A Service of Praise and Thanksgiving to mark Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Pride Day


Church of St. John the Evangelist
Ottawa, Canada
July 13, 1997
SERMON
delivered by Ron Chaplin


[The Readings:
The Lesson: Isaiah 58:3-12
The Psalm: Psalm 27
The Epistle: Romans 8:31-39
The Gospel: John 16:1-11]


In the words of St. Francis of Assisi:

Lord Jesus, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
And where there is sadness, joy.

Amen.

Good evening/bonsoir:

Welcome to St. John's. Bonne Journee de la Fierte a toutes et a tous! Happy Pride Day everyone!

I am so happy to see you here this evening. There are many familiar faces. Welcome to our celebration this evening! I am glad to see you here!

Je vois ici d'autres amis d'autres confessions chretiennes. Bienvenue ici a l'Eglise anglicane Saint-Jean-l'Evangeliste. Vous etes toujours les bienvenues chez nous. Revenez nous voir de temps a autre.

Thank you to all of those, from other Anglican parishes, who have accepted our invitation to participate in this very special service this evening. You have honoured us in a very special way.

I would also like to thank the "regular" members of this parish who have come to worship with us, and to celebrate, this evening. I cannot think of any finer demonstration of what kind of Christian community, of Christian family, we are here at St. John's.

Welcome to all clergy. Thank you in particular to Garth Bulmer and Robin Lee, our co-celebrants this evening. And welcome Michael, Bradley, Richard, Janet, and all the others from this parish and from other parishes.

I also see a number of new faces. Welcome to the Anglican Church of St. John the Evangelist! Please come back to worship with us. You are most welcome here!

If any of you have any questions about our community, about our life in this parish, please feel free to speak to me, to any of our clergy, or to anyone who identifies themselves to you as a parishioner here. Our's is an inclusive Christian family. All are welcome.

I was greatly surprised when I was asked to be the "guest speaker" at this evening's celebration. Maybe I was just naive.

About a month ago, I whispered in our parish priest's ear, after our main Sunday morning service, about doing something "special" for Pride Day. Happily, our parish priest, Garth Bulmer, agreed immediately.

Let me explain. A couple of years ago, after an inspired bout of navel-gazing, the recommendation came forward from a committee of our parish, that outreach ministry to the gay and lesbian community be incorporated into the mission statement of our Mission and Ministry Committee. This recommendation was endorsed by our Parish Council and, ultimately, by the entire congregation.

And this is what this evening's celebration is all about. It is a celebration. And it is a signal, to the gay and lesbian community, that if you are seeking a Church home, if you are seeking a supportive Christian family, or if you are just seeking, you are more than welcome here among us at St. John's.

I suggested this special evening service. Others had suggested mention of Pride Day at the regular service this morning. We did so this morning. But I added, "how about a special service where the entire focus would be about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Pride?" Garth Bulmer, our parish priest, agreed, immediately.

Some suggested that we organize an ecumenical service. I argued instead for an Anglican service. St. John's has hosted a number of groups before, be it the Gay Men's Chorus of Ottawa, PFLAG, the gay AA group, the annual World AIDS Day services, and the local congregation of the Metropolitan Community Church. I argued that it was not enough for us to host an event organized by others. Let us, as the Anglican parish of St. John the Evangelist, take full responsibility. Let us take the praise, and let us demonstrate that we are willing to take the criticism.

Then it came to liturgy. Gordon Johnston, our music director, suggested an Evensong, or Compline. These are beautiful Anglican liturgies. I suggested something else. This Pride Day service is meant to be a celebration. How do Anglicans truly celebrate? With the Eucharist. With the celebration of the Lord's final supper. So let's do it. Let us all gather, together, around the Table. The candles will be lit. We will share the bread and the wine. Together. As God's children. And so, gay, lesbian, straight, bisexual, or transgendered, as brothers and sisters.

Father Garth agreed to all these suggestions. I would ask you, please, to join me in expressing our appreciation, yes, our joy in the ministry of this remarkable individual, our Rector, Garth Bulmer! [applause]

Garth Bulmer continues to inspire and to amaze me. Last February, in his annual report to this congregation, Garth identified three "challenges" facing the parish in the year ahead. The first of those three challenges, he said, was to be "more intentional in welcoming gays and lesbians into the parish."

