Faith Church, UCC Hosts New Braunfels First Interfaith Pride Worship Service
24 choir members, 20 clergy from 17 faith communities, over 140 attendees, and an indescribable evening we are still all unpacking! The response to New Braunfels first Interfaith Pride Worship Service, hosted by Faith Church, UCC has been overwhelming.
It began as a dream last year during New Braunfels Pride Festival, its second such event. I’d participated in worship services during Pride month for years and wondered if New Braunfels was ready to support such an event.
Then, a group of approximately 20 Christians organized and took the time to make signs, leave their home, drive to Landa Park, find our festival, and spent hours making sure the 900 LGBTQ+ persons and our allies attending heard about a God who condemns us to hell.
For our congregation to remain silent in the face of such bigotry, hate, and misuse and misrepresentation of God and God’s words would have made us complicit, quietly agreeing with their words and actions even if only in the eyes of the public.
What did the Lord require of us? To offer an alternative Christian voice to says just as loudly and clearly, “You ARE loved, worthy, and welcome.” So, with the permission and support of the Faith Church Council and the Riverside Pride Board who hosts New Braunfels Pride, I began speaking with local faith leaders. After quick agreement from the local Unitarian Universalists and Unity Church, the going became a bit more difficult.
Clergy were hesitant to agree, uncertain what to expect. I assured them we were going to be FOR love and inclusion, NOT against anyone. They expressed concern their congregation would not easily allow them to participate, “I have a VERY purple congregation; we don’t want to alienate those who oppose”. Others struggled with the Interfaith nature of the event, “How can you call it worship if you’re not all worshiping the same thing?”
Slowly, I found more persons who wanted to participate and believed in the vision of an evening where ALL kids of Creation would feel safe and welcome and find healing together. So, we formed a planning committee of queer and allied clergy and lay persons from the area.
Seven clergy from Faith agreed to vest and process. My girlfriend, who is the Choral Director at New Braunfels UU, started forming the choir. The Seguine PFLAG group volunteered to provide food for a reception after the service. UCC clergy and congregants came from San Antonio and Boerne to participate as readers and choir members. Fliers and save the date post cards were donated and spread everywhere.
The local Episcopalians, some Presbyterians, and a Lutheran Deacon came on board. One of my best friends who is a Rabbi and Cantor from Austin agreed to come. A Pagan spiritualist leader joined us. A queer pastor from Seguin headed up the decorations. Our tech team and other members faithfully offered to manage the moving parts.
As the 20 clergy processed, one after another, in silence into the sanctuary the crowd was already stunned at this living and breathing testament to God’s inclusive love and acceptance. Into the silence, 20 faith leaders lined up on the chancel, faced the congregation, and sang a chorus of blessing acapella over them, again and again, as many now openly wept, “You are the heart, you are the hands, you are the voice of Spirit on earth. And who you are, and all you do, is a blessing to the world.”
Then the first words of the service were spoken by a white, hetero-presenting, cis male, Episcopalian clergy who led the opening liturgy of repentance and apology spoken by the gathered clergy…
Fr. Ripp: In the name of faith leaders who have been complicit in the silencing of LGBTQ+ people and their allies by not speaking out on your behalf…
Clergy: we are sorry.
Fr. Ripp: In the name of communities of faith that have often stood by while violent language has fueled homophobia, exclusion and disrespect…
Clergy: we are sorry.
This opening liturgy went on for many more stanzas and ended with the clergy and congregation singing the song of blessing together. Then there was more. Much more. A candle-lighting ceremony, music that invited reflection, worship, and celebration, and more hugs and tears and laughter than we could count. Hearts were moved, inspired, healed, and changed.
A pre-teen who has been anti-church was drug there by her mother but was mesmerized by the service. She took photos and texted one of Rabbi Marie, wearing a rainbow yarmulka, to her best friend in Florida who just came out and is facing rejection from her family and faith. After the service, several were standing nearby as the two girls FaceTimed together in tears and the best friend said, “You mean there are people who worship like me who think I’m ok?!?!?”
Everyone participating discussed how joyful and filling the event was for them. Clergy said it was invigorating and humbling. The white, hetero-presenting, cis male, Episcopalian clergy said his members who attended were deeply impacted, and so was he. They offered to host the event at their church next year!
At Pride Fest two days later, dozens of persons pulled me aside to tell me their story and how much the evening meant to them. Long-time members of Faith Church described how healing it was, in ways they did not even realize they needed.
Faith Church made the brave decision to become an Open and Affirming Congregation in January of 2009. It can be easy to make a statement and believe our work is done. But Faith Church knows that being truly Open and Affirming is a dynamic and active process of on-going work, ever-evolving learning, and deepening advocacy.
This year, we took another step forward as leaders of transformation and change in our city and as agents of clear and gently loud proclaimers of a God who loves and accepts us all. In the process, we find that we, too, are being transformed in ways we will be unpacking for some time to come.
For your hearts, for your passion, for your faithful courage and advocacy…thank you, my friends. I’m excited to see what God does with all of this, next!