Sunday, August 28, 2005

11. Pride Day at Church

This morning I went to a different church than normal.  I had called the “Gayline” to ask if they knew of any gay-friendly churches in the city, and they could only think of one – an Anglican Church right downtown.  It was a church I had heard of, one that apparently doesn’t believe in the divinity of Christ.  I had no intention of going to a church like that, but I called them anyway, because I had heard that they ran a group called “Dignity” for GLBT Christians.  Turns out that they don’t, but the lady on the phone told me that this Sunday was Pride Day (which came as a shock to me, Pride used to be in early July, they just changed it this year) and so the Sunday morning service would be a special service for the GLBT community.  After quite a bit of going back and forth in my head, I decided to go.  And now I’m telling you about it.

First of all, let me say that I am not an Anglican.  I appreciate liturgy, but I must admit I find it hard to follow.  I should have sat much further back than I did because I spent a significant part of the service not having any idea what was going on, or what was being said… or even if it was being said in English (occasionally, they would speak French – Ottawa is a bilingual city).  For the most part I just sort of cheated and copied the guy beside me, but half the time he seemed to have things memorized… I went to an Anglican church when I lived in Ireland, and actually got used to it then, but it all appears to have left me.

Secondly, I would say that I saw no evidence that they do not believe in the divinity of Christ.  Granted, He did not come up much during the sermon – but I’ll explain that later.  Christ was all over the rest of the service, but I suppose it is possible that it was merely part of the liturgy.

The sermon, as I alluded to, was not much of a sermon, but this was due to the fact that it was Pride Day.  The sermon was given by a lesbian member of the church, and it was basically just about the struggles that GLBT (by the way, that stands for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Trans-People) people go through, and how the Anglican Church has responded, or not responded, to them.  I’d like to go on another Sunday and hear how a regular sermon there sounds.

So… how did it feel to be in a gay-friendly church?  Well… odd, at first.  It was Pride Day, and there were people with rainbow flags all over the place, and rainbow shirts and hats dotted the congregation.  That was the first thing I noticed.  I was greeted by 2 lesbians, and as I walked down the aisle I couldn’t help but notice all the gay people – obvious gay people! – sitting in Church.  I had known that there would be gay people there, but I guess I hadn’t been able to imagine it.  It shocked me.  The next thing I noticed was that the priest and… uh… associate priests (?) were wearing white robes with rainbow coloured…uh…vestments (??  I have no idea what the name of these things are… the sort of ribbon type thing that hangs over their shoulders? Like I said, I’m not Anglican).  This seemed a bit over the top to me, but… well, it was Pride Day.  I’ve been at churches on Canada Day and seen Canadian flags all over the place, and the pastor up at the pulpit wearing a maple leaf tie, so it’s not that odd.  Anyway, I sat there, listening to the overture, and admiring the architecture, and then the priest gave the greeting.  “I’d like to extend a special welcome to all the gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gendered people who have joined us today and are a part of God’s wonderfully diverse creation.”

I almost started crying.  I hadn’t known how much hearing gay people – and by extension, myself – welcomed from the pulpit of a church would move me.   And to hear us referred to as a part of God’s creation – instead of as a deviation from, or a threat to… oh man.  I’m getting kind of choked up now just thinking about it.  Like I said, the sermon wasn’t much… it was nothing I hadn’t heard before (although, not in church), but I did keep welling up with tears during it, because I kept remembering that greeting.

And then the weird thing happened.  The service was almost over, and we were all standing up, after having read something from the liturgy book in French.  I was trying to sneak peeks at the guy next to me, trying to figure out what page we were going to next, and also trying to translate what we had just read in my head, and in my fiddling I dropped my liturgy book under the pew.  I was trying to figure out how I was going to get it when all of a sudden everyone sat down, so I sat with them, and bent over and grabbed my book.  The priest was still talking and I was half listening when he said something about visitors standing up… so, in obedience, I stood up… and immediately realized that he had said that visitors should stand up if they wanted to introduce themselves… but I was already standing up and he was already beside me with a microphone.  I was not the only one standing, but the other priest was getting the other people.  There was no way to sit down again without making an even bigger spectacle of myself.    The priest asked me what my name was, and put the microphone in front of my face… so I said my name… and the microphone was still there.  So… I blurted out the first thing that came into my head “It’s been a real blessing to be in a welcoming congregation, thank you…”  As these words were coming out of my mouth, I realized that I was basically coming out to an entire congregation, which felt weird to say the least.  I sat down, and started to cry, which was kind of embarrassing… but a bit of a relief because I had been holding back throughout the service.  And then the service ended, and because I had stood up I guess people felt free to come and talk to me, so I was inundated with greetings, and welcomes.  And if they hadn’t figured out I was gay from what I said, there was no way to get around the question of how I found their church without mentioning that I had called the Gayline, so I was definitely out.  And nobody cared.  That was incredible.

