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Rev. Derrick McQueen

Biography

Derrick McQueen is a preacher, teacher, pastor, and singer born in Morristown, New Jersey in January 1965. Raised Baptist, he grew up with conversations of liberation theology, being African American, and what it meant for God to be a reflection of oneself. McQueen grew up with a closeness to the Divine, a closeness that manifested in mystical experiences. 

One of the first visions McQueen ever had happened when he was a young child. In this vision, he went up to altar-call for prayer at the end of service at his home church of Calvary Baptist. McQueen recalls the feeling of heat within his heart and seeing someone wearing tattered robes with nail scars in their hands and feet. When the figure reached their nail-scarred hand out to him, McQueen recalled grabbing it and the figure telling him to look up at them. McQueen refused, claiming that he was not worthy to do so, and yet the figure insisted. When he finished the call to prayer and opened his eyes, McQueen, though baffled by the vision and in tears, looked over at his aunt, who nodded at him and confirmed that the vision did indeed happen and she saw it too. This would become one of the most pivotal moments in his life, one that reassured him that he was loved above all else. 

McQueen grew up in an environment that openly denounced homosexuality, though he would later find out that those slinging those hurtful words were partaking in the same “behaviors” they claimed to condemn. Despite this hypocrisy, McQueen would end up going into ministry, a calling that he tabled for a short while in favor of going into theater. While doing theater at Drew University from 1983 to 1987, he felt a freedom in being able to express his emotions and be passionate without being criticized. He traveled to New York City and began working for the avant-garde theaters of the Lower East Side, Mabou Mines and Chutes and Ladders. For a protest gathering he wrote a song for his brother who had just been deployed during the Gulf War. Though the song was an anti-war theme, it had roots in the gospel hymns of McQueen’s youth.

When he left New York in pursuit of his next career move, McQueen found himself in Cape May, New Jersey working at a social services program that catered towards kids in his community and the unique circumstances of their lives. It was there that he was approached by the First Presbyterian Church of Cape May to be a worship leader. At the church, he encountered the musical talents of jazz musician George Mesterhazy and entered into an agreement that Mesterhazy would teach him jazz and he would teach Mesterhazy gospel. McQueen’s involvement in the church led him to become Presbyterian and more involved in the church. After almost a year as a member there, McQueen was approached with the opportunity to preach when the head pastor fell ill and had to leave. Congregants enthusiastically came up to him after the service and urged him to go into seminary. He was specifically encouraged and guided to Union Theological Seminary by an alumna who happened to be in the congregation. 

McQueen’s decision to attend Union Theological Seminary was one he had made before even knowing of its existence. In another vision he had experienced from the age of six, he found himself in the school’s campus, though he did not know it at the time. In the dream, he approached a big stone building with music coming out of it, but found himself waking up once he got to the door. Before attending Union Theological Seminary in 2006, he received a DVD for Union that ended up playing the music from his dream. Though he originally thought that the stone building was the Great Hall at Drew University, it was revealed that it was actually Union’s chapel space. This revelation confirmed for him that Union was where he was meant to be. 

McQueen discovered that Union was a bastion of diversity. The environment there was one of diversity and inclusion which he discovered through their Black and queer caucuses and overall commitment to being progressive. While at Union, McQueen found that the Presbyterian Church USA was fighting for the inclusion of lgbtq people. In his first month at there he was approached by Presbyterian Welcome, a group advocating for the inclusion of all within the church, and was asked to join their board. He agreed, wanting to join in the fight for inclusion. At Union McQueen encountered Rev. Margaret Aymer, a prominent Biblical scholar, who invited him to a Black lgbtq panel she was hosting in Harlem. McQueen arrived at the panel and immediately felt at home within the church. It appealed to him because of its focus on the arts and its commitment to being open and affirming. He made his commitment to the church and made the decision to go for ordination. 

At St. James Presbyterian Church, McQueen began singing in the choir, joined the leadership as a ruling elder, and chaired the fierce Black caucus there for six years, all the while still working towards his master’s degree. In addition, he became an advocate for the Presbytery of Auburn Seminary and General Assembly. While advocating for the General Assembly in their fight to become an open and affirming denomination, McQueen was offered the opportunity to give the final prayer before the vote and sang in front of 10,000 people. Afterwards someone came up to him and exclaimed that if that was what a queer church looked like, they wanted to be a part of it. 

McQueen went on to become the moderator-elect for the Presbytery of New York City, then the Chair of the General Cabinet, both of which enabled him to lead the Presbytery for a year and then lead all committee decisions and meetings of all chairs for another year. He was out and open about his sexuality during the entirety of this and has made a commitment to living proudly and authentically. Over the years he has been approached to preach at numerous churches, regardless of denomination. His background in New Testament studies and homiletics have formed the basis of his theology which has been expanded to include his interest in practical theology, the integration of current academic theologies and biblical studies critical of Empire into the lives of congregants, the influence of classical dramatic structures on Christianity, and early church models of social justice. 

McQueen asserts that, no matter what, the Divine seeks to be in relationship with all of creation. McQueen has recognized that one of the biggest challenges in an individual’s life can come from separating themselves from the Divine and believing the lie that they are not inherently loved and worthy. He has focused his ministry on being one that draws people closer to the Divine through the knowledge that they are fearfully and wonderfully created. 

Residing in New York City, McQueen serves as a Teaching Elder in the PCUSA along with the called and installed pastor of St. James Presbyterian Church in Harlem, where he has been since he was an interim in October 3, 2015. When he isn’t pastoring there, he is serving on the boards of Auburn Theological Seminary as Vice Chair, and Chair of the LBGT Faith Leaders of African Descent and The Center at West Park. He is also a founding member of InterConnected Justice, and has teamed up with Lab/Shul, an organization serving the Jewish Community.

(This biographical statement written by Dorya Mason from an interview with Derrick McQueen and edited by McQueen.)

Biography Date: September 2023

Tags

Presbyterian Church (USA) | Clergy Activist | Black | Theology | Union Theological Seminary | New York City | New York | Artist/musician/poet

Citation

“Rev. Derrick McQueen | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed June 19, 2024, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/derrick-mcqueen.

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