A haven for spurned worshipers

The first isle ministry for gays celebrates its 25th anniversary

By Mary Adamski

Fred Mettered (pictured here): "Of anything to be remembered about me, it's that I've been a church man for the past 25 years. I've been an activist for gay people."

THE first ministry organized to serve gays and lesbians in Hawaii will start its 25th anniversary observance next week with the same rallying cry under which it gathers every week: Let us celebrate the love of God for his people.

The Rainbow of Aloha Metropolitan Community Church is one of 290 congregations of the Christian church, founded in 1968 as a haven for worshipers not accepted in, or even driven from, other denominations.

"We are not a gay church, we are a Christian church with a particular ministry to gays and lesbians," said the Rev. Jon Bullock, pastor of the 55-member congregation. "You wouldn't find our service much different from any mainline church today, it is very traditional in its approach.

"Spiritual life is very important to hold onto for people who have been kicked out of homes, out of jobs," Bullock said. "Many in our community are badly, badly wounded. My aim is to aid in their healing."

Fred Methered, 87, one of the organizers of the church in 1973, says: "Of anything to be remembered about me, it's that I've always been a church man and for the past 25 years, I've been an activist for gay people."

For Methered, a husband for 48 years, father of three and grandfather of 10 children, the church's anniversary is also a personal milestone. In 1973, as a member of the Hawaii Council of Churches board hearing the first Metropolitan Community Church minister speak, "it was the first time I ever met and talked to a person who identified himself as homosexual."

It opened Methered to facing his own sexual orientation and "it made me resolve that helping the homosexual community will be my mission in life."

One of his efforts was as an organizing member of the Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, a group recently visible at the state Legislature.

Also a member of the First United Methodist Church, he is dedicated to the Methodists' "reconciling congregations" effort nationally, which would permit openly gay ministers.

A lot has changed in the generation since the church opened, but the need for a haven remains. An anti-gay theme has become popular with fundamentalist preachers on broadcast media pulpits nationwide, and has been espoused by conservative politicians. The political issue of state recognition of same-sex marriage has brought their focus on Hawaii.

The same-sex marriage issue "has nothing to do with religion," said Bullock. "I have testified on AIDS issues, health care, breast cancer concerns. We take a strong civil rights and social justice stand," and on those anti-discrimination grounds, he said, Metropolitan Community Church supports same-gender unions.

Politics isn't the main arena of activism for the church. The congregation, with help from other churches, operates a Food Basket for AIDS/HIV victims, sick or unemployed because of the disease.

"I have attended a dozen 'holy unions,'" said Methered, of the marriage ceremony between same-gender partners.

A teacher and historian for 65 years, Methered's book-packed office reflects his life interests. One wall of shelves is on religious history and two walls of books are about homosexuality form various perspectives.

Methered compared the homophobic message of some preachers today to the centuries of anti-Jewish discrimination perpetuated by the Christian church.

The pastor, ordained in the Presbyterian church and who worked in the Episcopal church, said: "Thank God mainline churches are beginning to open up to gays and lesbians, especially the United Church of Christ, the Lutherans and Episcopalians have been strong leaders in opening doors."

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