Posted on Sun, Aug 14, 2011
The most recent version of Trinity's History
A History of Trinity Metropolitan Community Church
Written for the 28th Anniversary in 2011
In 1982 and 1983, an organization called the Group for Gay Awareness held meetings at the Quaker Meeting House in Gainesville. Among that group were several of the founding members of Trinity Metropolitan Community Church, including Whit Gibson, David Williams, Jo Hughes, Talley Novotny, Mary Pat M., Louise Reid, Alan Rogers, Jack Carter, and Evelyn Prince. Some of this group had already been traveling to Jacksonville to attend MCC worship services. When Rev. Don Johnson, pastor of St. Luke’s MCC Jacksonville, came to Gainesville to speak to the Group for Gay Awareness, he saw several familiar faces in the audience. D.J., as he was affectionately known, and these people became friends. During their get-togethers, the topic was often broached about establishing a church in the Gainesville area.
At the District Conference in the Spring of 1983, Rev. Arthur Fleschner, the District Coordinator, urged the Gainesville group to work with St. Luke’s MCC in Jacksonville to get a church started. The following summer, social gatherings after Sunday services in Jacksonville provided the Gainesville people the opportunity to explore their idea with D.J. and the deacons of his church. Deacons Ruth Hager, Corky Murrey, Mary Stanley, and Barbara Stump set a date, August 14, 1983, for the first service in Gainesville, and arranged for it to be held in the home of Jo Hughes and Talley Novotny. For that occasion, Talley Novotny built a wooden cross, which was subsequently used on the altar of the future church. Reverend Johnson officiated at the first service. Jack Carter provided music on his ukulele, with hymns from his private collection of hymnals. The group called themselves the “study group.” A second service, held the following week at the home of Jack Carter, deepened the group’s resolve to establish a church. Jo Hughes arranged for them to rent the Sunday School Room at the Unitarian Church on 43rd Street in Gainesville as a regular meeting site for the growing congregation. By 1984, the MCC group had outgrown the Sunday School Room and rented the main sanctuary of the Unitarian Church. They remained meeting at that site until 1991. Congregants hauled kneelers and hymnals to and from each service in their trucks.
In the spring of 1984, it became obvious that the study group could not expect Jacksonville’s deacons to continue indefinitely to drive to Gainesville every Sunday to hold services. Members of the study group carefully read MCC’s bylaws and set about the task of searching for a pastor. Alan Rodgers travelled to Ft. Myers, where he met Fred Williams, the newly installed pastor in St. Petersburg, who had previously been a pastor in South Carolina. Reverend Karen Ducham, who had served as student clergy with Reverend Williams, had just been licensed. He suggested that Karen might be a perfect fit for the small and growing Gainesville church. Karen applied for the position and became pastor in July 1984.
Karen’s impact on the church was immediate. She established regular Wednesday night services, followed by “rap sessions. “ She opened an office on SW 2nd Avenue near the University to develop an outreach to the campus community and to anyone coping with substance abuse, AIDS, or hospitalization. Karen soon found herself doing a lot of counseling, with referrals to local agencies. She set up the church’s first Board, with Alan Rodgers serving as Clerk and Jo Hughes as Treasurer. The official membership ranged from 20 to 30 during much of 1984, with many non-members and visitors also attending the church. By the end of the year there were 50 – 60 attendees at each church service. The church’s first hymnals, The Family of God Hymnal, were donated by MCC in Daytona when that church ceased operation. Jack Carter used the smaller of the two pianos at the Unitarian Church to play hymns, and later got permission to use the Church’s grand piano.
The group held fund raisers during 1984, not necessarily to purchase or build a church, but to be able to rent another suitable site, should the need arise. However, the fundraisers (dances and a Halloween Party) did not produce much profit, and Unitarian Universalists continued to provide space for the MCC group to meet. In 1985, the District Conference granted our church “mission church” status. There were about 90 members and many more people who regularly attended church services. Because some members and friends were reluctant to donate checks made out to Metropolitan Community Church, fearing its name might “out” them, the group discussed and agreed to a name change. Several names were submitted, and a name suggested by Domi Sanchez, “Trinity,” was finally approved by a vote of the congregation. Toward the end of 1985, church members began discussing the idea of obtaining a property of their own on which to build a church.
