On Saturday June 11 I had the opportunity to march in the Albuquerque Pride Parade. I was lucky enough--thanks to the pastor of St. Paul Lutheran (where I hold my Masses)—to jump onboard with the St. Timothy’s Lutheran, a welcoming and inclusive community. We gathered on Friday night to share pizza and decorate the float, only to turn right around early the next morning to get in line and wait.
I knew it was going to be hot. Blazing. Triple digits. On tarmac. In clerics. But I did not let that deter me: this was too important to miss. I put much prayer into my sign. I wanted to harness the symbolic power of my priesthood in hopes of bringing even a touch of healing to this community that has been--and continues to be--much maligned by the Church. The front of the sign said, “I apologize on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church.” The back proclaimed, “God rejoices in you.”
After hours of hydrating and socializing with the fabulous St. Tim’s community, the parade finally began to move. Suddenly, I was nervous. I realized I didn’t know how people were going to react. Truthfully, I never know how people are going to react to me—a female priest ordained in violation of Church doctrine. This uncertainty is something I am growing used to expecting. But the feeling I was experiencing at this moment was different: I was—as a priest—intentionally owning the wrongdoing of the Catholic Church’s treatment of the LGBTQ community. I was taking responsibility for the institution and the pain it has caused so many individuals, families, children. I was a little scared. I took a deep breath: whatever happened, I would welcome it, for this was a critical ministry.
People of all ages, backgrounds, genders lined the street. The spirit was pure joy: people were delighting in one another, in the parade, in the sunny summer day. As eyes fell upon my sign, I received all kinds of reactions. Many offered lively cheers. Some positively guffawed, while others were tickled with laughter. A few had genuine tears in their eyes. Many, especially girls and women, took photos. One teenage girl sprang from the crowd to give me a bear hug. I whispered in her ear, “It’s not true. It’s not true. God loves you.” An adorable young lesbian couple yelled out, “We want to get married!” I shouted, “Call me!” A few exclaimed, “About time!” In those moments when I knew had the crowd, I would lock eyes with them and turn the sign over to point to the second message, “God rejoices in you.” They shouted in return, “Yes!”, or touched their hearts and smiled, or exclaimed, “God rejoices in everybody! Everybody!”
Every response moved me. But the response that touched me most deeply—the response that was most common from the start of the parade to its conclusion—was the heartfelt “Thank you!” It was shouted over and over and over again by people of all genders. This community that has been so intensely marginalized and hurt was abundantly gracious, generous, resilient.
My experience at the Pride Parade reminded me of what I already knew deep in my bones: most people simply want to be accepted and cherished exactly as they are. When they are hurt, they just want that hurt to be acknowledged, and they want a commitment that things will change for the better—for their children, for their communities, for their people. It is quite simple: admit you are wrong, apologize, and learn.
Now I am just one priest who made one *tiny* gesture of apology. Imagine—imagine!—the torrent of grace that would descend upon the earth if the Roman Catholic Church truly took responsibility for the hurt it has caused the LGBTQ community. The entire world would be uplifted by this reconciliation, and I venture to say it would give all anti-LGBTQ movements, governments, and organizations pause—perhaps enough for them to re-evaluate their current understanding of human sexuality.
After all that New Mexico sun I ended up with a ferocious migraine that knocked me out for the next 16 hours. I decided to enter into the experience as penance. In comparison to the insults, harassment, violence, and even death that the LGBTQ community has endured at the hands of Christianity, the very least I could do was suffer a little migraine. And so I did, giving it up to God as prayer for a world where all God’s people are celebrated as the sacred expressions of God’s Spirit that they are.