Open and affirming. That’s the phrase adopted by several congregations in Tallahassee to clue in the queer people of faith that “here’s a safe place to be gay and worship God”. As I mentioned in my previous post “Men in Ties on Saturdays”, I attended the Pride interfaith service at First Presbyterian Church in Tallahassee. The groups leading the service were drawn from three churches: Gentle Shepherd MCC, United Church and the Unitarian Universalists. At Pridefest in the Park, St. Stephen Lutheran Church was handing out flyers to let the LGBT attendees know that they are welcome to come through their doors any time. In fact, I know it to be true because St. Stephen allowed the Mickee Faust Club to shoot a scene for “The Weimar House” in its sanctuary, and the building has rainbow stickers on the windows signaling they are a “Reconciling in Christ” congregation, a designation given to Lutheran Churches that are considered “open and affirming”. Other such parishes in town include both Unity Churches, Temple Israel, the Friends Meeting, and a couple of American Catholic groups, a renegade arm of Roman Catholicism in this country.
Wow! So many choices. But I’m left with that hole in the stomach feeling when I look around at Pridefest, and within Tallahassee’s gay community. I ask, “Where’s my church?”
Indeed, where is my church! There are at least a half-dozen Episcopal Churches in Tallahassee. And yet, at Gay Pride time, I can never find my Episcoposse.
I complained about this to my partner, who said that maybe the problem was that the “open and affirming” churches never bothered to let the Episcopal Churches know about the interfaith service. And really, I didn’t even know about the event until I read about it in the paper the week before it happened! But still, that’s not my point. It’s an easy excuse to say, “But nobody contacted us.” That’s sooo easy. And it’s so typical of the “wait around until we’re asked approach” so many of us like to take.
The interfaith service aside; I’m talking about the conspicuous absence of Anglicanism during the festival in the park…and the other 364 days of the year. Honestly, if the Episcopal Churches in this city really wanted to reach out to the gay community, then they might take the initiative to contact someone to find out, “What can we do to let LGBT people know ‘The Episcopal Church Welcomes You’?” It could be as simple as gathering a bunch of the ‘real’ Episcopal churches together and splitting the cost of putting an ad in the local gay newspaper. Have the shield, the trademark welcome phrase, and a listing of the congregations that paid for the ad. Simple, and yet effectively announcing to those often shoved to the side by “Christianity” that we do things a little differently in the Church of the Red and Blue Books. There’s no reason Jews, Lutherans, and Quakers along with the other “open and affirming” traditions should be getting to have a corner on being the “good” face of religion and spirtuality.
The Episcopal Church has a program that aids congregations wishing to reach out to the gay and lesbian people in their communities. It’s called Oasis. You can follow this link (http://www.theoasismissouri.org/) to learn a little bit about the program in Missouri. I’m not saying that all the Episcopal Churches in Tallahassee need to start massive education programs and force their congregants into thinking in ways that are counter to their own personal beliefs about sexuality. I know, I know: not everyone in the Episcopal Church is on the same page as me when it comes to LGBT equality. But sadly, I think those folks who disagree with me have made it so that the Church leadership quakes in fear at possibly offending someone if they speak up for the rights of “my people”. And while I get that desire not to rock the boat because sea-sickness isn’t fun, being a Christian sometimes requires a little boat-rocking. As I’ve said to some, if the apostles had all buttoned their lips and never said another word about Jesus in the face of opposition from the authorities, well, I guess we’d all still be Jews.
And so I am throwing down the gauntlet. I’m waiting to see who in the Church will take that step outside the cozy comfort of a chapel or a sanctuary to let the LGBT community in this city know who welcomes them back for the embrace of a liturgy that reminds us of the One who knows us fully and truly.
C'mon, you can do it! And even as the wolves encircle you, remember that the shepherd hasn’t fallen asleep and will give you what you need to survive the attacks.
Glory to God in the highest, and peace to all his people on earth.