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The Sunshine Cathedral Embraces Diversity in Fort Lauderdale

By S. Mathur

The Sunshine Cathedral opened in Broward County as a branch of the Metropolitan Community Churches in 1971. The church has embraced the diversity of Florida, being open to people of all beliefs and practices. Rev Dr. Durrell Watkins, Senior Minister at Sunshine Cathedral, explains that "We are a post-denominational and transdenominational church; that is, our spiritual community has people from Protestant, Catholic and Jewish backgrounds (and more). We are here to affirm the sacred value of all people, to build a nurturing and supportive community that empowers the individual search for spiritual meaning and to celebrate the innate goodness within us all."

These words have been backed by deeds throughout the history of the church, which is one of commitment to social justice and marriage equality. The universalist spirituality of the Sunshine Cathedral translates into advocacy for social justice and the celebration of diversity, which includes gay, lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual people, transgender and cisgender people, people of all nationalities, races, ethnicity, ages, and abilities. As the Rev. Watkins puts it, "Our focus is on deeds rather than creeds and love rather than religious legalism."

The church offers new visitors a welcoming and comforting place to worship. Membership begins with a three hour orientation class on the history, values, and programs of the church. Members make a pledge of commitment to support the church with prayer, attendance, and financial offerings. Neither baptism nor an affirmation of beliefs is required, says the Rev. Griffin. The Sunshine Cathedral is non-dogmatic, baptism is optional but not required, and Holy Communion is open to everyone irrespective of their or personal beliefs.

Community events include concerts, cabarets, dinners, picnics, movie nights, game nights, covenant groups, support groups, religious education classes and worship services. For individuals, there are hospital and home visits, spiritual direction, and prayer. Social services include 12 step groups, and a senior day center. Through the MCC Global Justice Program, the Sunshine Cathedral supports human rights and social justice worldwide.

SunServe, a nonprofit social services agency affiliated with Sunshine Cathedral, serves the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) community in South Florida, providing care for underserved groups - those in financial need, minorities, youth, seniors, and HIV+ persons. It also provides educational and training services. The impact of SunServe services is summed by a staff member: 'I knew SunServe helped people when I heard an old client tell a new HOPWA client, "If you want to get back on your feet, these are the people who will help you."'

The Sunshine Cathedral offers new beginnings. It focuses on the road ahead, says the Rev. Watkins: "When we say the past is past, we mean just that. Our power is always in the present moment. Now is the time we can choose hope. Now is the time we can choose to believe in ourselves. When we say the future has infinite possibilities, that for us is a declaration of faith. We are actually creating the future with our thoughts, choices, attitudes and actions right now."

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