Thursday, October 25, 2012

Reflections on the NC Pride Parade

During the last weekend of September, about thirty parishioners from St. Luke’s congregated on Duke’s East Campus in support of our state’s LGBT community.  Marchers from St. Luke’s came away from the day with a variety of memories and reflections on our parish’s first formal participation in the NC Pride Parade. Here are a few:

This was my first chance marching instead of "woo-hoo"ing  from the sidelines. It was a blast in spite of the weather. I don't know what was funnier, Peter Kariher's wig or Tom Brooks's fake sideburns glued on upside-down. We laughed. We sloshed. We cheered...and were cheered. Some day my kids will remember that their church (and their embarrassing parents) marched for something that was important. I can't wait until next year !- Ginny Brooks

The Gay Pride Parade was a totally upbeat experience of people sharing positive acceptance of each other. When I stood there in the rain watching the participants lineup, all I could think about was - it is not raining on their parade. -Terri Toohil 

Wynn Cherry and Cathy Rimer-Surles offer to us some extended reflections on the significance of this event.

Wynn writes:

Some of you may know that every year a festival comes to town.  Rainbow flags appear from Duke East Campus to Ninth Street, a sure sign that the statewide recognition of gay pride has arrived.   For those of you who have never been, the Pride Parade offers a colorful spectacle of people in our blessedly tolerant area of a conservative state to step out and be supportive of citizens who suffer some degree of oppression from slurs and insults to the creation of an amendment to ban marriage between two people of the same sex.

Saturday, September 29th, about thirty members of the St. Luke’s community, young and not so young, defied the cold rain and joined the fun, donned silly hats or colorful wigs, wore beautiful shimmery dresses or jeans and raingear to march with our beautiful St. Luke’s banner to proclaim “All Are Welcome”.   We joined with Gay Straight Alliances from local schools to businesses to neighborhood groups on the march and returned to our booth on Duke’s campus wet but elated.

So what difference did it make?  For members of a community that even today sometimes live under the radar or with some element of fear, it made a huge difference.   Just the fact that we were there, we marched, we sat in the rain at a table talking to people passing by, we signed our names to a statement of support in a PFLAG ad that appeared in The Independent, made a huge difference to members of a community that look for a place, especially a religious space, to be accepted.

While I was at our table at the rally before and after the march, the mother of a gay son came by and lamented the fact that her teenager, who recently came out,  refused to attend church any longer since a person with a fundamentalist interpretation of Old Testament scripture told him he was going to burn in hell.    Her son wandered up about that time, and I was glad that St. Luke’s was there, that we could stand as a counterpoint to the narrow and restrictive messages that come from so many other places.  The family took a flyer and wandered on but not before we assured him that we would be happy to have them join us. 

My sincere thanks to my fellow parishioners at St. Luke’s, both straight and gay, who stand up for those who still seek acceptance and who by their actions reveal a spirit of love.   I, for one, am very grateful to be part of a truly welcoming community.

 Cathy writes:

Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so
Little ones to him belong, they are weak but he is strong
Yes, Jesus loves me, yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so

How well I remember singing that song happily in Sunday school so many times as a young child, but how painful it became to sing it as a teenager as I came to believe that Jesus couldn't possibly love me.  Why? Because I believed that there was something terribly wrong with me since all I ever heard Christians say about gay people was that they were "unnatural," "perverted" and "an abomination." 

Those hurtful words seared deep wounds into my soul and caused me to internalize self-hatred and toxic shame – what I now know to be an all-too-common experience for gay and lesbian young people.  Despite the love and support of my family, for many years I felt completely cut off from God and from the Christian community, unable to experience God's love, grace and forgiveness.

I can assure you that on the first Sunday I visited St. Luke's several years ago at the urging of my partner Kelly, it was the last place I wanted to be.   My emotional and spiritual guard was up and I was convinced that once again, I would feel like an unwelcome outsider who did not belong.  What actually happened, however, was something miraculous – the walls that I had built up for so many years began to crack a little.  Thanks to the sincere welcome I and my family have received at St. Luke's over the past few years, I can honestly say that those seemingly impenetrable walls have pretty much crumbled to dust. 

It is impossible to overstate the profoundly healing power of unconditional love and acceptance.  When we embrace those whom our fellow Christians have shunned, we carry out God's work and facilitate the healing grace of God's love.   When we walk beside our neighbors who are lesbian or gay, we affirm the "Imago Dei," the image of God in every human being and celebrate the mystery of God's wondrous creation.   I am profoundly grateful to my fellow parishioners who chose to come out in the rain to walk in this year's Pride Parade with me and my family whether in body or in spirit.  You have truly been an instrument of God's peace.  

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