Prayers from Pride
By Rev. Nathan Meckley, Metropolitan Community Church (MCC)
That summer our church contingent found itself needing to decide whether to march with other religious groups earlier in the parade or to march with other New Jersey groups at the end of the parade. We opted to march with New Jersey near the end.
As with anyone’s first Pride, there were many memorable moments. One is indelibly etched in my memory. As our unit near the end of the parade reached the crest of Manhattan Island, I suddenly saw the entire parade stretched out before me as it ended in the distance and poured into Washington Square. Seeing that river of thousands “just like me,” as a young gay man who grew up an isolated gay boy in rural Pennsylvania I knew for the first time, without doubt, I would never be alone again. I truly believe I caught my first glimpse of that “great cloud of witnesses” — and it was rainbow-hued!
Over the nearly 30 years of my Pride participation, no doubt a lot has changed. So much has gotten better; so much still needs to improve. Our work is far from done. One of the things I notice has changed most is my personal level of enthusiasm vs. exhaustion. Sure, it comes with pushing 50, I suppose, but I sometimes struggle to stay excited. Yet over these last two years I have discovered a new reason to be excited about Pride.
At our Portland Pride booth, we predictably have literature about our church and friendly volunteers who greet people and tell them about MCC. But these last two years we started offering something more: we invite people to leave a written prayer on a slip of colored paper. We clip the slips of paper on cords stretched across the booth, creating strings of small prayer flags over the weekend. We tell them we will pray it aloud for them (anonymously) in worship the following Sunday evening.
When we first did this we had NO idea what to expect. Would anyone bother to leave a prayer? Was it too weird and churchy? What if someone wrote something snarky or inappropriate? Would we still read it as their prayer?
It is strange and wonderful to watch what happens. When we ask, some people stare blankly; others smile and thank us, but do not write anything. Others scrawl something quickly; others ponder thoughtfully for a long time before writing. Yet I notice every time we ask it seems the person’s countenance softens and their eyes change. I believe the invitation to share a prayer tells them someone takes their queer spiritual life seriously — and they can too, even at Pride.
Those slips of paper with simple prayers are now my favorite part of Pride. More than 150 people have left prayers at our booth over these last two years. On one hand, that may not seem like many. Yet when one considers the general distrust of churches, and the specific alienation of LBGTQ people by churches, to entrust a prayer from your heart to ANY church — even an MCC — is a profound act of faith and trust.
When we share those prayers aloud in worship — prayers for sobriety, prayers for lost loved ones, prayers for family and friends, prayers for healing and hope and relationships — there is reverent silence. Heads nod in agreement. Tears flow. On those slips of paper LBGTQ souls shine through. (By the way, not a single snarky comment has turned up in the whole lot!)
Most who leave a prayer at our booth may never step foot in my church. That’s OK. By entrusting a prayer to us and by praying it with them, we are connected. We belong to one another in some mysteriously spiritual and queer way.
Pride now brims with renewed spiritual meaning for me. I am reminded that under the layers of rainbow tchotchkes and overindulgence, the radiant love, dignity, strength, and yearning of the human soul dwells. At Pride, the soul’s reservoir of powerful, abundant life-affirming energy — all too often hidden — has the chance to break open.
But maybe most of all, the prayers from Pride remind me again — and perhaps helps someone know for the very first time — we are never alone.
This is the first in a series of columns by diverse local faith leaders. Are you or do you know a LGBTQ-identified faith leader who might like to contribute? Please email PQ at [email protected]
Rev. Nathan Meckley has been pastor of Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) of Portland in NE Portland since June 2008. He received his Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree from Claremont School of Theology in 2003, served as adjunct faculty at Pacific School of Religion (Berkeley, Calif.), and has taught courses, workshops, and seminars addressing issues of spirituality and sexuality in numerous settings.