CATHEDRAL OF HOPE TIMELINE
1924 (January 29): Richard Vincent was born in Kirksville, Missouri.
1940 (July 27): Troy Perry was born in Tallahassee, Florida.
1947: Richard Vincent was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church.
1950: Vincent joined the Santa Barbara Province of the Order of Friars Minor.
1955: Perry was licensed as a Baptist preacher.
1960: Reverend Troy Perry was stripped of his clergy status by the Pentecostal Church of God due to his homosexuality.
1964 (January 1): The Circle of Friends formed in Dallas.
1968: Perry failed a suicide attempt, inspiring him to create the Metropolitan Community Church.
1968: The Metropolitan Community Church was founded by Reverend Troy Perry.
1970: The Metropolitan Community Church – Dallas was established.
1971 (May 23): Richard Vincent was ordained as a Deacon in the Dallas church.
1971: Vincent was elected as the first pastor of Metropolitan Community Church – Dallas.
1971: The Metropolitan Community Church – Dallas began the first jail ministry in Dallas County.
1972: The Metropolitan Community Church – Dallas moved to its first dedicated church building.
1972: Richard Vincent was consecrated as an Ordained Minister
1976: The Metropolitan Community Church – Dallas moved buildings again to accommodate its growing membership.
1990: The Metropolitan Community Church – Dallas changed its name to the Cathedral of Hope (COE) to reflect its change in mission.
1992: The Cathedral of Hope moved buildings again to accommodate the growing membership.
1992 (December): The church’s Christmas Eve service was broadcast on CNN.
1993: Church membership showed its highest period of growth to date.
1999: The Cathedral of Hope began broadcasting live internet worship services.
2000: The Child of Hope Program was founded to help an orphanage in the Dominican Republic.
2000 (July 30): The Cathedral of Hope dedicated the John Thomas Bell Wall national AIDS memorial.
2000 (August 6): The Cathedral of Hope opened a satellite church in Oklahoma City.
2003 (July 27): The Cathedral of Hope became independent from the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches.
2005: An Interfaith Peace Chapel was added to the church campus. The Hope for Peace & Justice nonprofit organization was founded.
February 6, 2005 Rev. Dr. Jo Hudson was elected Senior Pastor.
2005 (October 30): The Cathedral of Hope voted for affiliation with the United Church of Christ.
2006: The United Church of Christ accepted affiliation with the Cathedral of Hope.
2012 (July 16): Reverend Richard Vincent died at age eighty-eight.
2015 (April 12): Reverend Dr. Neil G. Cazares-Thomas was elected COE Senior Pastor.
The history of the Cathedral of Hope (COE) began with Troy Perry and the Metropolitan Community Church. Perry [Image at right] was born in 1940 in Tallahassee, Florida. He was interested in ministry at a very young age, being licensed as a preacher when he was only fifteen years old. He moved to Illinois as a young adult, where he was clergy in a Pentecostal Church of God for a few years until being stripped of his status due to his homosexuality. (“Rev. Dr. Troy Perry” 2016; Perry 2002). Perry was drafted for military service in 1965 and was stationed overseas for two years (Bromley 2011).
In 1968, due to the difficulty he had reconciling his sexuality with his faith, as well as the difficult breakup of a long-term relationship, Perry attempted suicide. Upon surviving this attempt, as well as encouragement from friends, he realized that there needed to be a church that was accessible to non-heterosexual Christians (“Rev. Dr. Troy Perry” 2016; Perry 2004). Later that year, Reverend Perry conducted the first service for the newly founded Metropolitan Community Church. Within four years, the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) had branches established in more than a dozen states, including the Dallas branch of the church that would later become the Cathedral of Hope (Bromley 2011; Perry 2004).
