It’s a week since I marched Sydney’s annual Mardi Gras parade.
The four days that I was in Sydney were primarily taken up with participating in “A Different Conversation” – a conference designed to bring together different viewpoints on the place of lgtbi people in the church. It was another well run, thought provoking event and a credit to the Imagine Church of Surry Hills for its smooth running. I’ll reflect more on that, and sharing the stage with the Australian Christian Lobby, in another post.
The ADC conference finished on Saturday afternoon, and as soon as we packed up, those of us that were part of 100 Revs headed off to the marshaling area for the Mardi Gras parade that was to happen later that evening. The marshaling area is cordoned off from the general public and gives each group an opportunity to put the finishing touches to their costumes and floats. Of course, the costumes for 100 Revs consisted of denim jeans and white polo tops, so we had a few hours to kill.
While the parade itself is a splash of noise, colour and excitement, there is a wait of four or five hours before you get to take the first step into Oxford Street. So the other Revs and I dispersed among the thousands of marchers, wished people ‘happy Mardi Gras’, and began to hear some remarkable stories.
I would introduce myself to a stranger as ‘Matt, marching with 100 Revs’. Often I was met with a quizzical look. “Is that a car lovers group?” was the response on more than one occasion. But once I explained that we were a group of Christian ministers marching in solidarity with our lgtbi brothers and sisters, and in support of marriage equality, the response changed. There were hugs, kisses, photo’s, expressions of thanks, tears. I looked around and saw many of the Revs in deep conversations with people who took the unexpected opportunity to share some of their story with a listening ear.
“I used to go to church…”
“My parents kicked me out…”
“I didn’t fit any more…”
“I couldn’t be what people said I should be…”
“I was outed from the pulpit before I could tell my family…”
The stories were often heartbreaking, but not always. Sometimes there were heart warming stories of welcome and affirmation.
“My parents are marching with me this year…”
“My workplace sponsored our float and my workmates are marching…”
“My church is here with me…”
“I realise it’s ok to be me…”
Finally it came to our turn to start the 2km or so down the length of the parade. As we turned the bend into Oxford Street, we were greeted by a sea of thousands of people clapping and cheering every group that marched past. People wanted to shake our hands, give high fives, and accept one of the 100 Revs cards that we were handing out. People would shout out their thanks and many called us over to give a hug. I got kissed by women, men and drag queens. I got covered in more glitter than is healthy for a bald man.
There were many things that made me laugh, but the iconic moment for me came about two thirds of the way into the parade. I was walking along greeting people when I came to a man who grabbed my hand and stopped me.
“Are you Matt?”
The question took me by surprise. I managed to get a ‘yes’ out just as he reached over the fence and embraced me tightly. He started to cry.
“Thank you”, he said through his tears. “Thank you for what you are doing.”
We exchanged a few words quickly before I had to keep moving, but it was a special moment. Later in the week, the man contacted me through face book and shared these words.
I was thrilled with our unexpected meeting. You probably realised how emotional I became when we met. I was so thrilled to meet you and to be able to thank you that my emotions over-took me. As much as I wanted to speak, the words would not come out – if anything came out, it would have been tears of gratitude. I think the hug I gave you expressed just how grateful I am.
Like many others, I have been badly traumatised by religion during my growing up, plus during my adult years. Sadly religion has for a long time been a red-button topic for me because of the hurt caused in the name of religion.
Seeing the work you and others are doing is just amazing. It gives me hope that things can change for the better.
When I spoke at the conference before the parade, I said to the gathering that I am not an advocate for marriage equality. If I am an advocate for anything, it is for a rich, full, meaningful and abundant life for all people. Jesus said that he came to give life in all its fullness. It seems to be a no-brainer that as a person of faith, I should be working towards the same thing.
For all people. Because God loved the whole world.
That includes my lgtbi brothers and sisters.
And my Muslim brothers and sisters.
And people that are hostile and abusive toward me, calling me a heretic.
The 100 Revs are criticized heavily by some parts of the church for being part of the Mardi Gras. They are accused of condoning promiscuous sexual activity, facilitating the acceptance of homosexuality in the next generation, and endangering the family unit. They are accused of not believing the Bible and being seduced by the world.
Yet, when I saw the tears, I realised that this group of courageous men and women ministers were doing exactly what Jesus did. They left a place of comfort and security (some sacrificing jobs and careers) to be with the marginalised, oppressed and hurting in order to bring healing, love, and life to the full. And, in some small way, miracles happened.
The march ended and we all went home (eventually), but the burden of caring for the lgtbi community remains. Suicide rates are still far too high. Mental health statistics are appalling. The words of some religious leaders and politicians make it worse.
But while the leaders and politicians talk, groups like 100 Revs take action. Action prompted by love.
And that’s what will make the world different.