Westminster Presbyterian Church

Westminster Presbyterian Church, 17 William St., Auburn.

On June 26, three banners shall fly proudly outside Westminster Presbyterian Church, each a rainbow, a promise of undying love. The first shall say, “Westminster Church is LGBTQ-affirming.” The second: “You are a beloved child of God.” The third: “The world is better with you in it.”

That day, people shall walk into the church and hear words some of them have been waiting all their lives to hear: “God loves you!” They shall sit next to one another, and through shared lament and celebration, strangers shall become friends. Together, they will light candles. Hug. Pray. Talk. Speak poetry. Tell stories. Dance to the music of the Syracuse Gay and Lesbian Chorus.

Some will be quiet; some, loud. Some will bring wounds that need tending; some, joy that needs unleashing. Some will be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex; others will be allies; yet others will come to listen and learn, unsure of what they believe. Some will come as Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Unitarians; some, with no labels; others will come skeptical.

All will come as people ready to get real about love — a love that celebrates the whole of who you are.

I’m talking about Auburn’s very first Interfaith Pride Service, called “Lift Every Voice.”

The service is part of “Celebrate Auburn Pride 2019,” a week in honor of the 50th anniversary of Stonewall and New York City’s Pride Rally. The week features discussion panels, films, comedians, parties and a rally — not to mention an art trail that’s available throughout the month.

I am proud of the faith and community leaders who have rallied, with the support of the city of Auburn, to make this unprecedented moment possible. Foremost, I am proud of the people who have courageously, vulnerably and joyfully shared the truth of whom they love and how they identify.

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The time is now. We must, as united faith communities, lift our voices in loving, advocating and honoring the fullness of our beloved neighbors — in race and ethnicity, in sexuality and gender identity, in age and ability, in family and economic status. We are your sons and daughters, your mothers and fathers, your sisters and brothers, your teachers and pastors, your police officers and firefighters. We are you. You cannot shut the door on us without shutting it on yourself.

I say this as a pastor who has given his life and heart to Jesus Christ, who believes in Christ dead and risen, who affirms the unique and authoritative witness of Scripture. I say this as someone who has ministered in trauma units and hospitals, prisons and soup kitchens, churches and street corners. I say this as someone who would not have survived four miscarriages and the stillbirth of our twin sons if not for my Lord and Savior.

I do not love my LGBTQ family in spite of my faith. I love them because of my faith. I love them because I take Jesus by his word, when he said, “You shall love your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. ... You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” I know that I cannot love God with my whole self if that love does not include my wife Jenna, my son Emerson, my friends and family, my name and gender identity, my body, my callings, passions, and experiences — everything that makes me “me.” So how could I ask someone else to? And how could I love them as myself if I don’t love those parts of them as well?

There are many things that require repentance, many things that are sinful — among them, according to Jesus, our unjust and hateful treatment of each other — but one thing that we never need repent of is our God-given identity. For when God created us, God looked out upon creation, and “saw that it was good.”

This isn’t the place for me to review what the few prohibitions in Scripture really say, though I’m happy to have that conversation. And you’re welcome to join Westminster for worship on June 23, at 9:30 a.m., when I’ll be preaching about sexuality and gender identity in Paul’s epistles.

My hope is that, during Pride Week, Auburn will dare to do what Jesus asked — to go and meet our neighbors, to listen to them and behold the divine image in them, to love them as if they were Jesus himself. For if Matthew 25 is to be believed, they kind of are.

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The Rev. Patrick David Heery is the pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Auburn, and the former editor of the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s denominational magazine, Presbyterians Today. A graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, Heery lives in Auburn with his wife, Jenna, and their two dogs, spending much of their free time hiking the countryside.