Laurence Gerald Bernier was born October 7, 1947 in Danielson Connecticut, and raised in a poor family with two siblings. He was a member of St. James Parish (Roman Catholic). He was slightly mischievous in his youth and known to skinnydip in the local river.
In his teen years, he attended a Roman Catholic high school seminary in Maine. From there he relocated to Boston where he explored his sexuality and his religion. Although he toyed with Jehovah's Witnesses, he became attracted to the Episcopal Church of the Advent. While in Boston he became familiar with the marshy park and cruising area in Back Bay, the Fens, (which burned on April 5, 2010) and the Homophile Union of Boston, the central LGBT organization at that time.
In August 1971, he founded Metropolitan Community Church of Boston. The church worked closely with the Homophile Union. Rev. Bernier was also actively involved in the pursuit of civil justice for lgbt people in Boston at that time. The church found several homes until it reached its permanent home at Old South Church where services have been held on Sunday evenings ever since. As Pastor of MCC, he was instrumental in attempting to open Metropolitan Community Churches in Providence, Worcester, Hartford and Manchester (New Hampshire).
Rev. Bernier also welcomed into the Metropolitan Community Churches Jeffrey Pulling and Nancy Wilson, among others. Nancy Wilson has become the Moderator of the Metropolitan Community Churches. Jeff Pulling went on to get his Ph.D. and was instrumental in developing educational progams for the Metropolitan Community Churches. Jeff died of pancreatic cancer several years ago when he was Pastor of MCC in the Valley in North Hollywood.
In 1975, Rev. Bernier and Jeff Pulling decided to go West in a VW van which was not supposed to make the trip. After losing a trailer filled with their possessions along the way, they chugged into Los Angeles. In Los Angeles, Rev. Bernier became involved in the central offices of the Metropolitan Community Churches as Editor of In Unity, the denominational magazine, and in other capacities in the fellowship offices. He also founded the Chancel Choir at Metropolitan Community Church of Los Angeles.
After Rev. James Sandmire ended his pastorate at MCC-LA, Rev. Bernier formed All Saints Metropolitan Community Church to be a new venue for Rev. Sandmire. The original intent was to make a liturgical MCC community in the West Hollywood area before West Hollywood was incorporated as a city. Eventually, Rev. Bernier retired from All Saints MCC. All Saints was later renamed as First Metropolitan Community Church of West Hollywood. At a later date, this congregation was relocated to Silverlake and was again renamed Metropolitan Community Church of Silverlake. This church no longer exists.
While he worked for the denominational offices, Rev. Bernier wrote the lyrics for two hymns which have become prominent in the denomination. The most frequently recognized hymn is "Our God Is Like an Eagle" sung to the music of "Stand Up Stand Up for Jesus". The other hymn is "The Voice of the Prophet".
After taking a hiatus and working at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital, Rev. Bernier went to Riverside in 1983 to found Good Shepherd Metropolitan Community Church. This congregation started on Sunday afternoons in the sanctuary of the Unitarian-Universalist Church in Riverside. Later the church relocated on Sunday mornings to the Menagerie "An Unique Lounge" on University Avenue in Riverside. Once the church grew enough, he relocated it to a grange hall in Rubidoux, sometimes known as West Riverside. Under his pastorate, the church finally settled for a stand-alone building with off-street parking on Mission Blvd. in Rubidoux. He developed ministries there and welcomed clergy as guest preachers and musical groups from around Southern California. He remained as Pastor until he was undermined by his District Coordinator. He then resigned from this pastorate.
After leaving Good Shepherd MCC, he worked at Banning Pass Hospital in the Emergency Room. By 1989, he worked with Rev. Paul Breton to begin St. Aelred's Chapel, an "Old Catholic" ministry serving the LGBT communities of Riverside/San Bernardino. At that time, AIDS had become a major impact in the local community. Rev. Breton worked on the campus of the University of California at Riverside where he was assisted in the formation of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center and in the development of the AIDS Education Center. Rev. Bernier provided personal assistance to Rev. Breton in the development of these programs.
When St. Aelred's Chapel relocated to San Bernardino, Rev. Bernier opened the Green Carnation Coffeehouse as an outreach of the church and as a means to raise money for the church. He relocated to San Bernardino as well. Eventually, the coffeehouse needed to close due to the rapid increase in crime in the neighborhood of the church. The church relocated as well a couple of times. Rev. Bernier remained with the church as the organist. Rev. John Ayres had become a member of St. Aelred's and served as an assistant priest. He died in early 2001. His death impacted Rev. Bernier. Rev. Joan Johnson had been a member of Metropolitan Community Church and left to serve with the Holy Trinity community of churches. She retired to the local area and became a member of St. Aelred's. She was well loved by Rev. Larry who felt strongly her passing when she died.
Having been impacted by physical health problems, Rev. Breton needed to close St. Aelred's Chapel. After this time, Rev. Bernier graduated from a program in Psychiatric Technology at San Bernardino Valley Community College. He went to work at Patton State Hospital, a forensic hospital in San Bernardino. He worked there until he was injured severely while at work. He is now disabled and living with the help of SSI.
Rev. Bernier and Rev. Breton have been roommates since 1982.
Laurence Gerald Bernier died on October 13, 2016 at Creekside Care Center in Yucaipa, California after an extended illness.
(This biographical statement provided by Paul Breton.)
Biography Date: April, 2010
MCC | Author/editor | Clergy Activist | Gay Liberation Movement | Bernier, Larry
“I was part of Metropolitan Community Church back in the 1980s. During that time period, Rev. Bernier was writing music and establishing a strong presence in Christian Hymnody. He wrote two hymns "Our God is Like an Eagle" and "The Voice of the Prophet" that became firmly established. I was a musician and interpreter at MCC-DC and MCC-Northern Virginia at the time and wrote several hymns during that time period that were sung at several conferences. Without his encouragement I would not be the poet and musician I am today.
– as remembered by Charles Butler on August 24, 2016
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