Monday, 1 July 2013

San Francisco Pride - a day to feel proud!

Today, I had the pleasure of marching in the 43rd San Francisco Pride with the contingent from the Episcopalian Diocese of California.  I had been both looking forward to-, and dreading the day, in equal measure.

I have shared before that it's been a long time since I felt proud to be an Anglican ... the last time was probably as a teenager in South Africa, when I first became politically aware of the injustice of Apartheid, and saw the Anglican Church fighting against Apartheid, and also electing Archbishop Desmond Tutu as it's leader.  Then, the Anglican Church I worshipped in, spoke out for minority groups, supported them, defended them and fought for their full inclusion and for their lives.

I can't remember feeling that same sense of lasting pride since then, and have often reflected that I feel shame about being an Anglican, and about affiliating with and serving an institution which has become so synonymous with the exclusion of the LGBT community in the UK, that it's difficult for the inclusive voices inside the organisation to make themselves heard, because people have stopped listening.

We all approach every situation in life with our previous experiences that have shaped and influenced us, and these guide our emotions.  And so, I rejoiced at having the opportunity to march today, but was nervous about over-identifying with a denomination I've become wary of, regarding it's dealings with the LGBT community.  I could not have been more wrong in this case, and in many ways, today I began to feel a certain pride at being an Anglican again.  I was welcomed into the group, met some folk and was generously given a pair of rainbow wings by a member of the clergy, which added some much-needed to colour to my plain black clergy outfit. ;)  I also met Diana Wheeler, of Oasis (the LGBT Ministry of the Diocese of California) and Sister Eden Asp, of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.

My wings :)
Me with Diana Wheeler & Sister Eden Asp
The day started with an open-air Eucharist (Mass) in Beale Street, in front of the Greyhound station.  When the Right Revd. Marc Andrus opened the service, he welcomed all to the day, and shared that he had chosen to wear a red stole (liturgical scarf), rather than white (for celebrations), because he was mindful of the martyrs that had gone ahead of us in the fight for equality & justice.  He then reminded us that, although equal marriage had come back to California, there was still much to be done in the fight for equality and freedom for all, and called us to join him in committing to marriage equality, to commit to voter rights, to commit to equality for minority groups in other nations and to commit to the planet and to tackling climate change.  Very poignant, relevant, right and refreshing words.

We all joined together in singing All Are Welcome (by Marty Haugen), which caused a few to wander over and join in for the rest of the service.  After the readings, The Right Revd. Mark Holmerud, Bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, preached about how marriage equality was long overdue, and offered his thanks for those who helped with the struggle.  He reflected on the theme of this year's pride being, "Embrace, Encourage, Empower" and offered three other words; "Comfort, Control & Commitment".  He mentioned that equal marriage opponents were no longer comfortable, wanted to regain control and were committed to removing equal marriage again, but that it was our calling to help them understand that they haven't lost anything, when everyone has gained so much.  He finished by calling us to go out to love, to encourage, empower and embrace.

The service continued with the prayers, the peace, and the breaking and sharing of bread & wine, and finished with the words of the blessing:
Live without fear; your Creator has made you holy,
has always protected you, and loves you as a mother.
Go in peace to follow the good road and may God's blessing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit be with you always.
The beginning of the Pride Mass 
Bishop Marc Andrus during the Eucharistic prayer
After the service, we prepared for the march (a little prematurely, as it was around a 4-hour wait after the service, before we got to start moving in the parade), but it presented the opportunity to meet more people, find out their stories and share mine, swap contact details and make final adjustments to the bus.  In the end, the wait was that long, that the heat began popping the balloons on the coach.  But, amazingly, people stuck it out.

I managed to chat to Bishop Marc Andrus and his wife, Sheila, about their ministry to the LGBT community, and their role in the fight to help bring Marriage Equality back to California.  It was both humbling and encouraging to meet church leaders that were that committed to the full inclusion of the LGBT community that they not only opened church doors, but actively fought for their equality & inclusion.
Me with Bishop Marc Andrus and Revd. Thomas Jackson 
The Front of the bus
When we did finally get to march, it was all over in a bit of a rush, but people were fantastic. The emotions we saw on people's faces as we marched in front of them ranged from surprise, to elation, to amusement. We were cheered, applauded, waved at and asked questions about the Diocese of California's commitment to perform marriages for Same-sex couples.  Several people asked me if I would marry them, but I had to confess that I was only visiting briefly, but that I'd love to come back if they invited me to attend.  Some people in the crowd pointed to a cross they were wearing or a T-shirt with a slogan about God, and applauded us, and the impression I got was that they were rejoicing that finally they, too, could bring their faith to the table and share that with their other LGBT friends, and didn't have to separate their faith identity & their sexual identity in front of us.

Again, I think today made more of an impact on me than I thought it would, and will stick with me for years. The powerful witness and potential of an inclusive church should not be undermined.  I suppose the challenge to the people out there is, when they find an inclusive church, attend it, and support it, because without that, they struggle to survive ... the churches that exclude the LGBT community are often very well funded and attended, but we need to be supporting the much smaller inclusive congregations, to get them to grow, and flourish, and witness about an inclusive faith.

A couple of things stood out for me today ...
  • In my conversation with Bishop Marc Andrus, we reflected on the state of affairs in the Church of England, and I mentioned that one of the big differences, was that the Church of England was sometimes ACCEPTING of the LGBT community, but that that did not mean the same thing as WELCOMING them. And Bishop Marc went even further and said that there's a big difference between WELCOMING and INVITING.  Inclusive churches can be found in the UK, but the Church of England seems to lack voices that are actually going out to the LGBT community and inviting them in, and welcoming them, and affirming them, and allowing them to bring their gifts and identities into our worshipping communities.

    There is such a massive difference between accepting (a very passive thing), and actively inviting and welcoming, that I could write pages.

    If people are invited, welcomed, affirmed and included - as themselves - they are encouraged to bring their gifts, they are energised, they are empowered, they are transformed, they bring their gifts to the table, and the community around them is enriched & grows.

    If they're merely accepted, they *may* walk through the church doors, but they will keep their private lives and their identities hidden from those around them, and - as a result - they can never be full members, because they are not allowed to be full.
  • The second thing that really struck me, was when we marched by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and they thanked the bishop and the clergy for working so hard for the LGBT community. That really brought a tear to my eye, and made me proud - for today - to call myself an Episcopalian.

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