The author Herman Melville said: “We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results.”
From a young age Reverend Dexter Brecht felt a spiritual calling. It took him several years and many states, but those in his congregation in Delaware Country are happy he answered the call and made that journey. The Rev. presides over the Imago Dei MCC (Metropolitan Community Churches) in Aston, PA. It’s been a challenging year for all, but the church managed to pivot and become even stronger as a result of the pandemic.
It seems like you’ve moved around quite a lot, where are some of the places you’ve lived?
Well, I started out in Iowa, where I was born and grew up, then I moved to Minneapolis where I lived for about six years. That’s where I discovered the MCC and became active in the church, and that led me to an opportunity in Louisiana and my 2nd adopted home, New Orleans, where I resided for about 15 years. After hurricane Katrina I relocated to the Atlanta area and was there for just a couple of years before moving to Florida where I assumed interim responsibilities of the congregation for three years. I came to Pennsylvania about seven years ago as Pastor of the Imago Dei MCC.
Wow, you’re like your own travel agency. Tell me about growing up in Iowa.
Going up in Iowa was the most wholesome, wonderful experience you could imagine. All those stereotypes about “Iowa Nice” and people being supportive of one another is what I experienced growing up there. I grew up in a small rural community where there was farming all around, it was a wonderful place to grow up.
From what I read there was one thing that they weren’t quite so supportive of… you going into the clergy.
While I was growing up there were several times when I thought I might be being called into professional ministry, at that time we were part of the Roman Catholic tradition and I thought I might want to become a monk. A guidance counselor at school told me he didn’t think that was a good idea. I realized later that he was probably also gay and he didn’t want me to make that decision lightly, knowing some of the repercussions that my sexuality might encounter in that tradition. And my sister told me I absolutely couldn’t because as the only male child, if I became a monk or a priest there would be no one to carry on the family name. It was my responsibility to make sure there were Brechts in the future.
What is a warm family memory?
Each summer my family would pile into our car and the four of us would travel somewhere during my father’s vacation from Amana Refrigeration. We would take this little pup tent and would just have a wonderful time on these little road trips, bonding and camping and seeing other parts of life that we normally wouldn’t.
What did your dad do at Amana Refrigeration?
He worked in the shipping department for about 30 years. I can’t imagine how many Amana appliances that my dad touched in some way that are in people’s homes. My mother became a nurse in her later years.
And what were you like as a kid?
I was the sickly child. I had a whole variety of health issues from an early age, which resulted in me becoming very protected, and coddled. I didn’t really have much interaction with other kids. My experience in life was really rooted in my nuclear family and some slightly extended cousins. I think being sick for so long allowed me to be comfortable with being alone, being quiet, and I developed a kind of spiritual connection as a result.
Was the family very religious?
No, we were kind of a queer family [laughing], so to speak. My parents always insisted that my sister and I participate in Catholic traditions, but from the time I was a child until I went to high school, they never once went to church themselves. It was a strange situation. I know most kids don’t like going to church but I actually liked it, the rituals and the setting. I practiced that tradition until my college days when I gained a deeper awareness of myself and started seeking other ways of being spiritual and religious.
So let’s talk about that, when did you start to figure out your sexuality?
[Laughing] I was really naïve; it probably wasn’t until the second year of college. My college advisor decided to take a group of us out for an evening. We ended up at this little hole in the wall called “The Sidetrack.” It was a gay bar literally beside the railway tracks, and I remember thinking ‘wow, the music is great here,’ and then some guy asked me to dance and I said sure. It was just a natural thing for me to do and it felt right.
I think a lot of gay people have that experience the first time they are in an LGBTQ space, it’s like, “I’m home, I didn’t even know this existed, but I’m home.’’
Exactly. Though the next day my adviser told me I need to be careful about the impressions I might make on people!
That’s crazy. What was it that touched you when you first felt the calling?
I guess, using religious language, you could say I had an epiphany. It was one of the few times I was allowed to be outside, and I was raking leaves. Back then it was okay to burn them so I was burning some leaves and I was standing there watching to make sure it was going safely and I just felt this presence . As the smoke lifted up it was like incense for me and I heard in my mind a voice saying, “It’s alright. I am with you, no matter what.” And it was, again to use a religious cliche, it was a transcendental moment. I wanted to keep that connection, I wanted to maintain it in an intentional way, so from that point on I started thinking about how I was going to accomplish that.
Did you go to school to study theology?
No! I went to a small Catholic University, but my undergrad degree was in speech and drama, which probably accounts for some of my behavior! And I have a masters from the University of Iowa in Physical Education/Dance. Later I did go back to do additional theological studies at other schools.
So you were a thespian?
Big time thespian! All the way through graduate school. My primary interest in dance was modern contemporary and choreography. Unfortunately, I graduated in the 80’s just when the funding for the arts were being slashed. It was really hard to establish a career in that field at the time.
What was a best moment on stage?
It was the very first time I ever walked onto a stage. It was in junior high and on opening night, as I got to the entrance of the set I froze, completely froze. I didn’t know what to do so I took a deep breath and said, “You have to do this” and walked out. I don’t even remember the lines I said, but once I started I realized that I was getting the lines out in character. It was such a thrill once I got out there. I’ll never forget it. The best dance experience was in Cedar Rapids, and I did a routine to “Sing, Sing, Sing.” I had a great time, and 25 years later I ran into a woman from my home town who had seen me in that play and she told me how much she enjoyed it. It was nice that she remembered!
