St. Mark's United Methodist Church Infuses Christianity into Sacramento Pride Festivities

June 27, 2013

*By Otto DeLeon     

SACRAMENTO, CA – Don't tell the members of the St. Mark's United Methodist Church (St. Mark's) that Sacramento's Pride Festival is an unusual place to celebrate and promote faith and Christianity. Along with a growing number of other faith-based groups, St. Mark's members planned for months to march in and support the annual Pride Parade and to host a booth during the festival that follows on Saturday, June 15, 2013, in the heart of downtown Sacramento. Additionally, a host of social, educational and celebratory activities are scheduled for roll out throughout June, in recognition of Pride Month, as members of the St. Mark's community seize the opportunity to promote faith and Christian love to a segment of society that historically has been alienated, ostracized and rejected by religious fundamentalism.
     
"St. Mark's welcomes everyone. Our congregation has an active Reconciling ministry, which means we embrace and accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Supporting and celebrating Pride is a no brainer for us," says Tricia Peterek, Co-Chair of the Reconciling Ministries Team at St. Mark's. A steering group was formed of straight and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) members to plan activities and mobilize a diversified segment of the St. Mark's congregation, according to Peterek.
     
Sacramento's Pride Parade publicly celebrates unity and persistence to eradicate discrimination and violence toward LGBT people. From a faith perspective, members of the St. Mark's congregation feel compelled to let the LGBT community know that God loves them just as they are. With distinct church and faith branding signage, members of St. Mark's unite and march to openly demonstrate that there are places in Sacramento that will welcome and minister to the LGBT community (without attempting to change their sexual orientation or gender identity) when their spiritual batteries are in need of a recharge.
     
For the leadership team at St. Marks's, having a presence at the festival with an exhibitor's booth is just as important for outreach purposes as is having the parade contingent. At the festival, the attendants of the St. Mark's booth engage the crowds with welcoming messages, give-away items and smiles that promote faith and church inclusion. "We talk to anyone and everyone who comes by the booth," says Cath Fenimore-Brown, the Church Administrator and member of the leadership team of the LGBT ministries group. She adds, "We're not trying to convince people about anything. We know that these people are struggling to make sense of their identity, family, work, finances, health and all life situations. Sometimes people just need a listening ear or to be around people of faith to help sort things out. Our hope is that they find their way to St. Mark's to feel the comfort and love that God intends for all of us."
     
Recognizing June as national Pride Month, members of the St. Mark's community planned related celebratory and outreach activities peppered throughout June. These activities include prep sessions for the parade and festival (decorating, sign making and assembly and branding of give-away items for the booth), a potluck, receptions after worship services, a dedicated Pride Sunday on June 16 and movie viewings with paneled discussion sessions that address faith and sexuality.
     
The belief at St. Mark's is that God is too big and too good to restrain within human understanding so why not go to where it might seem unusual. The twist is that for those who belong to the St. Mark's community there is nothing unusual about going forward hand in hand to proclaim and encourage pride in being Christian and lesbian or gay or bisexual or transgender or straight. When love prevails and dignity, compassion and respect for all people are attained, then faith and pride will truly go hand in hand – that's the vision for St. Mark's.
 
*DeLeon is Co-chair of the church's Reconciling Ministries Team