In March of 1986 the MCC Fellowship issued the Gainesville church a Charter. Rev. Ducham distributed building committee sign-up sheets during a regular Sunday service. The response was overwhelming. Ernie Lockwood chaired the building committee, which consisted of Fred K., Barbara Canning, Barbara Haws, Phil H., Gil R., Alan Rodgers, Mary Pat M., Peggy Klootwyck, and Reverend Karen Ducham. The group explored many options. The first was to purchase the Gethsemane Lutheran Church on NW 23rd Street. The group explored finances and made a bid. However, another group’s bid was ultimately accepted. The purchase process therefore started all over again on another existing building, Radio Station WGGG on Waldo Road, with the same final outcome; another offer was accepted over the MCC offer. Barbara Haws, meanwhile, had discovered a vacant parcel of land on S.W. Archer Road and negotiations to purchase it proved successful. Rev. Ducham signed the purchase agreement on October 25, 1986, but it was not until April 10, 1987 that she, Barbara Canning, and Peggy Klootwyck signed the closing to purchase the acreage on S.W. Archer Road in the name of the church.
Almost before the ink was dry on the contract, members organized work parties to prepare the property for construction. In May 1987, they cut through the fence and created an entrance to the wooded property. They cleared 40-50 mature trees and countless bushes and shrubs to open an area adequate for a church and parking area. In the fall of 1987, Ted M. organized parishioners to hold a fund-raiser, the first Steak-in-the-Oaks, on the property. As with any construction project, the church board needed to acquire legal permits and sign other paperwork. Members thought that being a gay church probably made these procedures a bit harder than they would normally have been, given the homophobia and anti-gay threats from groups like the American Family Association that existed in Alachua County during this time. Another challenge was coming up with enough money by the time that it was needed. In spite of these difficulties, the church was underway.
At the Congregational Meeting in the fall of 1987, Karen Ducham resigned for personal reasons. The official church membership was over 100. Karen stated that the church was ready for someone new to lead it to future growth. Karen had accomplished a great deal for Trinity MCC. Though her departure may have been a setback, church members continued to work on the property, preparing it for eventual construction. At the Congregational Meeting in April 1988, Barbara Haws and Ernie Lockwood recommended an arch-type building as the best value for the money. Parishioners discussed the proposal before approving it by vote. The building kit was ordered immediately, but was not delivered until the balance was paid in full.
In the absence of a pastor, and with a membership of over 100 and many more regular attendees, the congregation turned to John Wilson and Peggy Klootwyck to function as worship coordinators. John, a former minister in another denomination, had been defrocked when it was discovered that he was gay. John regularly conducted the services and delivered sermons from November 1987 to May 1988. Occasionally Peggy arranged for guest preachers. John Wilson, Paul Heikeler, the church’s administrative assistant, and Barbara Canning, the Clerk of the Board, directed the church’s business pending the completion of the pastoral search committee’s work to find a second pastor. During this period without a pastor, Ernie Lockwood and Barbara Haws, co-chairs, and John Wilson, Paul Heikeler, Alan Rodgers, Judi Crown, Whit Gibson, David Williams, Wes Abbott, and Katherine Chason along with many others organized worship.
In April of 1988 Whit Gibson and David Williams bought a used trailer and that was delivered to the property to be remodeled for use as an office by both the pastor and the construction committee. They used money from the building fund to purchase dry wall and paneling, a telephone, electrical and plumbing hookups, and the installation of the property’s septic system, all of which they accomplished during the summer of 1988.
Meanwhile, the pastoral search committee invited Rev. Linda Bean to become the next pastor of TMCC. Not long after her arrival Rev. Bean faced a divide among the church members over the location of their new church. Some members were worried about building on the outskirts of the city. The Board surveyed members on that issue and found that the congregation overwhelmingly approved the S.W. Archer Road location. However, while the survey was being conducted, progress on the project slowed and donations to the building fund dropped. Once the members decided to go ahead with the project, though, contributions to the building fund grew and became sufficient to accept delivery of the arched building materials in September 1988.
A long process of preparation for building ensued. Members acquired building permits, complied with building codes, and were inspected by County officials. Plan modifications required County approval before work could resume. Gradually, however, progress continued. Between the fall of 1988 and the spring of 1989, work crews, formed mainly from members of the congregation, staked out the foundation, prepared the footings, poured the concrete slab, and started to assemble the arches. Ernie Lockwood and many other volunteers raised the first arch in March of 1989. The process was not easy. According to Marcia Millett, “That was a trip and a half.” The heavy arch weighed 250 pounds and was 32 feet wide. Church members held each end and lifted the swaying arch until they were able to attach it to the slab – a daunting task to say the least. Ernie and his crew used ropes to hoist the flexing, twisting, and otherwise totally uncooperative arch into place and secure it. Thomas Bigelow, the MCC District Coordinator, witnessed that event. Reverend Beane arrived three months later to witness the members place the final arch into position. On Easter Sunday, John Wilson was the first to conduct a worship service on the new property.