After the service I decided that for the first time ever, I was going to go and watch the Pride Parade for myself, not just watch it from the safety and anonymity of my home.  It was nice to be surrounded by gay people, even though I didn’t know any of them.  The parade itself was nice, if somewhat muted… and I have to say that watching it made me mad.  Not at the parade, but at what I had seen of the parades in the past when watching the summary of them on the news, or seeing the pictures from the parades in Christian newspapers.  I had expected to see drag queens and buttless chaps and flamboyant half-naked men making out everywhere, because that’s what I’d been led to believe would be there.  Most of the people were gay, that’s true, but they were incredibly normal.  There  were a few drag queens, and one pair of buttless chaps (on an unfortunately old man… it was unpleasant), but mostly it was normal looking people marching with their drama groups, their reading groups, their health organizations, and even their ferret rescue organizations (I’m not kidding… I have no idea what the Ferret Rescue Society of Ottawa and Area was doing marching in the Gay Pride parade, but they were there).  It was families with their children (both straight families and same-sex families), it was churches (2 churches actually, I recognized some people from the church I had been to this morning), it was youth organizations, and radio stations.  I did get handed a condom, but it was very discreetly wrapped, and I noticed that they were very specific with who they handed them out to… no children, or even teens were given any.  I couldn’t get over how incredibly normal, and even dull the parade was… not the spectacle of debauchery I had sort of believed it would be.

I didn’t go to any of the festivities afterwards, so maybe that’s where the debauchery happens, who knows.  I have been to the big circuit party before (or what I tend to call the Big Gay Party) that they hold every Pride – when one of my best friends from Ireland came to visit me – he’s gay, and so I made the excuse that I was doing it to entertain him.  But even that party was not the crazy scene of men having anonymous sex in back rooms that is depicted in shows like Queer as Folk.   It was just dancing.

I went back to my own church this evening, and it was a bit of a relief to be back in a service where I knew what was going on, I could understand everything that was being said and I knew the songs… but I did feel a bit sad.  I kept thinking that for the most part, most people at my church would not think that I, as a gay woman, am a part of “God’s wonderfully diverse creation”… they probably believe that I am a deviation from it, I am outside of God’s natural order, I don’t fit in with what God designed.  So I was already sad by the time we began to close the service with a few songs.  One of the songs we sang was “Breathe”.  The words are as follows:

This is the air I breathe
This is the air I breathe
Your holy presence, living in me

This is my daily bread
This is my daily bread
Your very word, spoken to me

And I, I’m desperate for You
And I, I’m lost without You

I began to cry again.  I want God so desperately, I need to know that He’s there, that He’s here with me now… and I have no idea.  I can’t feel His presence at all, and I know that feelings aren’t everything; we can’t be guided by them.  But I would like something, some sort of assurance that He’s still with me.  My prayers bounce back to me as if the skies were made of glass, and I don’t know how to change that.  I remember the parable that Jesus told of the persistent widow (Luke 18), and so I persist.  But I do wonder how long I can endure like this.

I realize that that was a bit of a non-sequitor, but that’s what my day has been…              


sheena said...

Hi JJ,
I've been reading parts of your blog for a few days now, and I want you to know that my thoughts and prayers are with you. I cried when I read this entry - when you wrote about being welcomed at the beginning of the service. I can only imagine what a surreal experience that must have been. This must be a heart-wrenching journey for you. I'm not gay, but I am finding that position the majority of Christian Churches take against homosexuality to be the one thing that makes me uncomfortable with my christianity. If that makes sense. It's the one issue that I'm scared could ultimately turn me away from Christianity. I cannot fathom how much more difficult it must to be experiencing it so personally. I will pray for your continued strength on your journey. I also want to say that I think He gives us things that we can handle - not that it will be easy, but you're obviously not taking any easy way out. Really, it all comes down to love. God is Love, (which I think is more than just the idea that all love comes from God). Where there is Love, there is God

Kelly said...

Sheena, Christianity deals with a lot of things in a way that turns me away from it too, and you're right that it does come down to love. But sometimes His definition of "love" is different from ours.

His love crucified His own Son so that we could know Him. His love draws us to Himself, and not necessarily to what we want for ourselves. Yes, He is love, but I think it wise for believers to be careful about defining Him by our own understanding of love.

Check out C.S. Lewis' "Til We Have Faces" if you want to read a really challenging treatment of this concept. It was like, wow.

God's love is not always "acceptance." If the welcome comes to them in the name of Jesus Christ as a Person to us as sinners, Amen and Amen- for He is the Saviour of sinners (that's all of us!)!

JJ, again, you are in my prayers. I know the desperation for God you feel, for I have felt it myself. I don't understand all of this, but my heart hurts--for you, for Him, because His Church, His people are so confused...

Actually, though... wow. He gave me a verse this weekend that you might appreciate. 1 John 2:27. I believe the truth John talking about in this passage is Jesus Christ. It was so encouraging to me to remember that it is the Holy Spirit who teaches us (John 17) and guides us into all truth. I pray that you will find rest as you wait for Him.

JJ said...

Just wanted to thank you both for your prayers and your comments. And, hey -- welcome Sheena!

I really do appreciate the fact that anyone is even reading my blog, let alone praying for me because of it!

Anonymous said...

So I'm new to your blog (you'll have seen my comments elsewhere on here by now because I've commented on several of your other posts), and I just have to say - you are truly inspiring. This post here made me cry a lot! Again, I don't really identify as gay or straight at the moment, but I definitely have many gay friends and for me it is a struggle with my own faith to believe that being gay is wrong.

That is why I am finding such inspiration in your blog right now because I don't want to believe at all that is wrong, or that gays aren't supposed exist or just whatever. As a Christian, I feel like I got spoon fed that it was wrong and with my friends that I do have who are gay, I just can't accept that because they're such wonderful people. But either way, you'll probably see more comments from me as I plow through your truly are an awesome lady for writing about this! And inspiring!