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Pride Isn’t Always a Sin

By Karen Steward, First Congregational Church of Santa Barbara

     Wow!  What a day!  Great weather, cliff-top site overlooking the beach, live music, food, fun, friends – even a chance to adopt a puppy or kitten!  It was the annual Santa Barbara Pride Festival, and the Young Adults (YAs) of First Congregational Church (FCCSB) were there.  Despite their busy schedules, Jeremy Bloom, Roxana Farmer, Stacy Kowsz and Kate Loar spent the whole day staffing the church booth, spreading the good news of the UCC’s radical inclusivity.

     The YAs and their sponsors, Martha Peyton and Karen Steward, wore tee shirts designed by Roxana and hand-painted in rainbow colors by Roxana and Jeremy.  The shirts featured the UCC slogan “No matter who you are, no matter where you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here.”

     Three other people from the congregation –  Betty Sue Sherrod, Wes Brown and Myrna Tuttle – came by to help in the booth. Hmmm… they are all ordained ministers. And they all considered it important to share the message of God’s inclusive love with the LGBT community. Sometimes it’s easy to take our Open and Affirming stance for granted, but the witness of the UCC in this area is actually quite extraordinary.

     Both the Santa Barbara Independent and the Santa Barbara News-Press reported FCCSB’s presence at the festival.  Festival leaders dropped by to express gratitude that the faith community was represented (the Unitarian Society also had a booth).  Most festival-goers who stopped by the booth were “open and affirming” of our presence, though there were a few who resented our Christian presence at a “queer” festival.  One pair of tourists quickly escaped when they realized they had wandered into a “gay thing!”

     The church’s Ministry to Community and World has sponsored a booth at the Pride Festival for several years.  With that ministry’s blessing, the Young Adults brought their special energy to the event and traffic was at an all-time high.  There were so many visitors that we ran out of giveaways – rainbow buttons proclaiming “it’s only love,” rainbow comma magnets saying “God is still speaking,” salt water taffy in rainbow colors, special Pride versions of the church brochure, and invitation cards for the blessing of a rainbow flag in worship the day after the festival.

     Three festival attendees acted on that invitation and were at church the next morning to help bless the flag (which now hangs on the wall in Fellowship Hall).  As Jeremy, Kate, Roxana, and Stacy held up the flag at the front of the sanctuary, the congregation read the litany of blessing:

Rev. Sherrod: Creating God, we thank you. We thank you for creating us as unique beings.
Congregation: Bless all those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.
Bless this flag, that we may remember the joy of being “Open and Affirming.”
Bless this flag, that others may be showered with your love.

The YA group is already making plans for next year’s Pridefest – handmade buttons, more swag, mini-film festival, a rainbow pancake breakfast following worship the day after the festival.  Sounds like it’ll be another great day!

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