Construction on the church can be divided into three distinct portions. The initial phase, co-chaired by Ernie Lockwood and Barbara Haws, included events from the remodeling of the trailer through the erection of the arches. Phase two of the project, in the capable hands of Sue Benedict and Whit Gibson and their work crews, enclosed the building and began construction on the addition at the rear of the building to provide space for church offices. This phase spanned the summer and fall of 1989 and into the spring of 1990. The final phase, led by Judy Raymond, modified the plans to overcome some technical problems and reworked some of the completed construction to accommodate revisions. Judy designed the interior to accommodate insulation and dry wall and to enclose the ductwork. She was the liaison with the County officials to satisfy all the zoning and code requirements until they received the church’s Certificate of Occupancy on May 17, 1992. Judy’s work crews began the final phase in April 1990. As the project entered its final phase, many more volunteers showed up to work, spurred on by the target date December 1, 1991, for our first service in our new location. The number of workdays increased to keep the project on its final schedule.
At the same time, Judy Raymond suggested that those who were not involved in constructing the building might clear a trail around the perimeter of the property. A crew set out and developed a route that meandered around the bigger trees from behind the present social hall all the way around the property to near the entrance. The path became known as the Memorial Trail because in those days, many people were dying of AIDS. Wes Abbott built an amphitheater stage and benches on the Memorial Trail before he moved to Alabama.
As progress on the church accelerated throughout the latter part of 1989, and through 1990, so did turmoil within the congregation itself. Issues surfaced that divided the congregation as never before. Attendance at Sunday services noticeably decreased, with a corresponding impact on the weekly offerings. Some members left the church, and others, led by Carl Fogelman, chose to worship separately, referring to themselves as Faith Outreach. Rev. Bigelow was called upon to mediate the differences between Rev. Beane and that faction of the congregation, but to no avail. Because of irreconcilable differences, Rev. Beane ultimately resigned as pastor on July 1, 1991.
David Williams, the worship coordinator, and Wes Abbott, assistant worship coordinator, organized weekly services until the third TMCC pastor could be called. A pastoral search committee formed in the summer of 1991 and concluded in the spring of 1992. Near the end of September 1991, Reverend Bigelow, the District Coordinator, was again on hand to witness the building’s status, which included a completely framed and insulated structure with an operational air conditioner. The structure was ready to be dry walled, and the doors and windows in the entrance were installed. Reverend Bigelow was impressed and convinced that church members should hold their first service in the new structure on December 1st as planned, which they did. That first service was an emotional experience for all who attended. As spiritually uplifting as that first service was, however, the first Christmas was even more special. At the conclusion of that service, the worshippers exited the church, formed a circle outside the doors, and with lighted candles, sang additional Christmas hymns, a tradition that has been carried on since then.
After months of analysis and painstaking reviews of credentials, strengths, and weaknesses, one candidate stood apart from all of the others scrutinized by the pastoral search committee. Church members overwhelmingly elected the Reverend Jerry Seay as the church’s third pastor. He accepted the position just one week before the formal dedication of the building on May 17, 1992. Reverend Bigelow officiated at the dedication, with Reverend Seay and Student Clergy Norden Lucke also participating. During the festivities Reverend Seay presented our Certificate of Occupancy, proof that the construction was completed to the satisfaction of County officials, to Judy Raymond. Reverend Seay had accepted it only three days before the dedication and the presentation was a major surprise to everyone, especially to Judy Raymond. Steven Reed donated an organ that remains in the sanctuary today.
As if by design, to welcome him to our church and to the city of Gainesville, Jerry Seay’s arrival with his spouse, Michael Lufriu, coincided with the city’s debate over revising the County’s civil rights legislation. Many groups demonstrated for “sexual orientation” to be added to the proposed ordinance, and Jerry was highly visible as pastor of Trinity MCC. He appeared on television, was quoted in the press, and stood up to some conservative Christians who used the Bible to condemn those who were gay or lesbian. His formal installation as pastor occurred on August 1, 1992. Reverend Seay moved on to Grace MCC in Miami, in 1995.
