Co-written by Deborah Tickell and Caela Collins
On Sunday, September 10th Christ Church Cathedral, Hartford, hosted an inaugural ECCT-wide Liturgy Celebrating LGBTQIA+ Lives. Owing to the work of a team of LGBTQIA+ clergy and lay people and allies, this liturgy was crafted to celebrate the goodness of creation made manifest in our LGBTQIA+ siblings’ bodies and lives. The evening was a time to open our doors and our hearts and minds, to pray prayers long requested by members of this community, and to repent of the harm that has been done to them. The service was the realization of a dream of LGBTQIA+ clergy members born decades ago and a time to commit ourselves more fully to the work of full inclusion and affirmation.
This inaugural celebration followed the Hartford Pride Festival, where brave conversations were had by members of ECCT and where initial skepticism was welcomed by warmth. In Spring Training 2023, we spoke about invite, welcome, connect, which is an interpersonal way of spreading the gospel. This idea of outwardly inviting others to church is an act that helps make this world more like the kingdom God meant it to be and requires bravery and confidence. Inviting someone to church takes a lot of guts, but when you see the new faces in the pews who are open to a new loving perspective through Christ, those brave conversations make all the difference. We want to encourage all of you to genuinely invite new people to your parish, affirm that they are wanted, welcome them with open arms when they have the courage to show up, and re-affirm that their presence was vital and made a meaningful difference. It all boils down to acceptance and love; when you can exhibit that to someone who may be new or re-introduced to church, that is the act of participating in God’s mission for a more inclusive and loving world. A brave invitation opens the door for the brave first step of someone new to your parish. It starts with a kind, gentle invitation; it starts with you.
Bishop Mello opened this time with a moment reflection and recognition of the pain present among those gathered, and offered words of apology on behalf of faith leaders before celebrating Holy Eucharist with assistance from Bishop Ahrens and the Rev. Canon Ranjit Mathews. The Rev. D Littlepage, of Trinity Church, Hartford, preached a deeply insightful and heartfelt sermon that offered recognition, affirmation, and hope. Participants in the liturgy included members of the LGBTQIA+ community and allies, both lay and ordained, from throughout ECCT.
“Acknowledge a moment that we are in, which is to say that many folks sitting in the congregation tonight, this might be the first time in a long time you’ve been in a church and we want you to know that you are safe here, that you are beloved here, that we believe that you are a beloved child of God and we are here to celebrate with you, the God, who made us in God’s great diversity… This can be a tender moment particularly if anyone with us tonight has been told by a faith leader that you were wrong, that you are a sinner, or that God does not love you; On behalf of all religious leaders everywhere, I want to apologize for that. That is not who we believe the God of love to be that is who we believe ourselves called to be as followers of Jesus Christ… that is what we are here to celebrate tonight, abundant life.”
-The Right Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello
The gathered congregation included long-time Episcopalians and local community members invited at the prior day’s Hartford Pride Festival. Participants have expressed a wide range of emotion, from joy and excitement to anxiety and sadness, and seem to have ventured back into the world with renewed hope and, in this moment, a sense of being seen and affirmed. Many have since expressed deep gratitude and a desire to join together to share this love and affirmation more broadly.
We are grateful to Bishop Mello for his leadership and his vision in instituting this first-ever event; to the liturgy planning team, the Rev. Mary Ann Osborne, the Rev. Emilie Finn, the Rev. D Littlepage, the Rev. Rowena Kemp, the Rev. Keri Aubert, Ash De Las Casas, and Deb Tickell; to members of the larger Pride planning committee, including the Rev. Mary Barnett, the Rev. Thomas Jackson, the Rev. Jessie Akerson, the Rev. Linda Spiers, and the Rev. Evelyn Wheeler; to Dean Lina Howell and the Christ Church Cathedral staff and congregation; and to all who participated in the liturgy to make this event possible.