The founding of the Metropolitan Community Church – Dallas (MCCD) began with the formation of the Circle of Friends in Dallas on January 1, 1964 by five gay men and four non-gay ministers (Mims 2009:17). Five years later, a member of the Circles of Friends, Rob Shivers, decided to start an MCC church in Dallas (Mims 2009:32). On July 30, 1970, a group of twelve people gathered at a home in Dallas, Texas, to discuss the establishment of a church. MCCD became the eighth member of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMC) on May 23, 1971. The Reverend Louis Loynes of MCC Los Angeles represented the Fellowship at the charter ceremony. The planting of a MCC church in Dallas was surprising given the city’s extreme conservatism, but Dallas, which was the ninth largest city in the U.S., did also have the sixth largest gay population in the U.S.
Richard Vincent became the first pastor of the new church. [Image at right] He was born in 1924 to a family in Kirksville, Missouri. He reportedly led an unexceptional life until joining the Marines during world War II. Following the war, Vincent pursued a degree in engineering from Purdue University. During his time at the university, Vincent was baptized into the Roman Catholic Church. Upon graduating from Purdue, Vincent moved to Key West, Florida. This marked Vincent’s first recorded interaction with the gay community (Vincent 2010). In 1953, Vincent joined the Santa Barbara Province of the Order of Friars Minor, a Catholic Franciscan order, as he felt called to priesthood. After three years of priestly studies, he was discouraged by his superiors and left the order in 1956. In 1970, Vincent met with Reverend Troy Perry due to his interest in the fledgling Metropolitan Community Church ministry. After attending a meeting regarding the expansion of the Metropolitan Community Church to the Dallas area, Vincent joined the Board of Overseers for the new church. When the MCCD was chartered, Vincent was ordained as a deacon by other church officials, then was elected to be the first pastor of the church. Vincent helped several early endeavors of the church, such as a local jail ministry (Vincent 2010). After being elected to the Board of Elders for the Metropolitan Community Church in 1973, Vincent began doing more work for the MCCD as a whole, while gradually moving away from the Dallas church. After retiring from the Board of Elders, he remained affiliated with the MCCD, remaining until 2003 when the now-Cathedral of Hope disaffiliated from the Metropolitan Community Church fellowship (Vincent 2010). Vincent returned to the Roman Catholic denomination until his death in 2012.
In 1990, the church renamed itself from Metropolitan Community Church – Dallas to the Cathedral of Hope to reflect some of the changes in its mission statement, as well as marking the transition to a larger building due to the growing congregation (“History” n.d.). Throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s, there was a period of rapid growth and development for the Cathedral of Hope. Church membership grew into the thousands; it became known as the largest LGBT church in the world. Sunday services were recorded so that they could be viewed online, and many of the charity or nonprofit organizations and programs in which the Cathedral takes part were formed (“History” n.d.; Johnston and Jenkins 2008).
In 2003, the congregation of the Cathedral voted to disaffiliate from the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches denomination. However, after three years of independent status, the Cathedral of Hope affiliated with the liberal United Church of Christ (UCC) denomination. The Cathedral of Hope has retained its strong connections to the Metropolitan Community Churches, however, as many of the current clergy having served with them (“History” n.d.; “Our Pastors” n.d.).
The UCC, and the COE as an affiliate, prides itself on being a church of firsts:
And so we were the first historically white denomination to ordain an African-American, the first to ordain a woman, the first to ordain an openly gay man, and the first Christian church to affirm the right of same-gender couples to marry. We were in the forefront of the anti-slavery movement. We were in the forefront of the anti-slavery movement and the Civil Rights movement (“About Us” n.d.).
The Cathedral of Hope integrates a variety of Christian values, beliefs, and doctrines. In its forty-eight years of existence, it has adopted ideas from both the Metropolitan Community Church, the United Church of Christ, and the Center for Progressive Christianity. According to the Cathedral of Hope website (n.d.), “The mission of the Cathedral of Hope is to reclaim Christianity as a faith of extravagant grace, radical inclusion, and relentless compassion.” These beliefs include the direct application of several important tenants of the New Testament, such as the belief in the divinity of Christ, including people from all backgrounds into the faith, challenging oppression, and providing for underprivileged people.
