Church of Choice

When there are institutions such as the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), founded by and dedicated to the spiritual nurturing of gays and lesbians, why would you go anywhere else? For the same reason anybody would pick one church over another - the desire for a place where the fellow-ship, interpretation of Scripture, and liturgy just feel right.

"The same interest brings us all here," says Carol Villandry, a member of Church of the Savior, an American Baptist church in Cedar Park. "We all hunger for a place to worship and serve."

Judy Alexander, who has just performed a heart-felt rendition of "The Oil and the Wine" as the offertory hymn at the service that morning, nods in agreement. "We want to be a part of, not apart from," she says.

Both women are fully "out" lesbians, raised in a strong Protestant tradition; Southern Baptist for Villandry, Assembly of God for Alexander. Being gay, they say, didn't remove their strong faith in God - even when the churches of their childhoods drove them away, even when they didn't associate with Christians - of any stripe - for many years.

"I wandered in the wilderness for 18 years before I found MCC Dallas," says Alexander. After relocating in Austin, she and her partner came to Church of the Savior after the pastor, Joe Phelps, published an editorial in the daily newspaper (see main story). "`Whosoever may come,'" she says, trailing off. "I'm a `whosoever.' And glad!"

Villandry, along with a group of other lesbians, wanted more emphasis on Bible study than they felt MCC could offer them, and she formed her own group for a while. She, too, came to Phelps' church after the pastor pleaded for prayer and understanding toward homosexuals. She has been elected to the church council, and recently had the honor of delivering a sermon.

Although both women have long-time partners who are also active in the church, their church lives do not center around having their gayness affirmed - but the other members do seem to readily accept them and the dozen or so other lesbians who attend every week.

"We don't need recognition that we're homosexual. We just want to serve, because we love the Lord," says Villandry.

"Church isn't there to make you feel good," says Alexander, firmly. "It's to praise Him." - R.A.

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