Christians on the Front Lines
May 05, 2017
By The Rt. Rev. Kirk S. Smith, Bishop of Arizona
This week, I would like to share with you a letter by Michal Anne Pepper, the organizer of the Trinity Cathedral presence at the Gay Pride Parade held here in Phoenix a couple of weeks ago. It is a copy of a letter she sent to members of the cathedral, and with her permission, I pass it onto you (in a lightly edited version). To me, it is a wonderful example of true Christian witness by Episcopalians in a particularly difficult and stressful situation. As Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”
I want to follow up with you about our ministry of presence and affirmation at the Pride parade, and ask that you keep the people we mention in your heart.
We gathered on the street corner across from the [anti-gay] protesters for an early morning Eucharist, complete with incense. Several people from St. Mary’s joined us. The protesters across the street were quiet throughout our prayers. But soon afterwards, they began what would become a loud, relentless, five hour harangue of hate and anger, through their bullhorns.
We grabbed our signs of affirmation, in English and Spanish: “You are a Blessing, God Loves Everyone, no exceptions; We preach equality; There are no outcasts” etc. Accompanied by our thurifer, we moved to the curb so that people coming to the parade would see our signs. We handed each person who passed a small card that said “An important message from the people at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral: Jesus Loves You (really!)”
Of course some of the people ignored us and didn’t want anything to do with us. But others thanked us for being there, and yet others told us how happy they were that we were there. One gentleman explained to me how he had tried to give the protesters a Bible lesson from Matthew 5–about not judging lest you be judged. He then proceeded to give a lively interpretation of the Sermon on the Mount and how it applied to the current situation.
As the crowds grew, we became a major photo op for selfies. We posed with many people who wanted to be sure our signs were in their picture. Others just wanted a picture of us holding the signs–some requested the English side, others the Spanish side. One of my favorite moments was when the many-hued women’s tackle football league insisted on a group selfie with us, and planted a favorite police officer in the middle of our group. As we all crowded into the camera’s lens, I thought surely this must be what the realm of God looks like! It was a great party and a joyous time.
We stood, danced and twirled our signs on that corner for hours, talking with any who passed by and giving them a “Jesus Loves You” card. Throughout that time, our thurifer walked among us and censed those who requested it; the organizers played loud rock music; a brass band stopped to play a few tunes, while the protesters across the street from us continued to excoriate the crowd. At one point they quit attacking “the homosexuals” and started attacking us as liars and deceivers–promising us that the cathedral would burn. We looked at each other and grinned. The cathedral had already burned, and it hadn’t stopped the good news of God’s inclusive love nor had it stopped us from sharing it with all who passed!
A couple of times I crossed the street to the “protester” corner with my sign. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence had opened their parasols and were shielding the parade participants from the protesters, as were a group of young people wearing large angel wings. But some of our community were compelled to approach, listen, reason with, or engage with the protesters in some way. Up close, the pain and the anger were palpable. I walked up and down the line, handing out “Jesus Loves You” cards. It was a holy moment.
One woman in her twenties started crying and telling me how glad she was to see me. She described herself as very religious, and coming from a religious family-but that they were all like “them”. She clung to me for a moment before moving on.
I think we may have handed out 950 cards to 950 different people that day. I know that for many we touched a place in their heart they may not have even known was there. Please join me in keeping them–all of them–in your prayers.
Many Trinity people worked hard to plan and implement this ministry. They have their own stories to tell. Whenever you see them, you might ask them about the part they played to support the spread of the Gospel on the corner of 3rd St. and Indian School.