Garth expressed his sentiments in these words: "I have been a social justice advocate all of my life, and if there is one quality I admire it is perseverance and if there is one strategy which I think is effective it is persistence. In my view, it is the fundamental responsibility of the church to contribute to the debate about ethical and social values in society. I would like to think that we can persevere in this debate about homosexuality and see it through, even if we don't come to conclusions we can all agree upon, as our way of being faithful to our call to be bearers of God's word.

Garth, thank you!

[Pause]

Most of you probably already know a little bit about my pilgrimage in the faith. Those of you who are Anglican may have read my column which was reprinted in our diocesan newspaper last year. Those of you who are gay or lesbian may have read my article published in Capital Xtra last March.

I describe myself, sometimes, as a "Queer Christian". Not everyone, gay or straight, is comfortable with those words.

So let me describe it to you this way. For almost all of you, this will not be news. I am a gay man. I am living with AIDS. And I am a believer, a Christian. And, frankly, had it not been for my religious faith, I do not believe I would be doing what I am doing in my life today. Even more strongly, if it were not for my Christian faith, I do not believe that I would even be alive today.

Being gay or lesbian, or from what I have come to understand, bisexual or transgendered, is not easy. How do we order our lives? How, if we are believers, do we reconcile this with God's will?

Fortunately, I have met many inspired teachers along my journey in the faith.

Let me share this story with you. The words are from a marvellous gay man, John Fortunato. He is an American Episcopalian, who was refused his call to the priesthood, because of his sexuality. In 1987, he wrote these words:

"I came to know... that the most powerful place from which to renew the face of the earth is from the bottom of the heap.

"I often think of the motley crew of gay and lesbian Christian refugees that I hang out with as a remnant, as our Jewish forebears in the desert were a remnant. Banished from Egypt, with no sure home to go to, with no comfortable societal myth to hide behind, they too were thrust down to their spiritual roots. And in that desolate place, they glimpsed in an incredibly powerful way the unity of God.

"It was a revelation that changed the face of history. As Jesus -- a remnant of one ~ irrevocably altered the course of history. Jesus, "despised and rejected of men", whose exile led him to such spiritual depth and to such powerful loving that those of us who are Christian say He was the All.

"The alternative to trying to force our way back into the myth is to embrace our exile. Not passively. Not with resignation. But with vigour and with passion. Drinking deeply from the cup that we have been passed as an oppressed people, seeing it as an opportunity both for profound spiritual deepening and for being empowered to do some very special work in an especially potent way.

"And what is that work?" Oh, just to love. And in our case, frequently enough, to love anyway. To give when nobody wants your gifts. To be present when many would like you to go away. To speak our pain when most people would rather ignore it. We are called to be. To be fully who we are. In the moment. In the world. That is loving."


These are inspired words. And some of this is reflected in something I wrote over a year ago:

"I am so glad I was born gay. It has led to an experience of life which has been quite extraordinary.

"Because I am gay, I appreciate diversity. Within our community. Within the community at large.

"Because I am gay, I have advocated against discrimination all of my life. Because I am gay, I know what it is to be verbally abused, to be intimidated in a subway car, to be beaten up on a street corner, simply for the way I "look".

"Because I have experienced the condemnation and the rejection of the Christian Church, I have been forced down, down into my spiritual roots where I finally found the face of God. Through this process I have learned many, many lessons, lessons I feel compelled to share with my brothers and sisters in Christ, whether they really want to hear them or not. I have learned about discernment, about how to pray, how not to presuppose the answer to prayer, to be open to the voice of the Spirit. I have learned about Scripture, having had to confront Scripture in ways that most Christians do not. I have learned about the gifts of grace in the most powerful and visceral way. Finally, as a member of a lost and lonely tribe, I have learned about community, as we gather and lend support to each other."


[Pause]

So let us now turn to the Word of God.

St. John the Evangelist ascribes these words to Christ: "They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God."

Too, too many of us have suffered this same experience, either directly in our lives, or the lives of our friends and loved one.

But Jesus, in this account, continues: "And when he [the Advocate] comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement."

Why? "Because the ruler of this world has been condemned."