The Cathedral also places a heavy focus on social justice in addition to its religious activities, such as “building activities with other marginalized and oppressed people” (Johnston and Jenkins 2008). These beliefs are nearly as core to the Cathedral as their beliefs regarding Christian doctrine. On the “What We Believe” page of the Cathedral’s website, the church asserts its embrace of values such as “helping and advocating for the poor, valuing the environment and recognizing as sinful such oppressive attitudes as sexism, ageism, racism, and homophobia.” The church focuses on including traditionally excluded and marginalized people that tend to be ostracized from other faith communities, particularly due to socioeconomic status, sexuality, or gender identity (“What We Believe” n.d.; Johnston and Jenkins 2008).
The majority of the practices that set the Cathedral of Hope apart from other Christian denominations are the charitable and outreach programs dedicated primarily to non-heterosexual individuals or highly impoverished people. For example, in 2000, the Cathedral’s charitable donations exceeded $1,000,000 to “help bring social justice to vulnerable, disenfranchised, and oppressed people in Dallas, Texas, and in various locations around the world (Johnston and Jenkins 2008).
The Cathedral maintains several programs and relationships with organizations that allow it to further these civic pursuits. The church’s maxim in undertaking these activities is “Just let them see what we do,” and it has been adopted as the motto of the Cathedral of Hope’s social justice/community outreach programs (“Community outreach,” n.d.). In 1997, for example, the Cathedral helped an elementary school in a low-income Dallas neighborhood by providing necessities and upgrades such as an air conditioning system, school supplies, uniforms, and funding for a fine arts program (Johnston and Jenkins 2008). Test scores subsequently rose, and the school was removed from the list of under-performing schools.
The Child of Hope program was founded in 2000 to benefit children in the Dallas school district as well as an orphanage in the Dominican Republic (“History” n.d.; Johnston and Jenkins 2008). Other volunteer projects that have been a consistent part of the ministry include neighborhood cleanups in low-income areas that have limited or no access to city cleaning services, as well as providing repairs on houses in those areas.
Membership in the Cathedral of Hope grew steadily through its history, and the church has been touted as the largest LGBT church in the world, although there are a number of larger churches in the Dallas-Ft. Worth metropolitan area. COE is led by four clergy, one senior pastor and three associate pastors, and supported by several lay ministers who coordinate the various outreach programs in which the Cathedral is involved. Not surprisingly given COE’s history, most of the church leaders have close connections to MCC.
The current senior pastor is Reverend Niel Cazares-Thomas, who came to the Cathedral in 2015. He previously had been a pastor for thirteen years at the Metropolitan Community Church in Los Angeles, the first church of that ministry. Additionally, before coming to the Cathedral of Hope, Rev. Cazares-Thomas served on several boards and teams throughout the Metropolitan Community Church ministry. He began his ministry career at the Metropolitan Community Church in Bournemouth, England; during that time, he was recognized by Queen Elizabeth II for his work in the community (Moujaes 2015). He has an extensive theological education background, having enrolled in and attended three institutions to achieve his Master of Divinity degree. Cazares-Thomas then attended San Francisco Theological College from 2002 to 2009 to earn his Doctor of Ministry degree (“Our Pastors” n.d.).
As part of its ambitious expansion plans, COE has constructed the Chapel of Hope’s Interfaith Peace Chapel [Image at right] and an accompanying bell wall that were designed by celebrated architect Philip Johnson. Spiegelman (2010) describes the interior as follows:
There is no ornamentation inside, not even an altar, merely a raised bamboo platform under the skylight, on which a table, a piano or anything else might be placed. The building must serve many functions and be many things to many groups. The floor is concrete, industrial but elegantly polished. There is no art, but the place does not feel empty or sterile. Instead, a sense of serene spirituality infuses it. Meditation rather than doctrine defines the building and the experience of sitting within it.
