“interesting, colourful, eventful, inspiring, and at times scary”
It was an interesting, colourful, eventful, inspiring, and at times scary, day. Even before the day itself, we heard that one church (and we were of which one) was planning to stand outside the New Room and preach against what we were standing for. So when I arrived in Broadmead, I was a little apprehensive, but trusting God to be with us and help us in any difficulties we might encounter. I arrived early, before any protesters had arrived, which was a relief, as I didn’t want to clutter up my mind with anything negative.
I was really looking forward to the service, as the planning had come together so well, but we did wonder how many people would actually turn up. We were pleasantly surprised when about 70 people gathered in the chapel (compared to 25 last year). The pews had been strewn with multi-coloured paper chains, providing a festive feeling, but they also carried a symbolic meaning. It was a privilege to be able to lead in the singing of my ‘Inclusive Hallelujah’. It is very personal to me in relation to journey of faith as Elaine and I can’t sing it without getting quite emotional.
Jonathan Pye, Chair of the Bristol District of the Methodist Church (their equivalent of a bishop), whom I met for the first time just before the service, preached an encouraging message on the theme ‘All are Welcome’. His style was very informal; perfect for the occasion.
At the service was interrupted twice, by two men who had been sitting quietly in the congregation. Each one stood up and disrupted the proceedings by preaching what they saw as the ‘true gospel’, telling us that we were in error. They were quickly escorted
off the chapel premises, and we were able to carry on, a little shaken but rejoicing in God’s love for all people. It was a reminder that there are many parts of the Church which are strongly opposed to this inclusive message of God’s love, which we are keen to share. If anything, it made us all the more determined to have a positive presence at Bristol Pride.
The service ended with a wonderful Charles Wesley classic, ‘And Can It Be’, and during the verse which declares ‘My chains fell off’, we broke the paper chains around us, representing all those who had been bound by chains of shame and rejection. The last verse was sung outside in the courtyard, and we ended with a prayer of blessing together.
After that, a small group joined the Pride March, walking behind the large banner which we had produced, declaring: ‘GOD AFFIRMS YOU’. Our presence created a lot of interest from those around us. I was interviewed twice as we walked along, once by the Bristol Post (which then went online) and once by a man who refused to say who or what he represented. I slightly regretted not probing him further, and wondered whether he was connected with the protesters, or with Christian Concern (who had publicised the church protest on their social media sites).
At the start of the march the commentator announced us, which raised a loud cheer from the spectators. As we walked along we handed out our GOD AFFIRMS YOU postcards to anyone who showed any interest in our message. As we approached Debenhams we were confronted by the protest preachers. One of our number approached the main speaker started to preach back at him – a somewhat strange and surreal moment!
The March ended in Millennium Square, and we then set up our Christians at Bristol Pride stall in the community marquee. It was good to find that many people showed interest in what we were saying, and we were able to collect quite a few names and contact emails from any who wanted to be kept informed about future events. Some of the stories of isolation, rejection and judgement people had experienced, from families, work places and churches, were heartbreaking.
I arrived home in the evening, exhausted, emotionally drained, but rejoicing that we had been able to bring a strong, positive and welcoming message to Pride attendees, who often believe that the Church has turned its back on them. We pray that for the people we met Pride Day will be the start of a journey to a new faith and walk with Jesus.
Written by Elaine Sommers