"Here come the Presbyterians! God's love includes everyone!"
In my last post I wrote that I would join the Presbyterian contingent in the Pride Parade on July 3. I participated on my own, as a Presbyterian minister. Janet and I, and two others from Glenview were present. The picture at the top of this post shows eleven of the dozen Presbyterian ministers who took part in the parade.
I volunteered to help carry the banner that led our group of sixty or so. I figured it would be easier than carrying a sign. I didn't know what to expect when we started to march. I had to concentrate on keeping pace with the person at the other end of the long pole. I had to make sure we didn't get so close to the marchers ahead of us that people wouldn't be able to read our banner. We were in the parade for the first time on our own, as Presbyterians, not part of another group.
Just before we started to move, Pride's equivalent of a parade clown ran into the space between us and the Metropolitan Community Church. I think he was on his own. Neither MCC nor PCC. He set his own pace. He played to the crowd. He didn't have a care in the world and he never looked back. Certainly not a Presbyterian! I had to be careful not to collide with him.
I heard that last year a minister put it this way: "We were seen and welcomed by more people than there are Presbyterians in Canada!" There were more of us this year than last, but my friend's observation is still true. It's hard to imagine a group of Presbyterians walking down the street to cheers, applause, thanks, tears, high fives, handclasps, and hugs! People in and around the parade thanked us for being there. They said we were a church that "got it right". At one point an emcee announced we were passing by. "Here come the Presbyterians! God's love includes everyone!" That's what our signs said.
I was overwhelmed by the response. I'm a cynic at heart. More than once I told myself, "They're cheering for the clown. Not us." I couldn't explain away the people who reached out to me, to us. The best moment for me was at the very end of the parade, when someone stepped out of the crowd, looked me full in the face with tear-filled eyes, clasped my hand, and said, "Thank you so much for being here." I couldn't tell you this person's gender and it doesn't matter.
You may not share my beliefs about where the Presbyterian Church in Canada or Glenview should be, and whether or not full inclusion of LGBTQI+ people should be our goal. If you've read this far, maybe you do agree with me to some degree. I hope you can see one thing. What amounts to a medium-sized congregation of Canadian Presbyterians dared to show up at a major community event. We were welcome, and our message was welcome. In a world we often think doesn't care we're here anymore, we have a positive witness. We can tell the good news about God's love. More people than we might ever imagine wait to hear that from us.
What's the alternative? Near the end of the parade space was set aside for protesters. I could see a few people there, Christians and Muslims. They held fluorescent multi-coloured signs (but not rainbow signs), quoting authorities that told us all we were all going to Hell.
What's the alternative? OK, maybe not the counter-demonstration of the fundamentalists. How about indifference, voluntary ignorance, denial? Religious people have done at least as much harm through what we choose not to say or do, as we have with words and actions.
I want to acknowledge the folks from Glenview who joined in the parade, those who sent regrets from out of town, and those who responded to my last Blog post with encouragement and thanks on their own behalf and for their children.
I said a couple of weeks ago I was determined to look for joy in this world and set my course toward it. Following a clown in a parade taught me something about the life of faith. It's good for the soul to cut loose, leave the cares of the world behind for awhile, and not look back. And take every hand that reaches out to you in welcome. To act out the truth that God's love includes everyone.