The Cathedral of Hope emphasized the mission of the chapel as interfaith inclusivity (“Architecture” n.d.).
The Interfaith Peace Chapel provides a sacred place for people of all faiths, and for people who profess no faith, to come together in unity and love. No matter the headlines or conflicts outside, within the walls of the Interfaith Peace Chapel all faiths, nationalities and ethnicities are welcome. The Chapel is an example of inclusive spiritual cooperation for the rest of the world.
The Cathedral of Hope has faced and continues to face a variety of challenges, both internal and external. Externally, the Cathedral of Hope faced continuing opposition, although none as serious as the UFMCC loss of three churches to arson in 1973 (Mims 2009:51-52). It is not surprising that the Cathedral of Hope has engendered resistance since the congregation consists primarily of gay parishioners and also is located in the conservative “Bible Belt” region. For example, the church attempted to purchase several available church buildings as its congregation membership size continued to increase. However, when the potential buyers became known, purchase offers were withdrawn. (“The beginning,” n.d.). One congregation reportedly threatened to “burn their building to the ground rather than have a gay congregation using the facility” (Cathedral of Hope 1998).
Individual parishioners were harried. Johnston and Jenkins (2008) report that:
On numerous occasions the church has been the object of demonstrations from fundamentalist, Christian groups who “greet” members as they arrive for worship. These groups carry signs with reminders of God’s supposed hate for gay and lesbian people and use bullhorns to demand repentance from gay and lesbian people.
Church leaders’ attempts to reach out to and cooperate with other Dallas churches were often shunned or ignored, other churches withdrew from civic events in which COH offered to participate, and the church building has been defaced with homophobic graffiti on more than one occasion (Fox News Staff 2017).
COE has continued to be active in community civic events but has become more cautious. Senior pastor Reverend Neil Cazares-Thomas commented that:
We are also entering I think into an era in our country where hatred and bigotry and homophobia has somehow been given permission and so as a congregation we are on the alert that these things will happen (Fox News Staff 2017).
Arguably the long-term challenges facing COH may be more internal than external. The church went through a leadership crisis beginning in the early 2000’s. There was a decline in membership and donations, divisiveness within the congregation, financial overreach and mismanagement, complaints about overly authoritative leadership, and an increasingly contentious relationship with the UFMC. The church, under the leadership of Reverend Michael Piazza, who assumed his position in 1987, constructed a $3,500,000 million sanctuary in the early 1990s, but Piazza announced a new building campaign envisioning a much grander 2,300-person capacity, $20,000,000 cathedral to be designed by renowned architect Phillip Johnson in 1996. Financial problems ensued as church donations declined and construction costs escalated. In 2002, the tensions with the UFMCC were resolved by the church’s withdrawal from the Federation. Those opposing the disaffiliation formed a new congregation, the Metropolitan Community Church of Greater Dallas. Three years later, in 2005, there was a leadership reorganization as the COE elected Reverend Dr. Jo Hudson Senior Pastor and Reverend Michael Piazza became Dean of the Cathedral and President of Hope for Peace & Justice. The financial problems continued and led to layoffs and pay cuts. Piazza remained on staff for a few years before taking a position as senior pastor of Atlanta’s Virginia-Highland Church, which also was affiliated with the United Church of Christ. COE sought affiliation with the United Church of Christ in 2005 and was approved the following year. Reverend Hudson served as Senior Pastor until 2015 when Rev. Dr. Neil G. Cazares-Thomas [Image at right] was elected to the position.
COE currently faces an uncertain future. The movement that began with the Metropolitan Community Church predominantly attracted young gays and lesbians and was not family oriented. That generation remains a major foundation of the movement. And so, as do many new religious groups, the movement faces the challenge of an aging first generation. In addition, however, the movement has lost some of its compelling quality as LGBT individuals have found greater acceptance in the mainstream religious community. COH has addressed these issues by realigning itself denominationally with the United Church of Christ, one of the most liberal Protestant denominations. This presumably will reduce the centrality of sex/gender as a focal point of congregational identity and broaden COE’s membership potential (Kunerth 2010; Haug 2011). The ultimate success of this strategy, of course, remains to be determined.
