Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Widening the Circle of Faith

I'm back from the Pride Interfaith service which serves as the kick-off for Tallahassee's LGBT Pride Week.  How many gay pride events in the country start their week with a coming together of various faith traditions to create sacred queer space?

Answer: not many!  And that's what makes Tallahassee special.   

This year, we had 100 people in attendance, certainly rivaling some congregations Sunday worship services.  There was a combined choir from the Unitarian Universalist Church with Temple Israel, the reformed synagogue.  Pagans, Buddhists, Evangelical and Mainline Christians, and--yes--even Free Thinkers took turns and offered words of wisdom to those assembled in a spirit of radical inclusion.  As a minister serving Gentle Shepherd MCC noted, the service was not about tolerating each other but recognizing the widening circle of faith.

For me and my partner, this service has always been a special one.  It was the Pride Interfaith service in 1993 that served to spark in both of us that longing to belong to a spiritual community again.  Both of us had retreated from our respective religious roots.  But being in a space that was affirming of our sexual orientation, and lifting us up through a variety of faith traditions started me on a quest to figure out where I belonged.  I looked into Judaism.  I tried Buddhism.  I even circled with pagans.  All of them were good.  All of them have something to offer.  And none of them felt right.  For me, the missing piece--Jesus Christ--was just too big a deal.  No matter what I did, I could not reject my baptism.  But at the time, there was no place for me in Christianity in Tallahassee, either.  I am an Episcopalian, and there was no Episcopal Church that embraced the LGBT community.  

That all changed for me in 2007 with the death of my father.  The last church that I had attended, St. John's, had been freed from the grip of a highly homophobic Rector, and the associate rector at the time, my mentor Mtr. Lee F. Shafer, extended the olive branch and invited me to return, so that I might taste and see that God is good... even in an Episcopal Church in Tallahassee. 

This evening, St. John's and Church of the Ascension at Carrabelle took a step toward coming out of their own closets to show radical inclusion of the LGBT faithful and their allies.  Yours truly and the Rev. Phoebe McFarlin served as the "Episcoposse" and led what we called, "Prayers of Inclusion".   I was Leader 1;  Mtr. Phoebe was Leader 2.  And we had the voices of many joining us as the congregation.  Read along, and see what you think.  

Episcopal Prayers for Inclusion for Pride Interfaith 2012

Leader 1:  When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’  Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’ --Luke 19:5-7; 9-10
Leader 2:   Jesus beckoned Zacchaeus, a tax collector of small stature, to come down from the sycamore tree to be joined with him much to the displeasure of the crowd.  We ask that all who seek to be found amidst the grumbling crowd be discovered and guided toward light and love.

Congregation:  Come in and be welcomed.

Leader 1: He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”—Mark 7:27-28
Leader 2:  The Syrophoenician woman heard the rebuke of her plea for help.  And rather than retreat, she stood her ground and asserted her place as a Gentile child of God.  Her courage and faith was recognized and rewarded with the healing of her daughter.  Grant to those who have heard the words of exclusion the power to stand firm and receive the grace promised through their faith.

Congregation:  Come stand with us and be welcomed.

Leader 1:  The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, ‘When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.’ But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, ‘Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?’ The midwives said to Pharaoh, ‘Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.’ So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong.—Exodus 1:15-20
Leader 2:  The midwives actions saved the Israelites from a hostile king at a peril to their own lives.  Let us give thanks for all those who stand up for others in the face of oppression.

Congregation:  For those who hold offices of public trust, for the advocates of justice both here and abroad.

Leader 1: I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ” So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. –Luke 15:18-20
Leader 2:  The father of the prodigal son rejoices and before the son is able to make his plea, the father has fitted him with fine robes and orders they throw a party for this son who was thought to be dead but is now alive.  We give thanks for parents and families that have welcomed all their children home and pray for healing and reconciliation for those still looking for acceptance and understanding.

Congregation: May love abound in families, both of our blood relations and those of our choosing.

Leader 1: But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. –Luke 10: 29-34   
Leader 2:   We are often faced with those who are different from ourselves. And sometimes those differences lead to violence toward one another.  How do we respond to the one in need?  Do we turn away because they aren’t like us, or do we stop to help?  We ask for the ability to see our differences not as things which divide and separate but as part of the diversity of creation that is to be celebrated and honored.

Congregation:   Help us to see each other more clearly and live more in Love.

Leader 1:  And may the peace that passes all understanding be always with you.

Congregation: And also with you.


Phoebe McFarlin said...

It was my privilege to participate.

Anonymous said...

It must have been very powerful and lovely. Good job!

Tejas said...

This must have been a great, gripping experience! Ah, I missed it! Drat!