Central PA's LGBT News Source
The trip from Baltimore, MD to Mountville, PA isn’t too long (about an hour along I-83).
For Rev. Angela T. Jones-Ramirez, though, it took about five decades of soul searching, perseverance, and self-realization.
Rev. Jones-Ramirez is starting her tenure as Senior Pastor of Vision of Hope Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) about seven miles east of Lancaster City.
“It is a bit of a culture shock,” she said, the differences between Lancaster and Baltimore. “But I love leaving the city. There’s a transformation that happens as you drive up I83 and pass over the Susquehanna River. It’s amazing. There’s peace and tranquility. I absolutely love the drive.
Rev. Jones-Ramirez – who goes by “Pastor Angie” – grew up just north of Charm City during a time of tremendous change. Not long after her birth in 1968, riots rocked the sister cities of Baltimore and Washington, DC following the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Things were not safe at home
But she still remembers times being simpler and safer out on the streets for her and her three siblings.
“Back then ‘Officer Friendly’ was Officer Friendly,” she recalled. “If you got lost or if you needed a couple of quarters or something to get home – he would even get you a ride home. The neighborhoods were a little (friendlier), there was a village mentality back then. It didn’t seem to be so much survival of the fittest as Baltimore is becoming today.”
Things were not as safe back home.
Her father was a “functioning alcoholic” who subjected her, her mother, and her siblings to emotional and psychological abuse. As an adolescent, she turned to weight training and sports – playing softball, football, and rugby – as an outlet and to help defend her mother from her father’s scorn.
“I learned how to lift weights and then growing up…I started picking fights so I could learn how to learn those skills that I had learned…to protect myself.”
Her interest in athletics went against the grain for young ladies growing up in the Baptist tradition, as she was. Stirrups and barbells had to be exchanged for petticoats and hymnbooks on Sunday mornings. While she conformed to social norms, it went against her sensibilities. There was little indication then that later she’d wear a white collar around her neck and become a health professor at Baltimore City College.
“I became a rebel,” she said. “I got tired of pretending to be something that I wasn’t.”
Pastor Angie said she always had a way of standing out and being different from her peers in not-so-subtle ways. She lived in a primarily white section of Baltimore County and was often the only black person among her peers, though she said most people didn’t make a big deal of it.
“But I knew that I was different,” she said.
As she reached puberty, she began to discover she stood out from her peers in a major, though less obvious way. That realization came by way of her middle school gym teacher.
“I had a huge crush on my physical education teacher who was also my softball coach,” she remembered. “I would do any and everything to outdo everybody so I could get her attention.”
How she felt inside was a Pastor Angie’s secret for years. She mentioned trying to kiss a boy once but “it was like kissing my brother” She described herself as a bull in a china shop who didn’t want to stay in the closet anymore.
The times in which she lived, her religious upbringing, and her sexuality clashed and ruthlessly and sent Pastor Angie perilously close to committing suicide, which she confided to a high school softball teammate.
Thankfully, her coach was listening as well.
“I didn’t know she was same-gender loving and she kept saying ‘I want you to come to my church’ and that was MCC Baltimore.” Pastor Angie said.
Though she didn’t take her coach’s offer up immediately, Pastor Angie eventually found her way to that church after coming out, “busting the doors of the hinges” in college and meeting her coach at Baltimore Pride under happier circumstances.
“And I was walking around and someone ran up behind me and hugged me from behind and I turned around and it was my high school softball coach,” she remembered. “And she goes ‘I knew! I knew! It was just a matter of time.’ And so she took me to her church group at the pride festival.”
Pastor Angie was in a similar place Rev. Troy Perry (founder of the Metropolitan Community Church) was in and 3,000 miles west in the Los Angeles suburbs in the late 1960s. Perry – who had been a Pentecostal minister – was defrocked after he came out. It was also around that time his long-time lover had left him and Perry nearly bled to death in his bathtub after opening the veins in his wrists.
But Perry lived and started the MCC in 1968, a Congregationalist denomination with a special ministry geared toward the LGBT community. It was groundbreaking for its time, preceding the Stonewall Riots and occurring only three years after to clashes between the San Francisco Police and members of both the local LGBT population and sympathetic clergy, members of the Council on Religion and the Homosexual.
“Each church is run by the congregation,” Pastor Angie said, describing the church’s structure. “The pastor is an employee of the congregation…they’re pretty much like the boss and we’re the hired staff…and the congregation holds the power. We serve the congregation.”
Though some mainline, Christian denominations have at least softened their stances on openly LGBT laity and clergy; they were still universally persona non grata in the late 1960s.
MCC was a MASH unit
Pastor Angie said MCC is a place of healing for those who have been hurt by churches in the past.
“MCC was a MASH unit for me,” she said.
Now, she’s taking on a leadership role at a congregation with 50 people on the roll and about 25-30 regulars at weekly services. As is the case at many mainline denominations, Pastor Angie is hoping to see a boost in attendance.
The church has become an accepted part of the community, she said, but not until after dealing with some initial pushback when it was established in 1993.
“Several of the churches in and around the area did not want MCC Vision of Hope in Mountville,” Pastor Angie said. “when they thought ‘same gender loving people’ they thought ‘parties’ and a lot of lewd behavior. The township council tried to block it. But it was such that we came, we were here, and we were accepted.”
And like a lot of mainline congregations, especially those that are affirming, she’s hoping to diversify the church’s role in the community. Though the church has and continues to have a special ministry toward LGBT community, she also wants Vision of Hope and other MCC congregations to take strong, uncompromising roles in other social justice causes like Black Lives Matters.
“The whole denomination/movement goes so much beyond the LGBT thing,” she said. “Because at the end of the day, we’re all people and we all want that engagement.”
But even has she hopes to expand the church within its walls and in its community; she’s trying to remember important lessons she’s learned throughout her life. One of the most important is remembering she is only human.
“My therapist and my spiritual director, both of them, independently of one another, have said ‘hey, you’re not the Savior, that’s not your job,” she said. “