For everyone born, the right to be free. We each experience liberation in different ways and from different things. For me, the first 27 years of my life felt like I was never truly free. I had a secret, and for many years I was ashamed of it. I knew how bad my secret was from the vicious way the guys joked in the locker room. I knew how wrong my secret was from the way the politicians and the preachers talked about it. I knew how ugly my secret was from the way it ate me up inside and weighed me down and led me to dark thoughts. “I couldn’t be gay,” I thought, “because I’m a good person.”
Against the tsunami of negative, dismissive, destructive words and signals, though, there was a stream pushing another direction. A stream that said, “You’re worth it,” a stream that said, “No one is ugly, no one is unloved, no one is excluded.” It was a stream I heard around campfires surrounded by my closest friends. It was a stream I found as I explored other writers. It was a stream I heard preached with increasing frequency. And at the heart of it all was the simple affirmation from the One who plays at the center of the universe: you are welcome at my table. You are welcome here with me. That pulse underlying everything else, that heartbeat of the universe, that song which moves us, came clearer and louder and more steadily into my life: you are not bad, you are not wrong, you are not ugly, you are MINE.
And so on June 2, 2013, just weeks after Community of Christ affirmed that we, too, had felt this stream of love and justice, I claimed my liberation, I claimed my right to be free, I claimed the beauty of my God-loved self with these simple words:
I have been so richly blessed with the assurance that the God who created me also deeply loves me. It is this steadfast assurance that has led me on a sacred journey of recognizing and claiming my identity as a gay man. I am so grateful to belong to a church and many circles of friends who love and affirm me as I am and as I may become, and I pray for continued grace on this journey of liberation, celebration, and affirmation. It is such a powerful experience to share openly and honestly, “This is who I am, this is how God made me, as gay, known, and loved!”
We are each on a journey, my friends. We each face struggles and doubts, we each encounter brokenness and fear, we each strive to recognize and claim the beauty within. We each seek grace that sustains us. And we are each born with the right to be free. For EVERYONE born, a place at the table to live without fear and simply to be.
Pride was born out of the struggle for freedom. Pride began as a riot against that which would oppress and diminish and judge and destroy. It is a celebration of the right of each person to love who they are and as they wish. Pride is a rejection of binary systems, either-ors, and a claiming of the sweeping, stunning, spectacular array of diversity in the world. And it is a continued demand to see all people as having equal worth, or, as we say from our Christian faith, to see all people as God sees them: beautiful, known, and loved.
And so we come to the Communion Table today to shed the weight of the past and take up the freedom which is ours. We come to the Table today to hear that we are loved beyond measure, to find healing for those tender and tired places of our hearts, to hear the song, feel the stream, embrace the heartbeat that tells us again and again and again, “you are not bad, you are not wrong, you are not ugly, you are MINE.”
At the Communion Table, you’re not asked to be someone that you’re not, but you are asked to see yourself in a different light. Beyond simply blue and yellow and green and purple, we see each other as blue child of Love, yellow child of Love, green child of Love, purple child of Love – child of Love, child of Love, child of LOVE. Part of one tapestry, each piece and hue and story essential, but so much greater than the sum of our parts. At the Table, we see ourselves in the brilliance of light in which we were intended to be seen – and God calls that sight, “Beloved.”
In Community of Christ, ALL are welcome to share in the spirit and the emblems of Communion as you so choose. Everyone who desires will find a place at the Table here, because we believe that is how God works, too. So come to the Table, dear one. Come and find unity in diversity. Come and find the freedom of love abundant. Come and claim your place. Come to reach out your hand toward a common vision, a common bond, a common hope that is so radically uncommon. May the love we find here and the love we carry from this place continue to be subversive to all that would tell any person that they are less-than or unwanted. May we find the strength and the courage to be our full, God-loved selves, woven together as a community to bless the world. May we claim for ourselves and boldly declare for ALL people the right to be free. Amen.
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On June 30, 2018 the Portsmouth Welcoming Community, a Community of Christ congregation, hosted the Portsmouth Pride Festival. The pride festival was the first of its kind in the area and surrounding region. Portsmouth is a small town and it is more traditional in it’s way of life and hasn’t been too welcoming to those in the LGBTQIA+ community. We felt that the festival would allow Community of Christ to break the barriers that religion often places between people and allow us to publicly express our love and solidarity with those who are LGBTQIA+. Our goal was to take a public stance and let the community know that there is a church in our community that will fully welcome, embrace and include those in the LGBTQIA+ community. I think that society does a good job of marginalizing people who they consider to be different. If you are in the LGBTQIA+ community you may have grown up your whole life hearing negative and damaging things being said by others; often by the ones you love. You may feel unloved and unwanted because of hearing such things. People tend to be forced to hide in the shadows and fake their way through life, not living authentically as who they truly are. We wanted this event to be a loud and clear message to those people that we are here, and we will stand with you.
What was planned to be a small gathering of 20-30 people ended up being a large event with over 500 people in attendance. Several organizations attended to set up booths and speakers traveled from hours away to speak! It was a massive undertaking in the short three weeks that we had to plan once we’d seen that interest grew daily in the Portsmouth community. People who were in attendance expressed their gratitude for hosting Pride in this community and stated that “it has been a long time coming!” One couple even expressed that for the first time in their 20-year relationship, they were comfortable enough to walk around holding hands in public in this community. We didn’t have a clue as to how the community would respond to this. We received negative and condemning messages and even threats of death and physical violence, but the event itself was filled with a spirit of love and positivity. I truly think that this was transformative to our community. I think barriers that have been built so high have been greatly diminished, if not destroyed. LGBTQIA+ people have found a voice and a platform to use that voice. They have shed light in the shadows of society where they have been forced to hide. They have been given a community that will publicly embrace our diversity and express the worth of all people. It is organizations like GALA and Community of Christ that help break these barriers and give people the strength and courage to face a world often designed against them. Our community has been transformed. May we continue to work together to change the world!