|Rev. Phillip Thomason, my children and me in the Atlanta Pride Parade, Oct. 2012|
My very first day at Saint Mark United Methodist Church was on the occasion of the Diversity Dinner and service in June 2007. I had barely finished moving my books onto their shelves and re-arranging the office before a kind face knocked on my door. It was Rev. Beth Stroud, our speaker for the evening, who was looking for the sanctuary. Rev. Stroud served as an ordained United Methodist pastor for six years before losing her clergy credentials in a 2004 church trial. In the trial, Beth was found guilty of “practices declared by the United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teaching” because she acknowledged living in a committed relationship with another woman. She remained on staff at Germantown UMC in Pennsylvania for several years, and, here she was, knocking at my door. Though I had nothing to do with her coming to be with us, it was an honor to represent this marvelous church and our story to her.
I have been humbled and grateful to serve here since that time, and I will never forget diving into my first Pride Parade that year – filled with fear and trembling, and a great, great excitement. Jackie Watson walked with me, and as we waved to the shouting masses, she asked, “Is this your first parade?” I sheepishly admitted that it was, because I’d never had an invitation or place to walk before.
Now, 5 years later, I have had the privilege of representing you in many parades. It was a joy to ride with Phillip on the back of Cheryl Thompson’s car, this time with my 3 children accompanying me. Many of us have noted how many children we see at the Parade and festivities now, and what a change that is from the past.
Because they were going to ride with us, I wanted to tell my children a little more about what we were doing, what the Pride Parade was for, and specifically about the ministry of Saint Mark. What I heard from them as I told your story – our story – was their surprise at how people could treat one another, in God’s name. They couldn’t imagine that a church could be hateful, or that families could be cruel. They couldn’t reconcile how a loving Jesus would be used as an instrument for condemnation. When I finished telling this story of radical love, they looked at me with great sincerely, and said, “So THAT’S why we go to Saint Mark!”
My friends, this is what you are teaching my children: that Jesus is loving, and never cruel. That the church should be welcoming, and never exclusive, that we should love one another, friend and foe, stranger or guest. You have taught them exactly what Christ has instructed: to love God and love one another. It is shaping them to be the people who will help us live in a world where discrimination is a thing of the past, where we can all be free to live and love as God created us, without fear or apology.
Thank you. Thank you for living out the message of Gospel love in such a radical way. Thank you for modeling it to the children of our church and to all who have ears to hear and eyes to see. Thank you for your courage and your Pride. It’s changing the world.