This morning as I continue to find random bits of glitter on my person, and scrub makeup off of our new Emmanuel Church T-Shirts, I'm reminded of the HUGE display of love that was Pride this past weekend. On Saturday, July 6, 2019, Geneva re-hosted the Romandie (Swiss French-Speaking Region) Pride event; the first time in the past 8 years that it's been back in Geneva and this year marked the special 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall protests in New York. The lead-up of rainbow flags flying over the Mont Blanc bridge, the signs in the train station, and the crosswalk rainbow paint should have been an indication that something special was about to happen, and happen it did!
Emmanuel Church volunteers who felt called to be examples of God's love to the LGBTQIA+ community, stood near the Church on the parade route, and proudly encouraged 35,000 marchers with rainbow "Free Hugs" and "Love is Love" signs and newly made custom T-Shirts. I'd be misleading you if I said I had zero anxiety about how a message such as "God Loves You. No Exceptions." would be received in public, and especially by the Queer community. Given the sometimes painful rejection and alienating experiences that the LGBTQIA+ individuals have had with encounters with religion, what we were about to do felt significantly risky, at least to me. Even more so in a culture with increasing numbers of non-believers and religion skeptics -- yet this is what we as believers are called to do, despite our fear and reservations. I don't imagine it was easy for the disciples either in the early days of the church! With the exception of our Rector, we were a group of lay people, and as Episcopalians, genuinely unaccustomed to missionary ways, yet we dared to put ourselves curbside with messages of God's love pasted on our T-Shirts.
Our collective T-Shirt wearing and matching signs drew attention from photographers, marchers, and passersby. Though there were some who read our shirts and politely kept their distance, many were clearly moved by our message of "God Loves You. No Exceptions." and "Welcoming You Home." A few stopped to clarify that such a Church actually exists, as if we were yet another example of misleading advertising. Others snapped photos of our backs and said that they had a gay friend looking for such a church and would pass on our information.
Once the parade started, it became evident that there was genuine excitement and a longing for hugs, a deep human desire to be simply, unconditionally supported on the part of the marchers and huggers! People began literally running and jumping towards our group, dancing with abandon and joy, and we sometimes hugged 3 people at a time who didn't know each other but didn't want to wait in line for a hug. I couldn't tell you how many hugs were given, but I can assure you, that if we added them all up, it would be in the thousands. The parade continued for an hour past our spot, and aside from a few seconds of rest, we hugged non-stop.
Some hugs lasted longer than others, some radiated warmth, some tenderness, others communicated longing for acceptance, and others, sheer joy and exuberance. We hugged people of all ages, from all backgrounds, and of many nationalities and agendas. The moments of soul-to-soul eye contact and encouragement, heightened by the sense of a collective oxytocin rush, and seeing the Holy Spirit move through the parade was something I'll never forget. Ever.
On my way about town after the parade, I saw a rainbow (a real one) in the sky, and you know what? I think God approved.