by Rebekah Thornhill
LGBT Pride Month is celebrated each June to recognize the impact that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals have had on history locally, nationally, and internationally. Here are stories from MNYS congregation’s involvement with Pride and more about our church’s continued work.
Pride events can be found throughout our area. Educational events, movie screenings, and multiple marches are organized by various community groups and organizations. In New Paltz, NY, Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church participated for the first time in their community’s Pride Parade and Festival on June 4. Their decision to get involved was influenced strongly by a recent mission renewal process where they asked how to best share Christ’s love as a congregation. They identified three main focuses that are now shaping their ministry together and in the community. In this first year, they are focusing on diversity and equality.
"It would be enough if we had just gone and showed up," said Pr. Tobias Anderson of their participation. "But we took time and asked how this was an opportunity to stretch our muscles in the community." Before the event, they held trainings with anyone interested in attending from their congregation. They talked about how they could spread out in the crowd to make conversation with others. They talked about what those conversations might be like; from people wanting to engage with the church to those who didn’t want anything to do with the church. They talked about the language they would use and how to remain inclusive and welcoming to anyone they met. "It is important for us to find ways to talk to each other," said Pr. Anderson. "Especially in our current social climate."
For Redeemer, finding ways to talk about welcoming LGBT persons was found when they looked at their congregation and community and asked how to offer a wider welcome. "How do we welcome people, not just when they come through our door," says Pr. Anderson, "but out in the world. How can we express all types of welcome to people of different abilities, races, and socio-economic groups?"
At the event, they had a positive response from everyone they encountered and a good spirit is remaining with the congregation. They’re now starting to explore their next steps for following up with more training and more conversations. See more photos on Redeemer's Facebook page.
Traditionally Pride has also offered moments of reflection through memorials of those in the LGBT community that have died from HIV/AIDS or hate crimes. As we mark one year since 49 were killed at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, St. John’s Lutheran Church, Manhattan, just steps away from the Stonewall Inn and on the NYC Pride March route, finds themselves in an important location. Besides their own services and events, they host events for Heritage of Pride who plans and produces all of NYC’s official Pride events.
"Right after the Pulse tragedy last year we felt the need to do something," said Mark Erson, pastor of St. John’s, Christopher Street. "Because of where we’re located and the amount of people already coming to our neighborhood, we took sheets and invited people to write messages to the people of Orlando." The sheets were tied to the fence of the church with markers nearby. The response was so great, that they had to replace these king size sheets four times over as people looked to share their prayers. This provided a visual activity for people to connect with one another. Pr. Erson and others would stay outside to speak with people as they came by to talk with people. "We say we’ll be there in spirit; we’re with you in prayer. But practice is helpful. The concrete is helpful; To actually write the prayers; To see the prayers. We’re concrete people."
The sheets were all sent to Terry DeCarlo, Executive Director of The Center, an LGBT Community Center in Orlando. When DeCarlo became a last minute addition to New York City’s Pride March, he sought out St. John’s to offer a word of thanks.
As this year’s month of Pride began, St. John’s again offered a place for the community to reflect and grieve. They tied 49 ribbons to the fence outside the building and included moments of prayer and remembrance in community events and worship over the June 12 weekend, the anniversary of the shooting. Pr. Erson has stayed connected with DeCarlo, who is helping to convey the community of support here in New York. "It’s important to stay connected, even in tragedy," says Pr. Erson.
The ELCA has a long history of wrestling with issues of LGBT inclusion. In 2009, the ELCA Churchwide Assembly adopted the social statement Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust. It was accompanied by recommendations for ministry policies that made way for people in LGBT relationships to be called as rostered ministers in our church.
Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust encompasses much more that same-gendered relationships, providing guidance on families, youth, and intimacy. At it’s core, it looks to answer the question, "How do we understand human sexuality within the context of Jesus’ invitation to love God and love our neighbor?" As with all social statements, it does this through being grounded in scripture and Lutheran theology. This particular social statements looks to also balance our view of human sexuality with the ways our society and culture shape us. This document notes the extreme complexities of human sexuality that are expressed in a myriad of ways and times while specifically noting of the importance of trust in relationships. This is a trust that offers commitment, growth, and accountability among people.
"Social statements give a theological foundation for why we do what we do, why we say what we say, and why we take the risks that we take," says Pr. Erson. Pr. Erson also brought a resolution to our 2017 Synod Assembly that asks us to have deeper conversations with one another "that will seek to cultivate and nurture listening to one another’s stories, concerns, and fears, especially concerning issues of human sexuality and the call for full inclusion of all on the gender spectrum." See this assembly action here.
Through conversations and connections with one another, both Redeemer, New Paltz and St. John’s, Manhattan have found a deeper sense of how they can bring a different message to their surrounding communities. In every interview for this article it was also noted that it can be easy to group all Christians together regarding their beliefs on social topics. Even as the leaders at Redeemer decided what to put on their banner for that Pride Parade and Festival, they realized they had a chance to reclaim the word "Evangelical" in their name. At St. John’s, the leadership underscores that NYC Pride is an important time of proclamation for them as a congregation. "The world needs a voice for these things," says Pr. Anderson. "It is good to be intentional and clear about what our mission and purpose in the world is."