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Friday, June 07, 2013

Radical Hospitality: A Cautionary Tale for Pride Month

From: A Blog for Dallas Area Catholics

In case you haven't heard, June is PRIDE Month.

If you don't know why, let me give you a very brief explanation: Way back when, in the bad old days before TV programs like "Will and Grace" and "The New Normal," it was not cool to be gay.  Not. At. All. In fact, many people couldn't even say the "L" word out loud, much less in public - including lots of lesbians. (Remember when Ellen came out?)

I know. I know. Hard to believe now, right? Well....maybe not so much, depending on where you live.

Anyway, in the worst of those bad old days - in the mid to late 60s - police often held harassing raids in bars that were know to be places where gay men - especially drag queens - frequented.  Once such bar was the Stonewall Inn at 43 Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, New York.

In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, the police raided the Stonewall Inn but this time, one tired old drag queen decided that enough was enough. She squinted her heavily mascaraed eyes, dug the heels of her gold lame pumps into the floor, held onto her wig and resisted arrest.

The "urban legend" is that the drag queen was Marsha Johnson who hollered at the police, "I got my civil rights!" Then, Marsha threw a shot glass into a mirror. And that's what started all the riots. This was later know as the 'shot glass' heard round the world.

(Thank you. Thank you very much. I'm here all week. Try the cheesecake.)

ANYWAY, that sparked a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by the gay community that became known as The Stonewall Riots. In turn, those riots sparked the Gay Pride Movement, which, in turn, gave birth to Gay Pride Month.

Which is in June.  PRIDE. Rhymes with bride. The opposite of shame.

I don't know what it's like in your neck of the woods, but in the NE Corridor and all along the East and West Coast, there are PRIDE events and PRIDE marches and PRIDE parades. 

I don't know what it's like in your denomination, but many Episcopal Churches in major cities and small communities are a visible presence during Gay Pride Parades and various events.

Booths will be staffed by Episcopal clergy and laity who will hand out bumper stickers and buttons and refrigerator magnets and pamphlets that proclaim "The Episcopal Church Welcomes YOU!"

Street Eucharists will be held with bishops or LGBT priests presiding. Magnificent Evensongs will be chanted by fabulous choirs while great pots of incense are swung by trim, handsome young men vested in lace and brocade up to their armpits.  Intelligent, moving, funny, and/or clever sermons will be preached by LGBT clergy or laity.

Yes, Gay Pride Month IS a fabulous evangelism opportunity and I'm really, really glad that LGBT people and our straight allies take that opportunity seriously.

In the midst of all of our enthusiasm, however, I'd like to tell you about a little experience I had recently that was pretty sobering.

I've been asked to help out at my local MCC (Metropolitan Community Church) while their interim pastor is away at Annual Conference. So, I thought I should drop by on Sunday and check out the congregation and liturgical style of this particular community of faith.

If you've never been to an MCC church, they are a fascinating amalgam of mainline Protestant traditions with a Eucharistic center. Some people will raise their hands in prayer or song like good Evangelicals. Others will bless themselves and genuflect. Some of the hymns are old standards. Others are "contemporary Christian"

They are also ruthlessly, relentlessly inclusive and egalitarian. The laity are fully involved in every aspect of the liturgy including, occasionally, lay presidency.

This particular church was no different. The pastor presided at a fairly abbreviated Eucharistic prayer which sounded very much like Eucharistic Prayer A from the Book of Common Prayer. And then, the servers came forward and, together, they formed two Communion Stations to distribute the wafers and grape juice (no wine).

The ushers then came forward to guide the congregation to receive Communion - but, unlike most churches that start from the front and move back, this one allowed those sitting in the rows in the back of the church to move forward first (see also: ruthlessly, relentlessly inclusive and egalitarian).

Being a good Episcopalian, I had taken a seat near one of the back rows of the church.  When I started to make my way to the center aisle, the usher came to me and whispered, "Are you alone?"

"Yes," I answered, a bit startled.

"You don't have to do this alone," he whispered.

Confused, I looked at him and said, "What?"

"It's your first time here, right?"

"Right," I said.

"You don't have to do this alone," he repeated.

"'m good," I said, still a bit confused.

"Really," he said, "You don't have to do this alone. I can get someone to go with you. It's no problem."

