ROTTERDAM — About a year ago, the Messiah Lutheran Church in Rotterdam hoisted a progressive pride flag outside its worship center on Guilderland Avenue.
The church erected the flag, which features black, brown, blue and pink lines in addition to the rainbow spectrum, “as a symbol of our deep commitment to welcoming diversity and inclusion in everyone, and in particular the LGBTQIA+ community, who are so often not welcome in different faith spaces,” said Reverend Dustin Longmire, pastor of Messiah Lutheran Church and executive director of Trinity Community Center on Curry Road.
Initial response to the flag has been overwhelmingly favorable, Longmire said. But about a week and a half ago, when Longmire returned from a honeymoon that followed a wedding service conducted in part by an openly gay pagan priest, Longmire discovered that someone had stolen the flag from the exterior of the church. The screws securing it had been loosened.
“A lot of people felt angry, scared, saddened by everything that happened. We didn’t really know what to do,” Longmire said. But then church leaders spoke up and decided no. only to put up a progressive pride flag in front of the worship center, but also to put up a new flag outside the church’s Trinity Community Center, which is a space dedicated to addressing food insecurity, providing cultural events and fostering opportunities for self-expression and mental well-being.It is also the site of a community food pantry.
Thus, on Wednesday afternoon, the region’s religious leaders and human rights defenders showed solidarity to raise the new flag in front of the community center.
“As a gay priest, this is something that is close to my heart,” said Reverend Jeremiah Lennox, Arch Druid of the Nemeton of the Ways, a pagan community. “We are clearly seeing an increase in homophobia and transphobia across the country. As someone who has both experienced homophobic attacks in my own life and as someone who serves a community of predominantly gay people, it is something deeply near and dear to my heart, to be able to stand here right now and just proudly celebrate the moment.
In May, President Joe Biden said there was “a rise in hatred and violence” against LGBTQ+ communities.
Reverend Grace Wilgefortis Ferris, a transgender priest in the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America, a member of a family of independent Catholic churches who worship in the Catholic tradition but are independent and not in communion with the Vatican, knows only too well good persecution. That’s why Ferris, who came out as transgender about two years ago at the age of 62, wanted to support Wednesday’s flag raising.
“I am one of the few transgender Catholic priests in the world. And as you can imagine, I’ve experienced my share of hate,” said Ferris, who is the pastor of Saint Wilgefortis TransMission, a spiritual home for the transgender community. “God loves each of us as we are. That’s what we believe in our church anyhow. Since we started this church about a year ago, we have brought so many transgender people across the country to interact with us, and many of the stories are the same. They get kicked out of their churches, ostracized by their families, bullied at school.
Ferris said it was time the hate stopped.
“Anything we can do to quell that and turn it into love is a wonderful thing,” Ferris said.
Amaury Tanon, executive director of Schenectady Community Ministries, said the message of inclusion should be supported by the wider faith community.
“The work that is done from the Trinity Community Center and the work that is done collectively from Schenectady Community Ministries is welcoming each for who they are, how they are,” Tanon said. “So we stand together, representing every member of our faith community, representing the work we do together.”
The issue is bigger than simple faith, said Arthur Butler, executive director of the Schenectady County Human Rights Commission.
“There’s so much we’re up against, but we’ll never get tired as long as we have shoulders to stand on,” Butler said. “We can tie arm and arm like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and those who came before him have done over time, to let evil know that he will not win.”
Longmire said he hopes raising the new flag will help the community move forward.
“I think it was a good reminder to me, and to our entire faith community, that not everyone is where we all need to be in terms of welcoming and supporting everyone.”
Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.
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Categories: News, Rotterdam, Schenectady County