honored the life, memory, and legacy of Rev. Freda Smith. In the chapel, Freda’s Salvation Army Uniform (from her religious life before MCC) was on display on the altar. Rev. Elder Cecilia was honored to wear the academic robe from Freda’s Masters Degree in Women’s Studies (one of the first) during the ceremony. Rev. Mitulski summarized some of Freda’s major accomplishments and the indelible mark she left on MCC. In a poignant moment, her surviving partner Ms. Kathleen Meadows remarked, “All these things you’re saying Freda was, she really was all of that and more to me.”
The offering at our worship celebration was dedicated to support the MCC Scholarship Funds at PSR. Specifically, we raised money for the Rev. Elder Freda Smith Feminist Preaching Prize (awarded annually to the student who preaches the best feminist sermon). Other named scholarships at PSR for MCC include The Rev. Elder Troy Perry Scholarship, The Rev. Elder Jim Sandmire Scholarship, The Rev. Elder Jim Mitulski Scholarship, and The Rev. Michael T. Redding and Keith Apple Scholarship (for educating lay leaders).
During the offering, Orgena Rose sang an originally composed song called “From Fear to Freedom” that inspired us all.
Clergy and Lay Leaders of most of the area MCCs, many of whom are alumnae of PSR, were also in attendance. It was wonderful to meet with Rev. Amie Giordano from MCC of the Redwood Empire (Guernville, California), Rev. Annie Steinberg-Behrman and Rev. Michael Cronin from MCC San Francisco, Rev. Terri Miller from Valley Ministries MCC (Stockton, California), Rev. Sharon Henry from Reflection MCC (Folsom, California), Rev. Terri Echelbarger from Many Journeys MCC (San Mateo, California), Rev. Elisabeth Middleberg from Island United Church, as well as retired ministers Rev. John Torres (Santa Rosa) and Rev.Betty Pederson (Guernville).
Of course, MCC exceeded the 50 minutes allotted for the worship service by about an hour. We do love worship! Faculty, Students, and Administration from PSR worshipped with us and enjoyed the full flavor of MCC worship. You can still view the recording of the entire service from PSR’s Facebook Page.
MCC and PSR hosted a luncheon at which I was able to spend more time in conversation with long-term, committed members and supporters of MCC. I met people who had been with MCC for up to fifty years. What most inspired me is not their past dedication, but their current belief in the FUTURE of MCC and their faithfulness in supporting our mission with their hearts and their finances.
This visit confirms what I have known since MCC General Conference in the summer of 2019—We are turning a corner! MCC still has an UNFINISHED CALLING, and our ministry is RELEVANT, VITAL, and NEEDED in the future.
If you would like to help support us as we move forward with some amazing momentum, please consider the following ways that you can transform the world with your generosity:
- Giving to your local MCC congregation
- Supporting MCC directly through a regular gift (Would you please consider becoming a monthly donor by making a recurring gift?)
- Planning to support MCC as a part of your legacy (wills, beneficiary designations, memorials and tribute gifts, real estate, and more)
- Sharing your ideas and passions with us (we really want to hear the good news about what’s happening in your local area)
- Praying for us (we need your spiritual support and believe in the power of prayer)
I would absolutely LOVE to make more visits to thank, encourage, and collaborate with your churches. Please feel free to contact me at [email protected] so that we can explore the possibilities together. I welcome your ideas, prayers, and gifts at any time!