The Rev. Danny Spears and Richard Lofstrand didn’t head down to the Cook County Clerk’s Office on June 1, the first day gay and lesbian couples could apply for civil union status in Illinois. But the day was nevertheless a special one for the two men, who have been in a committed relationship for 15 years.
It meant that their marriage last October in Davenport, Iowa, was officially recognized in Illinois.
“I thought it was just a great day in the state of Illinois,” said Spears, who is pastor of the Holy Covenant Metropolitan Community Church in Brookfield. The smallish congregation of about 65 people is primarily LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender), although 25-30 percent of members are heterosexual, Spears said.
“I still feel that anyone who wants to marry the person they love with all the rights and responsibilities that go along with it is great.”
And on Sunday, Spears officiated at Holy Covenant’s first civil union ceremony. The church had long celebrated “holy unions,” but this was the first such ceremony with the force of law.
And while people can be committed to each other without having the state sanction it, having that sanction somehow is different, Spears said.
“I can’t put my finger on it,” said Spears of his marriage to Lofstrand in 2010. “Something just felt different; you don’t know exactly what it is.”
It’s been a long and winding road to marriage for Spears, 52, who was raised in the Pentecostal church in Madisonville, Ky., where as a member of his church’s youth group was considered someone who might have a future in church life. But by the time he was 16, Spears had accepted that he was gay. He came out to his family at 18, which effectively separated him from his faith.
“It took my family a while,” said Spears. “Everybody had to adjust.
“Being raised Pentecostal, I knew that coming out was not the thing to do,” Spears added. “I was taught I was an abomination and going to hell. So I figured if I’m going to hell, I might as well have a good time on the way.”
At 22, Spears moved to Houston, where he got a job as a bookkeeper with Waste Management, Inc. From there he bounced around via transfers to places like Dallas, Philadelphia and, finally, Atlanta, in 1996. Three years later, Spears earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Clayton College in Morrow, Ga.
Atlanta is also where Spears met Lofstrand, a native of the Boston area who worked as a mechanical engineer. Lofstrand had been married for 24 years and had two children. He and his wife had divorced a couple of years previously after Lofstrand came out.
After leaving the Pentecostal church, Spears, for the most part, lost touch with that aspect of his life. Shortly after moving to Houston, he connected with the Metropolitan Community Church there. The MCC was founded in 1968 by Troy Perry, who had been defrocked by the Pentecostal church for being gay.
“He founded the denomination as a haven where LGBT people could worship as they were,” said Spears.
In Atlanta, Spears reconnected with the MCC and took a class called Experiencing God. It was life-changing, he says.
Spears abandoned his career in accounting and headed to Austin, Texas, where he enrolled in the Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. On Nov. 8, 2001, he earned his divinity degree and got his first job as a preacher in Corpus Christi, Texas.
In 2007, he was hired as pastor of the congregation in Brookfield – “the farthest I’ve ever been north of the Mason-Dixon Line,” Spears said.
Holy Covenant has called Brookfield home since 2001. The white frame church building at the corner of Grant and Maple avenues is easily recognizable by the rainbow flag flying from the pole outside.
Spears says the church has had little problem integrating itself into the fabric of the neighborhood.
“We’ve been fully accepted and have a great relationship with our neighbors,” said Spears.
Part of its outreach program to neighbors has been a couple of events around the major church feast days – Easter and Christmas. Despite the fact that the majority of its congregants are gay, Spears says it was never MCC’s intention to be the “gay church.”
“The idea was never to be closeted,” said Spears, “but regardless of how many times you tell people we’re open to all, people think ‘gay church.’ We really do enjoy being part of Brookfield and want to be good neighbors, and we want everyone to know they’re welcome. Drop by and visit.”