God’s Pride: Creating a sense of belonging in one Episcopal Church

The Church of St. Matthew and St. Timothy’s (SMST) is an outreach- and community-focused congregation, in New York City, composed of committed persons that are monolingual and bilingual, multi-racial and multi-cultural, aging, diverse in terms of sexuality and gender identity, and many of limited financial means.

What is God’s Pride?

God’s Pride at SMST is a month-long pride celebration which includes worship, an art exhibit, plus other community gatherings. The God’s Pride Evensong has been held the second weekend in June since 2018. On June 12th, 2021 (6 p.m.) we will celebrate our 4th annual God’s Pride Evensong and this year the event falls on the 5th anniversary of the Pulse massacre in Orlando, FL.

Evensong: An Intentional Choice

As an evensong, rather than an Eucharist, we can better involve other interfaith and ecumenical partners. As an evensong, we have liturgical flexibility that allows for broad community participation. As an evensong, we can arrange the space in ways that would not have to be altered to allow for communion. The focus on the word, music, and prayer is accessible for people with a wide range of spiritual backgrounds. The accompanying art-exhibit and community gatherings throughout the month also provide additional points of identification by the many groups represented in the congregations and community, albeit with a Latinx/Queer focus, which is appropriate for this congregation’s demographics.

The God’s Pride Evensong at SMST is an expression of the whole community Latinx and not, Queer and not – it is the embodiment of bringing our full selves to the presence of God and inviting others to do the same. It serves the Latinx-Queer identified leadership in the church, other members of the congregation, but also offers an opportunity for folks who would not normally attend church (because of all the negative experiences common to queer persons) to enter the space and see themselves reflected in it in multiple ways: in leadership, in music, in art, in language. 

An Invitation to Bring Your Whole Self to Church

The one common element that all these activities share is the focus on creating spaces and offering opportunities where no one has to negotiate any part of themselves. We value a recognition that persons have polycentric identities and church is a space where we should be able to bring our whole selves no matter our racial/ethnic background, language, sexuality, or gender identity/expression.

In 2017, I attended the one-year anniversary of the Pulse Massacre with another Latinx/Queer-identified clergy person at a local church in NYC. We left the church empty. We did not see ourselves reflected in the memorial; we didn’t see Latinx (for us especially Puerto Rican) Queer persons represented, even though the massacre disproportionally affected queer Puerto Ricans. We left knowing that the following year we would commemorate this event at SMST and use an existing community, Intersection, as the planning group. Intersection began in 2016. It is a group for Latinx/Queer-identified persons (among other queer-identified persons) and seeks to create opportunities for storytelling.

God’s Pride Is Ministry, Outreach, and Evangelism

God’s Pride is an exploration in the fullness of what it means to worship in the vernacular. An exploration in what it means to bring our whole selves to worship. An exploration in what it means to create spaces of belonging.

The intentional nature of this work has led to many positive experiences for those who have attended and participated. For many queer-identified persons this is the first time they have felt that they could be themselves in church and celebrate Pride in the context of faith. Many tell me “I can’t remember the last time I stepped into a church.” Most leave saying, they have experienced joy, even amid remembering those that have been murdered. I believe that is an aspect of wholeness and belonging.

God’s Pride is complemented by two other evensongs in the series, one is God’s Love in the Fall, and God’s Freedom during Black History Month.

Photo by  Sabrina Pineda  on  Scopio.

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