Who she is: Global leader of the Metropolitan Community Churches, an LGBT-focused (but straight-inclusive) denomination.
What she’s accomplished: No, she’s not part of Heart (although she’s undoubtedly touched many hearts), nor is she the acclaimed jazz vocalist. This Nancy Wilson is one of the most important women in religion. In 2005 she became moderator — the top leadership position — of the Metropolitan Community Churches. She’s the first woman in that position and only the second moderator overall, as she succeeded the denomination’s founder, Rev. Troy Perry, upon his retirement. Perry established the church in 1968 to provide a welcoming, affirming faith home for LGBT Christians. It’s grown from a gathering of 12 people in Perry’s home in a Los Angeles suburb to an international denomination with more than 40,000 members, with churches and ministries in over 40 countries.
Wilson has been with MCC through most of its history. She joined the church as associate pastor of a Boston congregation in 1972, when she was only 22. Her family was nominally Methodist though not particularly religious, but an event in Wilson’s youth led her to the ministry. “I had a spiritual experience around age 11 of feeling that whatever it was — this presence — God was my friend and that someday I’d have other friends,” she told The Seattle Lesbian in an interview last year. “I remember hearing that promise. I don’t have the words to describe it, but it was a mystical experience.”
At that young age, she also didn’t have words to describe being a lesbian, but she came out in her senior year of college, just before she began her studies at a Methodist seminary. Seminary administrators “weren’t happy about it, but I managed to stay for a few years and then finished at a Catholic seminary in Michigan,” she recalled in the interview. She was happy to find the MCC. “As a young person, I was drawn to the social gospel, she told The Seattle Lesbian. “It was a time of civil rights and the Vietnam War and I understood what I was being called to do. It was an amazing adventure to start a new community, a new church, and have the freedom to do it our way.”
Wilson has gone on to serve as pastor of MCC congregations in Los Angeles (the “mother church”), Detroit, and Sarasota, Fla., and has held numerous leadership positions in the denomination, including chief ecumenical officer. She has been part of many interfaith efforts. In 1979 she was a member of the first LGBT faith delegation to meet with White House staff. She has been an official delegate to the World Council of Churches several times, and in 2011 President Obama appointed her to the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Wilson has been an activist not only for LGBT equality but for women’s rights, access to health care, an end to human trafficking, and other social justice causes. And she is one of 21 religious leaders at the helm of an ecumenical environmental effort called Blessed Tomorrow, launched just this month, which seeks to address and reduce the effects of climate change. “We have an eternal mandate to be in relationship to our natural environment and this paradise we call Earth,” she said in a news release announcing the project.
For more information: Read The Seattle Lesbian’s interview here and Wilson’s official MCC biography here. You can learn more about MCC at its website and in a post Wilson wrote for GLAAD’s blog. Wilson was featured last in an Advocate article on “10 Pro-LGBT Religious Women You Should Know.” Also, she’s the author of two books, Outing the Bible and Outing the Church; find info on them here.
Choice quote: “Our members come from almost all traditions with large numbers of Catholics, Pentecostals, Evangelicals, Baptists, and Protestants. If there was ever an ecumenical movement embodied by a single denomination, it is MCC — and our theologies are just as diverse. We are holy rollers and we are liberation theologians; we are Catholic high church and we are Pentecostal shouters — sometimes all in the same service. We are alive! We are compelling! We are queer! Our common life is the theology of embodied love shared at the common table that is open to all.” — Wilson in her GLAAD blog post