I smiled at him and said, "Thank you. I'm okay. Really."

He looked directly into my eyes, to make sure what I was saying passed his authenticity test, and then, being satisfied, waved me forward.

On the way home, I thought a great deal about that experience and wondered what it might have been all about. Later on that week, I met up with the interim pastor and asked her if what I thought might be true was, in fact, what was going on: Was he being, in some way, 'protective' of me?

Yes, she said, he was. She said that, week after week - but especially in the weeks of Gay Pride Month - in MCC churches around the country, LGBT come to church. Some have been away for a long, long time.  Some have stayed away because they didn't feel welcome.

Others were, in fact, told to their faces that they were not welcome. Still others have stayed away because they had been abused - physically, psychologically and/or spiritually, and yes, some sexually - by their religious leaders.

Being in church with other LGBT people - open, affirming, included LGBT people - singing familiar hymns, and praying familiar prayers is more than many could have either hoped for or imagined ever being possible.

But, being invited to Eucharist? To receive the Body of Christ? To come to Jesus "just as I am without one plea"? To be welcomed AND fully included at the Eucharistic feast?

Well, it can be overwhelming. It's not something a person ought to do alone. You need community around you. Supporting you. Making sure you know that it's not a dream, but a dream come true.

It's a pretty sobering thought, isn't it? Something that many of us take for granted is still such a precious gift to so many as to cause them to be cautious about being alone when it is received.

I tell this story as a cautionary tale to those of us who enthusiastically embrace the opportunities for evangelism during Pride Month.

Radical hospitality is something we all need to practice. Do remember, however, that some of God's children have been starved for a very long time. We need to be mindful that we may also need to practice 'radical sensitivity' to those whom Jesus called the 'anawim', the outcast.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Any act that provides the Bread of Heaven and the Cup of Salvation for all - and anyone who comes to the table - will always cause at least a stir.

When one who has been excluded is the one who presides at that Eucharist, or when the one who has been excluded invites absolutely everyone to the Table to be fed, well, it becomes, in and of itself, the revolutionary act which Jesus intended it to be.

Let us not lose sight of this when we invite Absolutely Everyone to the Table.

Radical hospitality is revolutionary.

And, when you're in the midst of a revolution, it always helps to have a friend or two with you.

So you know you are not dreaming, but rather participating in a dream come true. 

You don't have to do it alone. 

Especially when you've been away for a while.


Deirdre said...

Thanks for this entry!

8thday said...

I used to go to Pride events when they were for celebration and support. Now it seems that the capitalists have realized a new niche market, and Pride has largely become just another commercial event for marketeers.

That churches are now selling their wares at Pride is certainly something I would not have predicted even 10 years ago, but I am not surprised that they have joined the marketing frenzy.

I do love your church story though and yearn for the day when - not that everyone is invited or welcomed - but that the Table BELONGS to absolutely everyone.

Unknown said...

I'm bringing a copy of this to my Evangelism class today. Thanks Elizabeth! (Liz Magill

Sextant said...

I love the Curse of Broadmindness image. It brings to mind something I read last year about conservatives in the Texas fighting against courses that teach critical thinking skills in the public schools.

Excellent post as always, Elizabeth.

stephen clark said...

As one who belongs to an Anglican Church that does not have anything like the tolerance of TEC I found this blog refreshing and lovely.
I am pleased to say that my little flock is struggling week by week with being Eucharistically inclusive in all sorts of ways, though we don't see many LGBT folk, but plenty of others

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Deirdre - You are most welcome. You honor me by your presence.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

8th Day - I love your vision. I think it is of God.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Liz, I'd love to know your class went.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Sextant. I am firmly convinced that the world is in the sad shape we're in because we don't teach our kids critical thinking skills.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Stephen Clark - I'm quite sure you have LGBT folk in your congregation. That's because you belong to, as you say, "an Anglican Church that does not have anything like the tolerance of TEC". People who are hungry for Jesus have been hiding their true identity for years in order to be fed.

I'm not suggesting that you start asking people about their sexual identity. I'm only saying that you probably have more LGBT people in your congregation than you know.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Anonymous - If you own your hateful - and, OBTW, incorrect - remarks with your name and identity, I will post them and respond to them.

I don't give anonymous, hateful cowards an audience.