In the lead up to Glitter+Ash Wednesday, we will be posting reflections from participating pastors, churches and individuals.
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.
Isaiah 61:1-3 KJV
The one unconditional love I knew in this world died the day after my birthday in 2003. But just before her passing, my grandmother did for me something that I cannot repay, but I may die trying. Every major moment in my life was shared with her. Every joy, every sorrow, and every question imaginable I took to her. And though she was born before the Great Depression, she, in this one moment, defied every wrong notion I'd conjured up about what she'd think of me when I shared with her my truth. And though this story is profound to me and deeply moving, what I'll say here is simple: my grandmother set the atmosphere for my healing to begin.
When I wept at her side about the conflict I was feeling, not so much about coming out, but of living authentically in front of my church community, she preached courage. When I let out doubts about my self-worth, she reminded me of every victory that God and I had accomplished in my life. When I told her that I wondered if God even loved me, she said that God authored love, and expanded His capacity daily to love me more and more, "just the way He made you." She told me I was beautiful and that I made her proud. That day she saved my life and altered the course of my ministry forever. I knew that the hope I was handed had to be shared with others, who, like me, were steeped in wrong religion that taught us to hate and mistrust ourselves.
God's word speaks of giving beauty for ashes to those who mourn. This year, Christ's Community Church in Chicopee, MA (C4), in partnership with Manantial de Gracia of West Hartford, CT and the UCC's Proyecto Encuentros de Gracia y Bienvenida (@UCCBienvenida), are hosting a special Intersectional Service to celebrate Mardi Gras, and cross right over to Lent. The Premier "Mardi Gras Masquerade Ball will take place the night of February 28th, featuring vogue dancers, drag performers, live music, and more. It will raise the roof in the hopes of embodying the welcome God and the church have for our LGBTQ2IA family. It will be part New Orleans Mardi Gras and part Carnaval. The night will open with revelry, but end with reverence, as celebrants enter the sanctuary unmasked at midnight to receive glitter infused ashes, symbolizing that we are not hidden in this faith. The beauty that shines through the ruins is seen in our collective will to persevere adversity and redeem our experience.
But understanding our responsibility to bind up wounds that many churches helped create, our event will provide access to LGBTQ and allied clergy to listen and share their stories of how rediscovering faith is possible in the church of Jesus Christ for all of us. It is important for churches to start meeting all communities, but particularly the LGBTQ community, halfway. We can't be all things to all people if the church doesn't start reflecting the creativity of God in engaging the least, the last and the left out.
The Ball came as a response to Parity's #glitterashwednesday initiative. C4's Senior Pastor GeorgeOliver and UCC Proyecto Encuentros de Gracia y Bienvenida's Elivette Mendez Angulo conceived of adding celebration to the normally somber Ash Wednesday services, since celebration is a key aspect uniting Black Church, Latinx, and LGBTQ worship. Thus the Ball will offer the church and these communities a new way to allow their distinct cultures to innovate Christian life. Like what my grandmother did for me, we hope to till the soil for new hopes to bud.
Let us not forget that God came to Earth in human form, walked, talked, lived, died and rose again so that all people would know there is power in humanity to overcome everything that threatens us. But we have to be willing to go where the people are and speak a common language. The Mardi Gras Masquerade Ball will do just that, by showing LGBTQ persons, people of color, and those inside the church that glitter will always shine in the center of our worship, for the glory of the Lord is surrounding us as we dance and pray.
- George E. Oliver, M.Div.
Christ's Community Church-Chicopee MA