Sunday August 3rd marked the 36th annual Vancouver Pride celebration, and the city hosted a massive, colourful parade attended by over 600,000 people. Unfortunately I wasn’t one of them, as I’d checked out of the hostel that morning and quite literally had a bus to catch. What I did get to experience, however, was one of the most inspiring church services I have ever attended.
It was my second time at Christ Church Cathedral, a beautiful church in downtown Vancouver offering an inclusive style of worship which celebrates the diversity of the inner-city community. Their motto is ‘open doors, open hearts, open minds’. I was won over on my first visit when the minister commented that to take the Bible literally is quite often to miss the point entirely – an idea that would have many conservative Christians tutting indignantly into their Old Testaments. I have grown up in the Anglican church, and while I’m aware of (and grateful for) the wide spectrum of values held across the population of its members, it does tend to feel overwhelmingly conservative, especially where I come from in Australia. When talking to someone about the fact that I’m a Christian, I often feel the need to follow up immediately with a disclaimer that I’m ‘not one of those ones’ that they might have seen in the media, blasting bigotry at full volume. Whenever I have the opportunity to meet, learn from and listen to other liberal and open-minded Christians, I do so with absolute joy and relief.
Sunday’s service was powerful in its simple and direct message. The minister who gave the sermon spoke clearly and openly; she showed a great knowledge and passion for the scripture (and a good sense of humour) as she explored the history of Jacob and his family, relating the message directly back to our lives in the present day. The story [Genesis 32:22-31] told of Jacob being set upon by a mythical being/unknown stranger as he slept, and then struggling and wrestling with him throughout the night. Jacob prevails, and demands a blessing from the stranger before he will let him go. The stranger, who turns out to be God, blesses him with the new name Israel. One of the translations of this is ‘God wrestler’, and a key point of the sermon was that as descendants of Israel/Jacob we are also ‘God wrestlers’, struggling in our faith and our lives with doubts and questions, challenges and adversity. There are also many who are wrestling and fighting for recognition and acceptance, not giving up until they receive their blessing. Jacob didn’t win the fight and prove stronger than God; he prevailed in that he remained undefeated after hours of struggle. As Laurel pointed out, the same can be said for ‘queer liberation’, which has neither succeeded nor been defeated.
When the church service was over the group of ministers/priests, men and women in their rainbow-decorated robes, walked out to the sounds of the choir singing a beautiful rendition of ‘True Colours’. I looked around at the traditional, beautifully old-fashioned building with its stained-glass windows and soaring roof, the organ and choir, pews, altar and candles that many churches have eradicated to appear more modern and accessible. To me, these touches have always been sombre and beautiful. But what I also noticed was the small arc of rainbow candles sitting front and centre on the altar; the sign language interpreter and the wheelchair ramp; the group of children playing quietly in a space at the front of the cathedral (behind the altar, traditionally a sacred space i.e. unheard of for commoners!) beneath a sign that read ‘Children are Valued’. Here was a place that truly welcomed and included everybody in the community. For the first time in as long as I could remember, what I felt most strongly for the church on that morning was pride.