photo by Winnie Miles
Tallahassee has something that most other communities do not have... and I'm not talking about the live oaks, the spanish moss, the pollen-laden air, or even the unbearably hot and humid summers.
Our LGBT Pride Week includes an interfaith service.
Lots of other places have gained support from the faith communities. Churches, especially Episcopal Churches, have set up booths along side Gay Pride parades to offer the spiritual gifts of love and charity to parade attendees. They've even marched in the parades with the banners of their congregations. But Tallahassee doesn't have a parade as part of Pride. So we do something different, and special.
We invite people to gather in the name of the Creator... called by many names and who knows each of us by our name... to offer blessings for a week of openess and honesty and fun.
I have longed to see representation of the Episcopal Church at this celebration. I have wanted St. John's, specifically, to take the good news that Christ loves queer people out of the pulpit, through the very heavy doors, and out onto the streets of our hurting city. We have preached that message. Many in the congregation have privately told me how happy they are to have me there and participating in the life of the church. The church has been OK with hosting PFLAG meetings, and even letting us gather in the beautiful setting of our library, a room that feels like a comfortable (if formal) living room.
So where, I've been wondering, is my Episcoposse when it comes time for Pride Week?
This year, I wasn't going to let this service go by without the active participation of St. John's!
I met with our rector-to-be and mentioned the Pride service to him. Much to my surprise, he whipped out his Blackberry and made note of it... but also saw that he was scheduled to celebrate at the late afternoon Eucharist at St. John's. Still, I took his enthusiasm and support for the event as a sign that St. John's was willing to be on record as being among the "welcoming" congregations. This was a huge difference from what I had encountered before. No defensiveness. No quoting of Galatians with how "In Christ there is neither Jew or Greek, male or female, free or slave" (this to say, "We don't need to make an overture to the gay community because in Christ we are one.")
So when my dear friend Diana, tasked by the Pride Committee to organize the Interfaith service, needed a volunteer to lead the opening litany, I said, "Put me down on your list to do it." I am, afterall, a Eucharistic Minister called upon to serve as an intercessor during our regular Sunday worship and noon-day Eucharists. I lead Morning Prayer, and I maintain a daily practice of prayer in my life. Plus, who better to lead a call and response litany than an Episcopalian, right?
Bonus: our assistant priest volunteered to serve as an usher at the outdoor service, handing out programs and candles to the congregation.
Bigger Bonus: there were members of St. John's, besides me and her, who attended! And there was a vestry member from Holy Comforter Episcopal Church as well. Ask, and ye shall receive: my Episcoposse had arrived!
The service itself focused on the Pride Week theme of Educate. Liberate. Celebrate. I was nodding in appreciation of the sermon by the pastor of St. Stephen Lutheran Church who noted that the education about the LGBT community is happening within some Christian churches. I was pleased that our representative from Temple Israel quoted from other parts of Leviticus which make the welcoming of the stranger imperative for the Jews. And our Red Hills Pagan Council leader called us into celebration of the spirit that unites all of us from our various paths into one path of Love.
The take away line for me came in the blessing offered from the ministerial intern at the Unitarian Church. He referred to Pride Week as a "Holy Week". It really is if you consider "holy" to mean "consecrated to God", who I know as Love. Love, in its many manifestations and colors, is at the hub of the LGBT identity. Pride Week provides that network of support for us who, in some cases, have walked a long and difficult path toward loving ourselves with little, if any, support. For those who have reached that point of self-love and acceptance, we are freer to live into the commandment Jesus makes to "love one another" in the same way we have felt God's love for us in our queer, eccentric, and sometimes boringly normal selves. Pride Week is a time when the sheep who have been scattered by some of the irresponsible and destructive shepherds of God get to rejoice in the knowledge that the shepherd of us all is calling us back into the fold. We are brought back in Love, by Love and with Love.
For those who have felt the pain of exile from your religious communities... welcome to your Holy Week in Tallahassee.
the Interfaith Pride participants.
Participating congregations: United Church, Gentle Shepherd MCC, Red Hills Pagan Council, Unitarian Universalist Church of Tallahassee, Temple Israel, St. John's Episcopal Church, St. Stephen Lutheran Church, and Unity Eastside. The Friends Meeting also was present.