Image #1: Photograph of Reverend Troy Perry.
Image #2: Photograph of Reverend Richard Vincent.
Image #3: Photograph of Chapel of Hope’s Interfaith Peace Chapel.
Image #4: Photograph of Reverend Dr. Neil G. Cazares-Thomas.
“Architecture.” Cathedral of Hope website. Accessed from https://www.cathedralofhope.com/architecture on 3 November 2018.
Bromley, David. 2011. “Metropolitan Community Church.” World Religions and Spirituality Project, Accessed from www.wrldrels.org/2016/10/08/metropolitan-community-church/ on 3 November 2018.
Fox News Staff. 2017. “Graffiti at Cathedral of Hope Being Investigated.” KDFW, January 5. Accessed from www.fox4news.com/news/graffiti-at-cathedral-of-hope-being-investigated on 3 November 2018.
Haug, Jim. 2007. “Gay church loses members as acceptance spreads.” News Journal Online, October 8. Accessed from http://telling-secrets.blogspot.com/2007/10/gay-church-loses-members-as-acceptance.html on 1 November 2018.
“History.” n.d. Cathedral of Hope – Home. Accessed from www.cathedralofhope.com/new/history on 3 November 2018.
Johnston, Lon B., and David Jenkins. 2004. “A Gay and Lesbian Congregation Seeks Social Justice for Other Marginalized Communities.” Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services 16:193–206.
Kunerth, Jeff. 2010. “Generation gap imperils gay church.” Orlando Sentinel, December 31. Accessed from https://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/orange/os-young-gays-church-future-20101231-story.html on 3 November 2018.
Mims, Dennis. 1992. Cathedral of Hope: A History of Progressive Christianity, Civil rights, and Gay Social Activism in Dallas Texas, 1965-1992. Master’s Thesis, University of North Texas.
Moujaes, Anthony. 2015. “Cathedral of Hope Calls New Pastor.” United Church of Christ, April 14. Accessed from www.ucc.org/cathedral_of_hope_pastor_04142015 on 3 November 2018.
“Our Pastors.” n.d. Cathedral of Hope – Home. Accessed from www.cathedralofhope.com/new/our-pastors on 3 November 2018.
Perry, Troy. 2002. “Rev. Elder Troy Perry.” Troy Perry • Profile,” LGBT Religious Archives Network, October. Accessed from www.lgbtran.org/Profile.aspx?.”ID=11 on 3 November 2018..
Perry, Troy. 2004. “History of MCC.” Metropolitan Community Churches. Accessed from www.mccchurch.org/overview/history-of-mcc/ on 3 November 2018.
“Rev. Dr. Troy Perry.” 2016. THE LAVENDER EFFECT” March 8. Accessed from www.thelavendereffect.org/projects/ohp/troy-perry/ on 3 November 2018.
Spiegelman, Willard. 2010. “No Typical Texas Church.” Wall Street Journal, December 22. Accessed from https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748704369304575633332577509918 on 30 October 2018.
Thomas, Christopher. 2010. “Dr. Sprinkle Receives Distinguished Award from Cathedral of Hope.” Brite Divinity School, June 30. Accessed from https://brite.edu/dr-sprinkle-receives-distinguished-award-from-cathedral-of-hope/ on 3 November 2018.
Vincent, Richard. 2010. “Richard Vincent.” LGBT Religious Archives Network, May. Accessed from www.lgbtran.org/Profile.aspx?ID=275 on 3 November 2018.
“What We Believe.” n.d. Cathedral of Hope – Home. Accessed from www.cathedralofhope.com/new/what-we-believe on 3 November 2018.
26 October 2018