“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love, one for another.” -John 13:34-35
Each year, St. Francis Mission in St. Louis holds a loving outreach to our LGBTQ friends, at their PrideFest celebration. This year, it was held, in the shadow of the Gateway Arch, downtown at Soldier’s Memorial park:
Some may disagree with our approach, but Jesus said to reach out to all “in love”- We have seen how impactful His love can be. We were not there to judge; we were there to love. As we entered Soldiers Memorial we were met by the Protesters… with long ranting signs that said in bold letters: “You are going to HELL!” each one screaming at people as they went by… “Turn or Burn!” “Homosexuality is a SIN!” Here, just as in our Pro-Life outreach there were “Christians” spewing hate, not caring for, loving on, or preaching love at all- with no Gospel, only law. These are vicious words that make people feel hated, objectified, bullied, ridiculed and beaten. In John chapter 8 the Pharisees looked to trap Jesus by bringing a woman who had been caught in sin, wanting to see if he would condemn her… But, what did Jesus do? He said, “You who are without sin cast the first stone.” The funny thing is, they all walked away. Jesus chased them off with his words. They were the condemned- not her. It’s then that Jesus engaged her, he knew her story; he lovingly said to her as her Savior- “Where are they that condemn you? Neither do I condemn you- go and leave your life of sin.”
The Pharisees were much like our “Christian” protesters of today- they are there to accuse and spew hate. Somehow stating your sin is worse than mine. Jesus knows their game. How many people have turned their lives around because someone was screaming hateful words? How many of us have changed because of anyone hurting, shaming or bullying us. We prayed for the protesters, “God show them your way of love and grace”.
At St. Francis Mission in St. Louis, we are a small but mighty group. With our “I’m Sorry t- shirts” and our “Free Hugs” sign in tow- we set out in God’s love. This marks the first year we sponsored a booth at the event, in order to be a better presence. It was a hot weekend in St. Louis as we set things up Friday afternoon: Free Candy, bracelets, pens and a raffle of a beautiful painting dedicated to the lives lost in Orlando. Saturday and Sunday, many people stopped by our booth to ask: “Why are you sorry?”
Our loving response was: “We are here to say we are sorry for how the Church has hurt the LGBT community.” “We are here to say we are sorry for how we have looked the other way when you may have needed us the most.” “We are here to say that we love you- but most of all God loves you and wants to have a relationship with you.” We were met with smiles, tears, hugs,“Thank you…”
“You’ll never know how much that means to me…”
“I have chills…”
“My parents won’t talk to me anymore…”
“Let me tell you my story…”
“I have prayed for God to take this from me, I can’t help how I feel.”
“I don’t understand how those protesters can call themselves Christians?”
We met many great people, all who had a special story, too many who were raised in church, too many who were disowned by their church families, too many who had very deep scars and pains from the past. It is our calling as Christians to love each other and to love those God puts in our paths: To spread the love of Christ- everywhere we go.
Late in the day on Sunday, we met a group of young men: Andrew, “Fez”, Lou and Chris. Andrew came up to me and asked, “Why are you sorry?” I was sitting in the shade of a tree across from our booth; the rest of his group was at the booth next to ours. I explained, “I am here to say I am sorry for how the church has hurt the LGBT community.”
He smiles and says, “Don’t leave!” I watch as he went to get another young man named “Fez” – he then said, “Tell him what you just told me.” I again state what I said to Andrew… “Fez” wraps his arms around me and says, “I have been looking for you! I knew you would be here! Thank you, Thank you, thank you! I go to a loving church and I have been trying to tell my friends that Jesus is real and that there are people who know that he was about love and not hate! Not at all like the people outside the gates.” We went on to have a fun conversation, meeting the rest of his group. “Fez” tells us that he has been praying that he have a deeper understanding of Jesus and his word. After a few minutes, I ask if I can pray for him and his friends. They agreed and I prayed from the heart; led by the Holy Spirit, asking for God to reveal Himself mightily to each one of them- so much so that they cannot question that it was Him working on their behalf for each of them to have a deeper relationship with Jesus and that he be the Lord of their lives and guide their paths from today for the rest of their lives! God is good… tears were shed. Chris could not contain his emotion. I hugged him as he said, “I have never had anyone pray for me like that. Ever. Thank you.”
As we left exhausted from the weather: heat, rain, and thunderstorms, we thanked God for his provision. As if to provide confirmation in what we were doing Fr. Dan read an article that had just been released:
Aboard the Papal Plane (CNN)Pope Francis said Sunday that Christians owe apologies to gays and others who have been offended or exploited by the church, remarks that some Catholics hailed as a breakthrough in the church’s tone toward homosexuality.
“I repeat what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: that they must not be discriminated against, that they must be respected and accompanied pastorally,” Francis said at a press conference aboard the papal plane returning from Armenia.
“The Church must ask forgiveness for not behaving many times — when I say the Church, I mean Christians! The Church is holy, we are sinners!”
As he often does during unscripted moments — particularly papal news conferences — the Pope spoke expansively, saying the church should seek forgiveness for a number of historical slights committed in its name.
In closing, pray for us as we continue to reach out to the marginalized in St. Louis. The homeless, the helpless, the needy, those without hope, the disabled, those dealing with substance abuse issues, ill cared for needy veterans and our LGBTQ friends. And join us in prayer, or with your presence as we preach the Gospel and see lives changed by GOD. Our only goal is to be a loving outreach to all through the love and grace that Jesus has shown each of us.
If you would like to be a part of this outreach or send a group to help… let us know. Contact Fr. Dan Kinkead at AngliDan@yahoo.com or DMKMiki@yahoo.comand check out our website at www.stfrancismission.net under “the DENNIS Project” tab for info.