When did you first start your ministry work?
I was with someone I thought was my companion for life. We both knew that we wouldn’t be welcomed or accepted into either of our churches, I was Roman Catholic and he was from the Pentecostal tradition. Our spiritual lives were an important part of our relationship so we went church shopping. Tried a couple that didn’t fit and then we relocated to Minneapolis, and on the first weekend there, someone invited us to church and it was an MCC church. Immediately it was, “Okay, this is right. This is where we belong.” I got more and more involved and people started asking me if I had considered becoming clergy. I had finally gotten to a place where I could pursue that call I’d gotten so many years before. It was a chance to do it as my authentic self.
What is a high point of being a pastor to the LGBTQ community?
My favorite thing about being a pastor is helping people find their spiritual ‘Aha!’ moments. I believe that everybody has a spiritual aspect to themselves, but I find that a lot of people in our community haven’t been given the opportunity to find it and/or have been hurt by the church. I believe that everyone can tap into that spirituality and not only can their lives be enriched to experience spiritual joy or blessings for themselves, but they can in turn be a blessing for the community where they live and love. So my greatest pleasure is helping people find it.
I watched a clip of your Easter Service where you played Dolly Parton and said, “I’m not talking about the people who get so excited about that one Sunday a year where they get to wear their favorite bonnets… and you fellas know who I’m talking about.” It seems you inject a lot of fun into your sermons.
[Laughing] Yeah, that’s the theater side of me! I once did an entire sermon on a ladder, going up and down to emphasize certain points.
Do you have to be a member of Imago Dei to listen to the online services?
Actually we’ve made our zoom link open to all. You can go to our website or FaceBook page to find out how to gather with us in worship. And not just worship; we do spiritual studies, we do a virtual midweek meditation, we have a watch party, and we have small community building groups that meet online. Those are actually hybrid, both in person and virtual.
Any specific examples of people who have been helped by the ministry?
Let me say that I’m the one who has been most touched or ministered to at the church. And that’s not just a platitude; I get the privilege of fulfilling a vocation that I’ve been called to. But yes, there are several examples. I think of a woman who was struggling with substance abuse. She was coming out of a heterosexual relationship and discovering after all those years that perhaps that’s not who she really was. Her mother brought her to church and we simply talked. From that point on I could see significant change to the point that she is now a spiritual advisor and assists others.
How did you stay in touch during the pandemic?
We did not miss a beat. When we were no longer able to gather in person, the very next week we were able to gather virtually thanks to some amazing people who made it happen. It’s added a different dimension to what we do. This summer we did have some outside gatherings in various locations around the area. The other thing we started doing is our work with food distribution. When the pandemic began, I discerned in my spirit that there was going to be a tremendous need for support for the community in the way of basics. I asked the person who handled our feeding ministry, known as the Delco Food Project, to imagine ways for us to increase our support during the pandemic. It has now become a tremendous part of who we are. We are able to support hundreds of people on a weekly basis, and in fact it’s grown so big that we just moved the pantry into a larger facility almost double the size. We have a drive through where people just drive up, pop the trunk and we provide them with food. It’s amazing.
So let’s get personal, what 3 shows are you binge watching these days?
[Laughs] Okay, a little self disclosure here. My junk binge show is a series called “Roswell,” about aliens in Roswell, New Mexico. And they’re living and walking among the people! During the pandemic, my husband and I took advantage of Netflix to watch their selection of LGBTQAI movies and shows. It was a great escape and often educational.
Tell me about your hubby.
We’ve been married for a little over a year. We’ve been through the pandemic and some health challenges and he’s just been wonderful. Just the fact that he was willing to relocate from a different area of the country to here because of my call to ministry meant a lot. He works in the finance industry and he’s handsome to boot!
What’s a modern day convenience that you consider a pain in the neck?
The one we’re using right now! Zoom. The fact that we’re forced to communicate virtually has been somewhat of an irritant for someone like me who’s an introverted person at heart. Having to spend hours every day looking at myself and others on this screen has been a challenge. At the same time, I do marvel at the fact that it has let us all keep connected this way.
I just wish I had stock in Zoom before the boom!
Amen to that sister!
I forgot to ask, what was the family’s reaction when you came out?
I love to tell this story, I was writing my mother a letter about starting to feel the call to go into ministry and wanting to pursue my spiritual side. She wrote back, “You don’t have to tell a mother things she already knows.” She thought I was coming out about being gay! I was just trying to come out about wanting to go into the clergy! So coming out was easy for me, I didn’t even know I was doing it!
That’s cute! Do you collect anything?
My husband and I have a fondness for dragonflies.
What’s a conversation piece in your house?
It’s a piece of art that I made using found pieces of wood that I call, “Jesus Under Construction.”
Which punctuation mark describes your personality?
A question mark, for sure.
The Jesus I know engaged life fully. He showed up at the party, practiced compassion, talked the truth, led the protest, and taught people how to fish. Why wouldn’t I follow him?