After a thorough search, Pastor Paul Whiting, who was originally from England, became Trinity’s fourth pastor in July of 1997. As there was no pianist at that time, Pastor Paul hired Laurel Lamme to play piano for services. Later, she also directed the choir. Pastor Paul helped the church members design, clear and build a labyrinth on the memorial trail as a place of meditation. Members brought rocks from their travels and from their homes. Members donated rocks in memory of loved ones who are deceased. Some are identified; others are not. A birdbath is at the entrance of the labyrinth. Pastor Paul taught members how to conduct prayer walks in the labyrinth, an event that continues periodically.
Pastor Paul Whiting also supervised the construction of our social hall. A building was donated and church members screened the porches of the social hall and built a ramp on the west end of it. In the church, they built a pulpit and altar, and replaced the folding chairs in the sanctuary with more sturdy chairs. A circular drive was created with spaces available for parking around the outside and on the end near the church. During this period, the church paid off the mortgage, and members held a ceremonial burning of the mortgage during a service to celebrate being debt free. During Pastor Paul’s sermons, Linda Lamme offered Sunday School to young children in the church social hall or on walks on the trail. Membership in TMCC increased at that time, with attendance at Sunday services nearing 80 on occasion. Pastor Paul departed in November of 2004 to become pastor at MCC Palm Beaches after seven years at Trinity MCC.
During the interim period, Nita White, Laurel Lamme and Elaine Henjum organized worship services and many members of Trinity MCC, including David Williams and Linda Lamme, gave sermons. Board members Jeff Yager (vice-moderator), Bev (Rhandi) Carter, CJ Merrill, and Kat McDonald appointed a search committee and the church members voted to hire Reverend Joe McMurray in July of 2005. Rainbow Bingo began during Rev. Joe’s tenure, with C.J. Merrill, Bev (Rhandi) Carter, and Nace Hopple the first organizers.
Many fund raising opportunities were started during Rev. Joe’s tenure, including “Wings of Hope,” a dinner with an international theme. The church staffed a booth selling pizza and other snacks at football and basketball games for two years. Also during this period there was some conflict between members who believed that the church needed to spend freely in order to grow and those who felt that the church was spending more than they could afford. The membership and attendance also declined during this time. Pastor Joe received a call on July 25, 2008 to MCC Key West. Regional Elder Lillie Brock and her staff arranged for ministers to fill the pulpit for a period of time. At this point Trinity MCC took out another mortgage.
On February 1, 2009, Vickie Miller accepted an appointment as part-time Temporary Interim Pastor and remained in that position until June 28, 2009. Rev. Vickie held several workshops and discussions to shepherd the church through a healing and reconciliation process. She and her partner, Carol, commuted every week from Sarasota to serve the church. When C. J. Merrill died, he had been the church treasurer for many years, so members named a parking space in his honor. Elaine Henjum took over as treasurer.
On July 1, 2009 Jim Merritt, from Sarasota, Florida, was appointed the Provisional Interim Pastor for a twelve-month period while the church prepared to search for a senior pastor. At the end of that time Rev. Jim was called as the senior pastor of TMCC. Reverend Jim was working on his Doctor of Ministry Degree at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts and earned his degree in May of 2011. During Reverend Jim’s tenure new projects sprouted. He began a children’s ministry, called Trinity Tribe. Young children come to the front of the church before the sermon and Rev. Jim teaches them a short lesson, related to the sermon. Rev. Jim is active in the community, working with other local clergy on justice issues. He is also a member of MCC’s Public Policy Team and serves as Marriage Equality Liaison to MCC’s Global Justice Institute.
Each week an electronic flyer called E-talk is sent out and posted on the church website. Over the years Bev (Rhandi) Carter, Nita White, and Mike Cavett have written Trinity E-talk. Al Knight Leach created a video called “It Gets Better,” in response to the increase in gay youth suicides after episodes of anti-gay bullying. After a number of showings, the video was placed on the church website. Rev. Jim posts his sermons on the website and Michael Cavett creates Trinity E-talk which contains all of the many church activities and opportunities offered by the church. Rev. Jim has conducted a series of Bible studies using his own power point presentations on Wednesday nights. The titles of the Bible study offerings included:
The Bad Girls of the Bible By Rev. Barbara Essex
The Bad Boys of the New Testament By Rev. Barbara Essex
Lenten Experiences of Worship and Prayer
Advent Experiences of Worship and Prayer
King David and His Women
The Indispensable Guide to the Old Testament: By Dr. Angela Bauer-Levesque
The Trinity choir has become more active over the years. Singing at almost every service, they also perform every year at the Pride festival downtown. They sing a full repertoire, including spirituals, praise and worship songs, classical anthems, and favorite hymns. The choir has sung at the local Unitarian church and at Yulee Day in Archer, and in 2010, they performed the first Christmas cantata at TMCC in front of a packed church.