For me, a gay man, and a believer, this image has always been pivotal. There have been many Good Friday services when I have "lost it". This man, and he was a man, fully human, Jesus of Nazareth, whose message was so divine that those of us who are Christian believe that the messenger himself was divine, was judged, and condemned. Just as so many of us who are gay or lesbian, bisexual or transgendered, have been judged and condemned, by people who don't even bother to ask about our affective or our effective lives.

The Christian Church can be a harmful and a hateful place. I don't want to give anyone here the wrong impression. This parish of St. John the Evangelist is a wonderful place, it is an open and inclusive Christian community. I wish I could say the same thing about the Anglican Church of Canada. I cannot.

Gordon Johnston and I, when we were planning this service, hoped that a gay member of the clergy would agree to be co-celebrant. We were unable to find anyone willing to do so. The risk of exposure, and of censure, was simply too great. For one in particular, this was an anguished decision. I tried to reassure them that they had not let us down. The Church had let us down. It continues to do so.

This is one of the reasons that I find such comfort in the Psalm we recited this evening. It is attributed to David, as are so many other Psalms -- David, the King of Israel, who was involved in a homosexual relationship with Jonathan, the son of Saul. If you don't believe me, read from the books of Samuel (both of them). Their relationship is described as intensely physical and intimate. Was it "sexual": as I read the story, you betcha it was! It mirrors the relationships I have had with some gay friends and, yes, lovers in my life. Was it "genital"? We have no way of knowing; Scripture is all but silent on this issue.

The Psalm declares with confidence: "the Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?"

Throughout all of my struggles in life, these have been among my watchwords. As is the glorious declaration of faith at the end of the Psalm: "I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord."

[Pause]

"I believe that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living."

And we can help accomplish this!

Most of you know that I am living with AIDS. This week, for almost the entire week, I have been attending the annual general meeting of the Canadian AIDS Society.

Several times during our proceedings, I found myself weeping. First of all, I wept for the contributions of gay women. They were there in droves. Gay women are those the least susceptible to this infection They have been there for us, from the very beginning of the epidemic, to care for their gay brothers.

And then I listened to the gay male activists. I include myself in this category, having been interviewed by Global Television for the Friday evening news. Who were we talking about? About addicts, about homeless people, about abused people. We have been, and we continue to be, there for them. We will be their advocates. We have committed ourselves to care for them.

I do not know how many of these gay men and women have any religious faith. But I do know this: they are doing God's work. So let the streetcorner preachers and, yes, our own bishops harangue us and condemn us. And let us commit ourselves to continue to do God's work, to continue our gentle ministry among the outcast, the disempowered and the disenfranchised.

[Pause]

I have come to realize, as I have matured in the Christian faith, that there is very little that is "new" about the New Testament. There is one declaration which is starteningly new, and that is the message of the power of the redemptive love of Jesus Christ.

Last year, after the funeral for a dear friend, I read this portion of the Gospel according to St. Matthew: "For I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me " And Jesus' disciples asked: "And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?" And Jesus is attributed to say: "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of my family, you did it to me."

These words echo the words of the prophet Isaiah read here this evening. "Is this not the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them , and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly."

If I have any secret to share this evening, this is it. And it is a message entirely appropriate for Pride Day. Do not hide yourself. Live in the light.

I have a little poem I would like to share with you this evening. It is doggerel. But sometimes doggerel, the simplest things, can speak to us all most strongly. Here it is -- what I consider a tribute to Pride Day:

To live as gently as I can; To be, no matter where, a man; To take what comes of good or ill And cling to faith and honour still; To do my best, and let that stand, The record of my brain and hand; And then, should failure come to me, Still work and hope for victory.

To have no secret place wherein I stoop unseen to shame or sin; To be the same when I'm alone As when my every deed is known; To live undaunted, unafraid Of any step that I have made; To be without pretence or sham Exactly what men think I am.

To leave some simple mark behind To keep my having lived in mind; If enmity to aught I show, To be an honest, generous foe, To play my little part, nor whine That greater honours are not mine. This I believe, is all I need For my philosophy and creed.


My creed, of course, does not quite end here.

As the Apostle Paul puts it, in what I consider the most glorious affirmation of faith in the Christian Bible: "Who will separate us from the love of God? Will hardship, or distress, or nakedness, or peril or sword?... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Happy Pride Day, everyone!


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