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Cathedral of Hope Turns 40…And Why It Matters! PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Scott Lewis   
Jul 23, 2010 at 10:26 AM

Phase one of Phillip Johnson's design-The John Thomas AIDS Memorial Bell Tower.
Growing up gay in Dallas was not as glamorous as the TV Show about my hometown. As is the experience of many growing up gay was not a breeze for me. My experience was made more difficult by my decision to come out in 7th grade. While it is not rare for a teen to come out of the closet today, when I was thirteen, to come out was unheard of. My teen years were not the best years of my life, as you can imagine as there were many taunts and much name calling. I attribute my laser sharp, lightening fast humor to self defense skills honed during those years.

No matter how bad things at school were, being told that God hated me and that my future lied in misery followed by eternity in hell sent me straight to the supermarket at seventeen with the sole intention of buying enough sleeping pills to skip the miserable life. As you can probably figure out I did not go through with it. I did however live with incredible amounts of guilt and depression, because the God that I had grown up with and loved like a father had abandoned me. The one ray of sunshine I found in those teenage years was the unconditional love a woman that I awoke to on TV every morning. Her name was Tammy Faye she preached a message of an inclusive God that didn't hate me, he made me and as she would often say "God doesn't make junk!" Shortly before going to the store to buy those pills I wrote Tammy Faye a letter telling her of my intentions and why. It was three weeks later (in the old day's there was no e-mail, it was delivered by horse and carriage) when I received a little pink envelope in the mail. I opened it to find a card from Tammy Faye on her blush (or was it bashful?) stationary with a hand written note that told me God did not hate me, God in fact loved me: Gay and all. That note from Tammy Faye stayed with me for many years the only solace I found some days living in a world of people and churches that did not love me as unconditionally as she did.

I became more and more removed from my god, He hated me anyway so what did it matter. I spend most of my twenties numbing myself with drugs, alcohol and sex. I thought I was having the time of my life, but I had become what the churches of our world preached about my tribe from their pulpits. I had become an alcoholic, drug addicted, sexaholic.

Somewhere along the way I lost that note from Tammy Faye. It didn't matter. I didn't believe her words anymore anyway. She was a minority. She was the only religious person I knew that believed the way she did. And remember what God did to her.

A Model of the Phillip Johnson's Cathedral.
What does all this have to do with the 40th
birthday of the Cathedral of Hope? I believe that my path may have been very different had I known of the Cathedral of Hope when I was a teenager. Albeit, I do not regret my past, that which does not kill us . . .

It was January of 1968 when a group of twelve queer people whom I would guess shared experiences like mine, decided to take a very different path than I. These twelve would not be denied their God by mere men. Their vision was of a God who knew and loved that they were gay. Their God had made them that way. How I wish I had known that God as a teen.

They called themselves the Circle of Friends; they were the only gay organization in Dallas at the time. In the coming months four of the twelve traveled to Los Angeles and met with the Reverend Troy Perry and brought back a blueprint to create what would eventually become known as the Cathedral of Hope.

Inside the Cathedral.

On July 30th
, 1970 the twelve met at a home on Victor Street and formed Metropolitan Community Church Dallas. The eighth chartered MCC Church. From that day to the present there has not been a Sunday when what would eventually be known as the Cathedral did not hold a gathering of Gay and Lesbian Christians in some form. During the first months it was in members homes or a local gay bar. By that November membership had grown to forty and they began meeting in the First Unitarian Church. On December 17th, 1972 MCC Dallas, moved into what was the first building that was its' alone. Dallas historian Phil Johnson remembers, "It stood in ruins, yet to us it was a castle." a building built in the 20's as a small private hospital. Located at 3834 Ross Avenue this would be the church home for the next four years.

By 1976 membership had grown to almost 400, outgrowing the Ross Avenue space, the church purchased an old Church of Christ building at 2701 Reagan, what is now the Resource Center of Dallas. The church would suffer some setbacks in the next couple of years when its' pastor left the church to run for city council and the associate pastor also resigned. Membership declined and attendance dropped to around 200. My tribe are a resilient people, though and with the installation of the Reverend Don Eastman in 1978 the church got back on track and by 1980 saw church membership grow to more than 500.

The Peace Chapel on July 22nd, 2010.
The early eighties saw continued growth for the church as they adopted a policy of inclusive language and added a social hall, kitchen and classrooms to their facility on Reagan. It was in 1984 when the church began to feel the effects of the AIDS epidemic. In 1986 Reverend Eastman resigned to accept full time duties with the MCC. Steve Pace was named interim pastor and a nationwide search for a new senior pastor began. This search lasted through much of 1987 until November 1, when the Reverend Michael Piazza accepted the position and moved to Dallas from Jacksonville, Florida. Reverend Piazza would put forth a vision that would cement this church's path toward becoming the world's largest church with a progressive inclusive philosophy targeted at, but not limited to the LGBT Community.

1989 saw the addition of the Reverend Paul Tucker, who came to the Cathedral to fill the newly created position of Director of Pastoral Care. A full time position created to oversee the rapidly growing AIDS Ministry, Hospital and Counseling Ministries and the Benevolence Fund.