In 2011 stone was added to the circular entrance drive to make it smoother. TMCC members have also cleaned, weeded, and added rocks to the labyrinth, which is still being used regularly for meditation and prayer. Church members put in new lighting fixtures and painted the inside of the church.
Trinity MCC provides services to the community beyond just reaching out to its members and their families. David Williams, C. J. Merrill, Nace Hopple, and Michael Schanuel organized a church dinner for the Gainesville Aids Alliance (GAAP). Once a month a church member creates a menu and provides recipe cards. Church members volunteer to take home a recipe, prepare the dish, and arrange for it to be at GAAP on that day. Tige took over the operation of the GAAP service project in 2011 and the tradition continues.
Starting in 1992, Marcia Millett began collecting beverage cans from church members, and transporting them to the county collection facility. Earnings from cans are put in the deacon’s fund. As of 2010, Marcia’s can project has recycled over 8500 pounds of aluminum. Marcia also coordinates the TMCC food bank, which is used to help parishioners who need temporary help. Parishioners bring boxed or canned foods to church to be stored in a closet on the back of the church auditorium.
In 2007, Nita White began collecting soda can tops for Trinity to donate to the Ronald McDonald House of Gainesville, a nonprofit organization that provides temporary housing, basic amenities and support to families with critically ill children being treated at area medical facilities.
In 2010 The Pride Community Center of North Central Florida awarded Trinity Metropolitan Community Church the Business of the Year Award. Rick Nesbit presented the award. In his comments, he noted that TMCC’s doors were opened to the "Gay Community" on August 14, 1983. Lesbians, Bisexuals, Transgendered, Questioning, and Straight people have always been welcome. From its inception, TMCC has been an integral part of the LGBT community in Gainesville and the surrounding counties in North Central Florida. TMCC has marched and sung in Pride Festivals, Parades, Picnics, and ran Bingo at the Pride Center. TMCC helped establish an MCC church in Ocala. Members drove to Ocala to help conduct and accompany services until the Ocala MCC Church was established and could sustain their own weekly services.
TMCC clergy and church members have been active in campus ministry at the University of Florida. Pastor Paul helped the UF GLBT group organize the first Transgender Day of Remembrance and the campus celebration for Martin Luther King Day. The campus ministry also provided active support to the Gainesville Muslim Community. Rev. Jim continues the tradition of reaching out to University students who are LGBTQ. For people living with HIV/AIDS, TMCC members support the missions of the North Central Florida Aids Network, the Gainesville Area Aids Project dinner program, and collect household and personal hygiene products for the TREE Project.
Trinity MCC continues to help support the needs of the local community. It was an early participant in bringing the SHARE (food) program to Gainesville. Members have collected school supplies for Peaceful Paths and holiday gifts for children in need. Clergy and other representatives of TMCC are often invited to speak to classes or sit on panels at the University of Florida and Santa Fe College as positive representatives of the LGBT community.
Trinity MCC has been and continues to be an active voice for recognition of the rights of LGBT people in our city, county, state and country. Globally, Trinity MCC has helped support an orphanage in El Salvador, raised money for the earthquake in Haiti, and sent financial and moral support to a church in Argentina.
In the summer of 2010, David Williams and Barb Peterson established a quilting bee with the idea of making quilts for the homeless. With donated sewing machines, scrap fabrics and donated supplies, ten people met each month to create warm quilts. By the spring of 2011, two batches of quilts, a total of 30 quilts, had been made and placed in a hand made fabric bag with tube socks and toiletries, and handed out to people who desperately needed warm bedding. Each person who received a quilt was so grateful, and the people who made the quilts were greatly touched. This project continues through 2011 with many quilts being stockpiled for the upcoming winter.
It is interesting to note that many of the original members are still members of the church in its 27th year. Elaine Henjum, Whit Gibson, David Williams, Barbara Canning, Barbara Haws, Sandy Crouch, Gwen Elkins, and Alan Rodgers are still active members of TMCC in 2011.
This document had many writers, including Roger K., Editor of The Herald in 1992, Barbara Haws and Barbara Canning, and many others before it came to me. Linda Leonard Lamme.
|Copyright © 2013, Trinity Metropolitan Community Church of Gainesville (Trinity MCC)