It’s a hot summer day. Hotter than usual for a St. John’s summer. Too hot to be doing anything of significance. Definitely too hot to be parading down Duckworth Street and up to Bannerman Park. It’s the kind of day that should be spent in the shade, or a pool, or down on the beach by the cool salt water. But today is not a day for that. There is something more important to do.
For the church, too, there is something important to do. It is Sunday, and Sunday for Christians is important enough. It is our day to gather, worship, hear the sacred scriptures, listen to homilies, eat the sacred meal and be sent back out into the world full of Jesus. Today, at least for St. Mark’s, there is something else to do. It is, after all, Pride Week and the Pride Parade. And for the first time for us, and as far as I can tell it’s the first time for any Newfoundland Anglican Church, we march in the Pride Parade with our sisters and brothers in the LGBTQ+ community.
Our participation in this parade is very significant and a long time coming. And make no mistake that it did not come easily. It’s been years, even decades, in the making. In fact, even 2016 has seen many ups and downs in the journey. In January the Primates of the Anglican Communion censured the Episcopal Church of the US for its stance on marriage equality and the ordination of openly gay and lesbian bishops. Later our own bishops in the Anglican Church of Canada released a statement saying that they felt they could not reach agreement on the motion on marriage equality that would come to the floor of General Synod in the summer. Months of anger, frustration and debate erupted.
As a parish community we also engaged in a four-week long conversation on human sexuality and marriage equality. It was a much needed conversation, and the fact that we were even having this conversation is a testimony to how much we have changed in the Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland & Labrador. The conversation was difficult at times, but in the end the consensus was ‘let’s continue to work toward marriage equality in the Anglican Church of Canada’.
At General Synod uncertainty and division were again highlighted. The first results of the vote on marriage equality showed that the motion had failed. For those hoping for the motion to pass it was like a punch in the stomach, knocking the wind out of our lungs. And as the air rushed back in, returning our breath, so did the anger and frustration all over again. Once again we cried out, “How long, O Lord, how long?” The next moment the whole thing was turned upside down as we heard that there had been a glitch, a mistake. The motion had passed! Just a step, but a big step nonetheless.
All of this is running through my mind as I stand here on New Gower street with the sun beating down on me and those gathered with me from St. Mark’s: a 90 year old in a wheelchair; three preschool age children; a young couple married less than a year; a mom whose own child is coming to terms with their sexuality; an openly gay deacon. People who I know from the wider community come by to greet us and congratulate us on the recent marriage equality vote. As the parade starts and I look ahead at the multitude of people in the parade, stretching the length of Duckworth Street, along with the hundreds that line the street, it’s hard not to get choked up.
Our banner identifying us as St. Mark’s Anglican Church gets a lot of looks. It also gets a lot of cheers and smiles. I even see some tears. It means a lot to those Anglicans in the crowd, those still in the church and those who have drifted away, to see an Anglican church in a Pride Parade. I know that what we are doing is important. It’s hard not to see the significance of it.
But as I look up the street at all the people marching in the parade, and wave at the people lining the sidewalk in solidarity and support, I can’t help but feel a hint of sadness. I think of all the people, our dear gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters who have gone before us and often walked alone. I think of those who never felt the swell of support that is on display today. I think of the teachers that taught in our denominational school systems who had to keep their sexuality secret for fear of losing their job. I think of the young men who have looked over their shoulders when walking our streets late at night for fear of a beating for being gay. I think of the girls who have been told that they are too butch, that they’ll never get a husband looking like that. I think of all those who have been forsaken, even chased from their faith communities because their sexuality doesn’t fit into their congregants’ narrow box of male/female. I think of all those who have the words queer, fag, sinner, abomination thrown at them by priests, pastors and ministers concerned more with orthodoxy than with genuine Christian love. I think of all of those who have been clobbered by bible verses, proof-texts taken out of context and misunderstood. I think of all those LGBTQ+ people who love Jesus and have a deep longing to belong to a faith community, but feel that there is no place for them and they don’t belong. I think of Jesus and the example of love and acceptance he has set for us, inviting all he meets to come and follow him, to walk with him. I think, if Jesus were here today, he would walk in this parade. Then I am reminded that he is here, because we the church, his body, are here.
I think of all those people, and yes I know what we are doing today is important, but what we do today is just one more step in a long, long journey. We have come so far, but we have much further to go. The same can be said of the historic General Synod vote; it is important, but it is not the end. The church has much further to go before we can truly say we love our neighbour, before we have true equality. Let us keep walking together, one foot in front of the other, walking in love, realizing that we are one in Christ.