Archives Exhibition

MCC San Francisco
July 1973 video

This video of the July 29, 1973 worship service at Metropolitan Community Church San Francisco (MCC-SF) – including interviews with the Rev. James Sandmire – was shot by Queer Blue Light, a community collective that produced videos. On Friday, July 27, 1973, the MCC-SF building on Guerrero Street was heavily damaged by arson. The congregation gathered for this worship service two days later at the Mission United Presbyterian Church at 23rd and Capp Streets.

This video is from the Daniel Smith Collection located at the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco.

The following account was written by MCC-SF historian Lynn Jordan.

The year 1973 is remembered by long time members of MCC-SF as one of its most trying yet triumphant times. That year MCC-SF, along with several other churches in the denomination, were growing in membership and visibility. This led to a backlash in the form of a series of arson attacks against several MCC churches across the U.S. In 1972, the Mother Church in Los Angeles was torched by arson. And in the worst of these attacks, thirty members of the MCC in New Orleans perished in June 1973, when they were trapped by a fire set by an arsonist in an upstairs room of a bar where the congregation was known to gather to socialize after worship services.

In the early morning hours of Friday, July 27, 1973, the Rev. James Sandmire and several leaders of MCC-SF were awakened by phone calls informing them that our church building on Guerrero Street was burning. Fortunately, the building was vacant at the time although the structure sustained heavy damages caused by the fire and water. The steeple was virtually destroyed and the church façade was severely damaged.

The congregation of the Mission Presbyterian Church invited members of MCC-SF and the entire gay and lesbian community to hold their Sunday evening worship services at their building, a few blocks away on 23rd and Capp Streets in the Mission. That evening the congregation – under tight security of police protection – marched from the burned-out church, singing hymns such as “We Shall Overcome”, to what would become their new church sanctuary at 23rd and Capp streets.

That evening, Rev. Sandmire announced to the triumphant applause of nearly 600 people gathered for Sunday evening worship, "We are meeting again, AS USUAL!" In attendance were Rev. Perry and the pastors of several local MCCs, the religious leaders of several local straight congregations, members of the gay and lesbian community and various gay organizations, and several prominent local and state politicians. Such a strong turnout by both straight and gay people, Rev. Sandmire later told a reporter, could be attributed to the role of MCC-SF as "a bridge for the straight and gay community, where we could meet on a common ground of our belief in God." In his sermon that evening, Rev. Sandmire, explaining simply that "it's time we had our own church," announced plans for a fund raising campaign for MCC-SF to obtain its own fireproof building. City Council Member Dianne Feinstein immediately pledged the first $100 towards the fund and in the weeks and months that followed, benefits and fundraisers by the drag and leather communities were held and special collections were made at local bars, and telegrams offering financial support came from across the country.

Although the quality of this videorecording is not the highest, there are visible images of the burned-out Stewart Memorial Church on Guerrero Street. At the worship service I recognize on stage: a quick glimpse of Willie Smith leading the choir; Michael England, who came on staff in 1973 after graduating from the Baptist Seminary (Marin) in 1972; the late Austine Amerine, associate pastor who would leave to become the founding pastor of Portland MCC; Paul Peachey, also associate pastor; and John Emery, sign language interpreter.

Also visible are future pastors: the late Rev. Bruce Hill, founding pastor of defunct Redwood City MCC – the precursor of the current Peninsula MCC; and Rev. Tere Roderick, one of the first MCC-SF women to become a “licensed” minister, later ordained, and one the first MCC prison (California Mens Colony) and state hospital (Atascadero) chaplains. Tere would also pastor Redwood City MCC and is currently the State of Arkansas Director of AIDS/HIV Services.

Some members of the congregation knowing that the worship service was going to be filmed elected to not attend. Much of the film is shot from the back of the church sanctuary, so that the faces of the congregants would not be readily visible. Remember – this was 1973 and lives and careers were still in jeopardy.