As the Cathedral approached its' twentieth Anniversary the Reverend Piazza put forth a bold vision for the future of the church. The church sold the building at Reagan and Brown and moved into what was affectionately known as "The Pink Building" and began the search for land to build the home the church worships in today. During this time the church began a capital campaign they titled "Coming to our Own", a campaign that with the help of some 400 volunteers raised $1,000,000. It was also during this time that MCC Dallas became the Cathedral of Hope.

On Christmas Eve 1992, the Church held its' first service in the new building near the intersection of Lemmon and Inwood. A standing room only crowd marveled at the majestic new sanctuary complete with stained glass windows, and a towering stone cross. This was an exciting time for the church. There was great optimism for the future with the election of Bill Clinton to the Presidency. And that Christmas Eve service was broadcast all over the world on CNN.

Reverend Michael Piazza in the sanctuary of the Cathedral.
By 1994 the congregation numbered more than 1,200 making Dallas home to the largest gay and lesbian church in the world. It was during this time that Reverend Piazza and the Cathedral began to assume a role of National and International proportion. The vision of Reverend Piazza and the church was that the church serve as a spiritual resource for gay and lesbian Christians throughout the world. The church would champion the cause of the LGBT Community and Christianity. This year also saw the opening of Hope House, a refuge for Lesbian and Gay Teens and the opening of Hope Counseling Center on the church campus.

In 1995 the Cathedral commissioned the 20th
Centuries' most influential architect Phillip Johnson to design a new Cathedral and campus. Johnson, whose design credits include the Crescent Hotel in Dallas, The Williams (Formerly Transco) Tower in Houston, and the Sears Tower in Chicago said of his design of the Cathedral of Hope "This is a building I've waited all my life to build. It will be my memorial."

The Cathedral entered the new millennium under the moniker "Century of Compassion". In 2000 the congregation donates more than a Million Dollars in direct assistance and volunteer community support, an annual commitment that continues today. In July the John Thomas Bell Wall is dedicated. The bell tower is a national AIDS memorial that houses a constantly updating video display of names of those we have lost to the disease.

2002 sees the dedication of the Congregational Life Center. Over 22,000 square feet featuring new classrooms for Children and youth, space for Christian education classes, renovated space for Hope Counseling Center and additional office space for the Cathedral staff. This is also the year the Cathedral membership votes to leave the MCC and become an independent congregation.

The Reverend Dr. Jo Hudson.
2005 was a busy year for the Cathedral. The current Senior Pastor Reverend Dr. Jo Hudson is elected and The Reverend Piazza is named Dean of the church and creates the new non-profit organization Hope for Peace and Justice. This lays the groundwork for the opening of Dallas Peace House on the cathedral campus which is now home to several Peace organizations including the Dallas' United Nations Association. During this year the church seeks affiliation with the United Church of Christ and begins a capital campaign to build the next phase of Phillip Johnsons' design: The Interfaith Peace Chapel. This campaign included the bold goal of taking the largest single Sunday offering with the goal of paying cash for the new project. While year long preparations and fundraising fell short of the 3.7 Million Dollar goal for the offering the church did collect more than Three Million Dollars in that Sunday offering allowing much of the project to be paid for without long term debt.

In August 2006 I began attending the Cathedral of Hope and in my four years there I have discovered a church and a God that knows about unconditional love. I have seen the impact this place and these people have and am proud to be a part of something that has an impact not just in Dallas, but all over the world. I have watched as this church through its' people make a great impact on those near and far. Recently D Magazine named the 35 most important events in modern Dallas History. The birth of the Cathedral of Hope was number 21. It ranks much higher on my list.

Today the Cathedral of Hope feeds some 250 homeless breakfast every Saturday. The members of this church have built schools in Guadalajara. They have helped rebuild the Gulf Coast after Katrina. Annual school supply donations to local schools top 500,000. Shoes have been sent to children in Iraq. If I were to list all that the people of the Cathedral do it would double the size of this article.

Forty two years ago twelve people met in a home in Dallas to discuss the possibility of starting a church. Today that dream is materialized into an entity of such magnitude that I am sure they could never have imagined what their dream would become. That group couldn't afford to rent a sanctuary; today what they started has overcome disease and discrimination to become a church that has grown in size to be in the top one percent of all churches in the United States. They give away more than a Million Dollars a year in aid to their community and neighborhoods. The ways that they help, the reach and reputation of these people are to numerous and incredible for me to list here. I can tell you of the impact they have had on my life. I have rediscovered God, and my God is a loving understanding and supportive one. The God I have found here is best described by Reverend Hudson this Way . . . "Nothing done by you or to you can separate you from the love of God!" That is a powerful message, one that I hope to help spread for the next Forty-years.

The Cathedral of Hope celebrates Forty Years this weekend with a party at Dallas' InfoMart on Saturday Night, featuring Judy Tenuta and Services Sunday at the Meyerson Symphony Center at 9 and 11am featuring Sam Harris. More info at cathedralofhope.com.

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