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Come As You Are

At Austin's LGBT church, all are welcome.
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LBGTQ church in Austin 2012 photo essay
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  • MCCAustin—Mary & Donna

    Donna Holman, left, and Mary Rostrom, right, have been attending MCC Austin since the beginning. They recently celebrated their 37th anniversary together.
  • MCCAustin—Easter Sunday congregation

    Members take part in group prayer on Easter Sunday, April 8, 2012.
  • MCCAustin—choir

    Coty Raven Morris, second from left, attends choir practice on Wednesday, April 25, 2012. She has been a member of the MCC choir for two years.
  • MCCAustin—Elders

    Reverend Elder Darlene Garner, left, smooths the collar of Reverend Elder Dr. Mona West on the day of Dr. West's installation, April 21, 2012.
  • MCCAustin—congregation

    MCC Austin congregation. "We're one-third Catholic, one-third Baptist and one-third everything else. We are a Christian church unapologetically first and foremost, but we also take very seriously that for some people, we are the only accepting faith community regardless of what their faith tradition may be," says Pastor Thompson.
  • MCCAustin—hands

    MCC Austin group prayer on Mothers' Day, May 13, 2012.
  • MCCAustin—kids

    A young couple and their three children walk through the parking lot after church service on Mothers' Day, May 13, 2012.
  • MCCAustin-Wesley Decontie

    Wesley Decontie is baptized on May 27, 2012.
  • MCCAustin—chairs

    Members of the congregation return to their seats after taking part in communion.
  • MCCAustin—communion

    "Here at this church we celebrate an open communion, just like all the MCC churches throughout the world," says Sr. Pastor Karen Thompson, shown here giving communion to Donna Holman, left, and Mary Rostrom, center.
  • MCCAustin—Mary Donna embrace

    Pastor Thompson, right, with Donna Holman, left, and Mary Rostrom, center. During the height of the AIDS epidemic, MCC leaders discovered that communion was one of the few times people in their congregations were physically touched. "And this wasn't only people who had HIV or AIDS," Pastor Thompson says, "it was also the gay and lesbian people who were outcasts in so many ways, so this affirmation that was accompanied by human touch was hugely important. Never take it for granted."
  • MCCAustin—communion group

    Rev. Elder Darlene Garner, left, embraces a group during communion.
  • MCCAustin—It gets better

    Rev. Elder Dr. Nancy Wilson, right, provides communion to an MCC member. "It Gets Better" is a project created to show young LGBTQ people their potential for happiness—if they can just get through their teen years. The project was initiated by columnist and author Dan Savage in response to several students who had committed suicide after being bullied in school.
  • MCCAustin—crucifixion

    "Look what they did to him!" This is one of the last lines uttered during Terrence McNally's "Corpus Christi," a controversial play that parallels the story of Jesus through the life of Joshua, a homosexual boy from 1950s Corpus Christi. Joshua's experiences with friendship, betrayal and redemption underscore the need for inclusive love for all people. Members of the Austin Theatre Project performed 10 shows in nine days in MCC Austin's sanctuary.
  • MCCAustin—protesters wide angle

    A small group of protesters who consider the play blasphemous gather outside MCC Austin on opening night of the Corpus Christi play May 25th, 2012. According to their website, "America Needs Fatima (seen on a sign, left) is a nonprofit campaign made up of Catholic citizens united in a common goal: To win the heart and soul of America for Mary, our Blessed Mother."
  • MCCAustin—protesters honk sign

    The peaceful protest was over and the group dispersed before the play even ended. Though MCC has experienced very little opposition in Austin, the church has endured violence in other cities.
  • MCCAustin—candles

    In 1973, an arsonist set fire to the wooden steps of an upstairs bar in New Orleans that served as temporary quarters for an MCC congregation. Thirty-two people were killed, including the pastor, who burned to death wedged inside a cracked window. Many churches in the following days would refuse survivors permission to hold memorial services on their premises. "One of the marks that is the training for MCC pastors is to always have a clear exit," Pastor Thompson says. "Set up your office to make sure you always have a way out. …I always consider, well, 'hope' is my thing. That's a huge part of the Christian faith. People have hope."

The Metropolitan Community Church of Austin has trumpeted the message of radical inclusion since it opened its doors more than 30 years ago. The church began in 1968 as a place of worship for the LGBTQ community. The first service included just 12 people gathered in a tiny Los Angeles living room. Four decades later, more than 43,000 people in 22 countries and from different faiths claim MCC as their place of worship.Though each congregation is unique, the core message remains the same—everyone is welcome.

Jen Reel was an Observer intern before joining the staff in July 2010, first as Web Editor, and most recently as Multimedia Editor. She received a Masters in Journalism with a concentration in Photojournalism from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was co-chair for the student chapter of the National Press Photographers Association. She has worked in the non-profit sector for the Peruvian-American Medical Society and has been published in Utne Reader magazine, the Village Voice and Pitchfork Music.