The British-born Cazares-Thomas joins Cathedral of Hope in June concluding an extensive two-year search process
The Rev. Neil G. Cazares-Thomas was tapped by church members to become Cathedral of Hope’s new senior pastor after he preached at Sunday services April 12. The Revs. Todd Scoggins and Mike Wright Chapman will continue as associate pastors of the church.
Thomas said this week he expects to be in Dallas to begin his new duties around June 1.
The search for a new pastor began in April 2013 after the Rev. Jo Hudson resigned her position as senior pastor. The Rev. Jim Mitulski served as interim pastor for about a year-and-a-half.
Thomas moves to Dallas after 13 years as pastor of Founders MCC in Los Angeles, the original Metropolitan Community Church founded by the Rev. Troy Perry in 1968.
Born in Bournemouth, England, Thomas was raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. By the time he was a teen, he had left that church and tried a variety of other denominations, visiting Baptist churches, Church of England congregations and others.
During that time, Thomas said, he saw churches adhering to rules he thought were straying from Jesus’ teachings. That’s when, he said, “I understood the church could be wrong” and that many church laws were instead human-made laws that had nothing to do with Jesus.
After coming out at the age of 15, Thomas attended an MCC church in Bournemouth. There he found what he called an instant match. He loved the welcome and inclusion.
That was 33 years ago, and Thomas has never looked back.
During his 12 years as senior pastor of Metropolitan Community Church, Bournemouth, he helped found several other MCC churches in England. Social activism is dear to his heart, and during his early years with the church, the AIDS crisis was still raging. So Thomas’ church built an AIDS hospice and a night shelter.
His social action work included programs to feed the homeless, safer sex initiatives, youth services and police-community relations. That gained him recognition by the High Sheriff of Dorset County and earned him an invitation from Queen Elizabeth II, who honored him at a garden party at Buckingham Palace in 1998 in recognition of his work in Bournemouth.
In 2002, Thomas was called to his current church in Los Angeles. Continuing his social action work in California earned him the Harvey Milk Award from Christopher Street West, and he was also named a gay hero by the city of West Hollywood. He described that as a way to highlight gay role models for young LGBT people before the It Gets Better campaign.
Thomas has been at Founders MCC for 13 years and admits Dallas wouldn’t have been his first choice of place to move. But, “It’s not about place, but where you’re called,” he said.
He said he simply waited for the holy spirit to determine the right place and Cathedral of Hope was the right place.
But Dallas should become home rather quickly for Thomas, since his husband, Isai Cazares, is originally from here.
“I never worshipped at Cathedral before this weekend,” Thomas said, although he did note that he visited once when he was in his early 20s and finishing his work to become MCC clergy.
In California, Thomas continued his education and in 2008 received his doctor of ministry degree from San Francisco Theological Seminary after writing his dissertation, “Queer Theology: An Introduction.”
Music is among the great fits between Cazares-Thomas and Cathedral of Hope. He has been a member of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles for a number of years, and the cathedral’s music director, Sean Baugh, was recently named artistic director of the Turtle Creek Chorale.
Thomas said as wonderful as the cathedral’s music program already is, he hopes to bring everyone together and raise its music program up to the next level. But he assured everyone at Cathedral he’s not a micro-manager and has no plans to fix things are already working well.
Thomas said he’d like to bring Cathedral of Hope’s social justice work up to the next level as well. He praised its program feeding the homeless and said he would like to see what other services the church might provide. He said he has a passion working with the addicted and 12-step community and hopes to add to those services.
Thomas also wants to work with the community to see how the Interfaith Peace Chapel can be marketed as an even greater resource to the community.
He predicted that the change from the MCC denomination to United Church of Christ — the cathedral’s denomination — should be a smooth transition. He described both denominations as having a congregational approach with similar views on religious matters.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 17, 2015.