George Augustine Hyde (1923), who led the first known church to openly minister to and with homosexuals in the U.S., attended a Roman Catholic seminary, though he left before achieving priestly ordination. He became a high school teacher in Atlanta, Georgia, where he met John Augustine Kazantks, a bishop in the Orthodox Church of Greece, who had been pushed out of his post and his homeland due to his revealing his homosexual orientation. Occasioned by the denial of communion to a group of gay and lesbian Catholics in a local parish, Hyde, with Kazantks' blessing, decided to form an independent Catholic congregation for addressing their needs. During the month of June, 1946, bi-weekly “informational and educational programs” were begun, conducted by both Kazantks and Hyde, designed to prepare those in quest for an ecclesiastical life outside the Roman and other “institutional churches." The first formal gathering of the new parish was held on July 1, 1946, the occasion being the ordination of Hyde to the priesthood at the hands of Bishop Kazantks. This gathering was held in a meeting room of the Winecoff Hotel in Atlanta. This particular meeting room, the rental of which was underwritten by the management of the Cotton Blossom Room, a gay bar in the same hotel, was to house the activities of the nascent congregation from June to December, 1946. In late November l946, the emerging congregation rented a large residence near the downtown business district for housing a chapel and living quarters for the local clergy. Educational and instructional classes continued to meet at the Winecoff Hotel until it was destroyed by fire on December 7, 1946.
Through working with the gay and lesbian community in Atlanta, contacts were made with a number of gay and lesbian people across Georgia who desired to relate to an accepting church. In January l947, Bishop Kazantks moved to Savannah, Georgia, and from his home there maintained a ministry to a scattered flock across southern Georgia, while Hyde did the same in Atlanta and the northern half of the state.
Over the next decade the church experienced a reasonably steady growth. The original (1946) congregation of about 85 people had grown to a total of more than 200 people by the end of l947. In the l950s, Kazantks expressed his desire to return to Greece and did so in l957, dying later that year. Prior to his leaving he put Hyde in touch with Archbishop Clement Sherwood (1895-1969) of the American Holy Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Eastern Church. On May 7, 1957, Hyde was consecrated a bishop by Sherwood, assisted by Bishop Maurice Francis Parkin and William Ernest James Robertson.
In 1950, seven years prior to his consecration as bishop, Hyde had centered his pastoral outreach in Washington, D.C., where he established and functioned as superior of a “Worker Priest” ministry called “The Society of Domestic Missionaries.” As workers in various secular jobs the Domestic Missionaries “took the church to where the people were”. A secondary “benefit” was that their secular salaries went toward the support of the ministry-church. The present day practice of the Holiday Inn (motel chain) providing an “on call chaplain” for its guests was started in the early l960's by a Domestic Missionary whose secular occupation was as desk clerk at a Washington, D.C., Holiday Inn.
It has been erroneously reported by some sources that shortly after his consecration Hyde split with Sherwood over Eastern vs. Western liturgical practices and that, in l960, Hyde formed his own church, i.e. the Orthodox Catholic Church of America. This is incorrect. While it is true that a brief disagreement did surface that negatively impacted the harmonious fellowship previously existing between Sherwood and Hyde, there was no formal schism. Subsequently, Sherwood designated Hyde as “Bishop of the Western Rite Missions” of the American-Eastern Orthodox Church” and charged him to accelerate Clement’s own long-time plan for all of the Bishoprics of the American-Eastern Church to cut their identity ties with Greece, Russia, the Balkans, the Middle East and to identify themselves as members of an indigenous American Church under the title of the “Orthodox Catholic Church of America.” This divesting of the assortment of ethnic bishoprics of their national identities was not very successful. Archbishop Clement Sherwood died April 9, l969, with Hyde being elected in l970 as his successor. With this event the nationally-defined ethnic Bishops (Russian, Greek, Ukrainian, etc.) went into schism, taking with them about eight thousand people and scores of clergy and churches, rather than to conform to the name change to Orthodox Catholic Church of America which they felt Hyde would now force upon them.
The Orthodox Catholic Church of America, while having an active pastoral outreach to gay people as members and priests, was never exclusively a “gay church”, just as it was never a “black church” because of its pastoral outreach into the black community. As a pastor Hyde not infrequently chided his congregation, “if kneeling side by side in prayer next to a black person or a gay person is a problem, know that it is you who has a problem, not them." However, in l969, Hyde encouraged and worked with the Reverend Robert Clement in nurturing his founding of a gay-oriented parish in New York’s Greenwich Village, that was administratively known as the Eucharistic Catholic Church with its New York parish being known as the Church of the Beloved Disciple. This congregation eventually numbered about 500 people. Clement was consecrated Bishop in l974 and subsequently expanded the Eucharistic Catholic Ministry into Canada.
Archbishop Hyde retired for health reasons in l983 and was succeeded as Archbishop of the Orthodox Catholic Church of America by Bishop Alfred Laankenau of Indianapolis, Indiana. Hyde moved to Belleair, Florida, where he continues to reside. In l995, the Orthodox Catholic Church of America, under the headship of Lankenau, decided to ordain women. Hyde disapproved of the decision, and when subsequently approached by a small group of priests and members who also disapproved of female priests, he came out of retirement so as to address and serve their liturgical, sacramental, and spiritual needs. When it became apparent that Lankenau and his associates were not going to abandon the practice of ordaining women, Hyde and his constituency incorporated in the State of Florida as the Autocephalous Orthodox Catholic Church of America. In common usage they are known as the Orthodox Catholic Archdiocese and Metropolitanate of America, the territorial and jurisdictional name originally given by the Patriarch of the historic Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch to the American Orthodox Catholic Church upon the consecration of its first bishop in l892.
Hyde spent the last years of his life living in Belleair, Florida. He died on May 4, 2010. He was cremated and his ashes buried inthis family plot in Marietta, Georgia.
Sources: Archbishop George Augustine (Hyde) c. 2004; J. Gordon Melton; the “Eucharistic Catholic Church (Canadian Branch)” posted at http://netministries.org/see/churches/ch04614, accessed September 15, 2004; Ward, Gary L., ed. “Independent Bishops: An Independent Directory”. Detroit, MI, Apogee Books, 1990; “Genesis of the Orthodox Catholic Church of America” a history of the OCCA by Archbishop George Hyde, edited by Fr. Gordon Fischer, 1993, www.orthodoxcatholicchurch.org/history.html.