Every summer many municipalities, large and small, offer festivals, worship services, and parades to invite communities to celebrate the diversity of the human family across multiple spectrums of identity and expression. Many faith-based organizations join these celebrations by marching in the parades behind their banners of choice, sitting at booths for hours having conversations with festival goers, and crafting beautiful and inclusive community prayer services for support, celebration, and healing.
Church participation at these events can seem a bit radical. People across American society commonly assume that churches do not celebrate LGBTQIA+ persons or that church celebrations of LGBTQIA+ persons occur only in small pockets that break from Christian tradition and cause rifts in denominations. From the inside, we know this is not the whole truth. But how can we get that message out and engage in these community celebrations boldly? And why should we?
A Call to Acknowledge Hurt
Some members of the LGBTQIA+ community view faith as important but struggle to find a welcoming church home. Some grew up in a faith tradition, and others came to faith later in life. But the false message bombarding our society that God’s love is not available to all people establishes a human-made barrier between seekers and church thresholds.
This is what calls people of faith to Pride festivals and parades. We want LGBTQIA+ persons and their families to come through our doors. We desire to let LGBTQIA+ persons know that we offer an embrace and not more pain. Participating in Pride events is not about “growing the church,” “virtue signaling,” or the fun and colorful photo-ops they bring. People are hurting, and we can help. That is why it is important, when considering rallying your congregation or diocese to participate in Pride festivals, to be honest about your motivations for participation and to articulate them with humility and clarity.
Discerning Your Message
When starting or continuing in these ministry opportunities, an “elevator speech” is helpful. It can be summarized in three parts:
- We believe
Here is a full purpose statement from the Oasis Missouri Ministry’s Affirmation of Welcome, which can (and should) be modified for your use:
“We believe that all people are worthy of respect and honor, because all are created in the image of God, and all can respond to the love of God.
However we see in our churches and in society, LGBTQIA people are not always counted among those for whom the Church seeks justice, or grants due respect, as loving and beloved members of the household of God. We recognize that fear of and discrimination against LGBTQIA people is part of an oppressive history within the Church and society, which distorts our relationship with God and with other people and diminishes the humanity of us all.
Therefore we feel compelled to make explicit our welcome of LGBTQIA people into the ministries and life of the Episcopal church, incarnating the message, ‘The Episcopal Church Welcomes You.’ We welcome the ministry and witness of all persons to serve as leaders and participants, fully participating in our life, worship and governance.”
Getting Started and Getting Better
Here are some more suggestions for getting involved in local Pride events:
- Include LGBTQIA+ members in leadership – It is essential that you include voices, leadership, and insights from the LGBTQIA+ persons in your parish family. Explain your motivations to participate. Seek out updated, expansive language and imagery. Invite young people to incorporate their experience into the message.
- Discern as a community – There are resources available to help congregations discern their true levels of being open and affirming and embracing the ministry and witness of all persons. Use them.
- Find out about event logistics – Talk to event organizers about expectations, requirements, restrictions and fees.
- Consider banners, booths, and posters – A quick search can show you Episcopalians marching in parades, hosting festival booths, including a variety of banners and messages. Looking through these can give you ideas for what feels most welcoming to passersby. Your local sign providers can print banners and posters.
- Consider a pre-parade event – A prep event before the parade to assemble and label swag to give out, paint posters, and gather supplies for marchers and booth hosts can be a lot of fun.
- Train participants – Doing a quick training of booth hosts also makes everyone feel a little more confident and on the same page about getting the word out about your church denomination and where your community is on this journey of faith. Below is a starter training document for that. As always, resources need to be modified to meet the needs of each parish or region.
- Let other communities name their own welcoming status – Do not speak for any faith community, even another of the same denomination, on their status on welcoming LGBTQIA+ persons. When a person finally musters up the courage to attend a worship service or event on your recommendation, and it turns out to be unwelcoming, that creates yet another unnecessary hardship.
The most important thing is to step out in faith, love, and humility and to share God’s love with all.
For Pride Events
For Congregational Discernment in Being Intentionally LGBTQIA+ Open and Affirming
Featured image is by Tim Pott, courtesy of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Kansas City, MO; additional image of Pride booth is by article author, Heidi J. A. Carter, courtesy of St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, Creve Coeur, MO