Pancake Pride: An Ecumenical Celebration
It’s Tuesday 21 February and Pitt St Uniting Church is resplendent with freshly painted rainbow steps for World Pride. A Rainbow Christians Together banner hangs over the entrance as greeters welcome people into the building.
Some of us who gather here are Uniting Church born and bred, some have made more than one journey between denominations in search of a safe space, and some are stepping into a church for the first time in a very long time. Many of us are LGBTQIA+ people, both veterans of queer rights protests and baby queers coming into our authentic selves for the first time. Many are faithful allies.
By the time we arrive, the kitchen is abuzz with the sounds and smells of pancake-making. Tonight, we return to the roots of Mardi Gras: Fat Tuesday, the day of feasting before the season of Lent begins. Here Christian and LGBTQIA+ traditions meet, a convergence of worlds too often kept apart.
Vibrant photos line the walls of Pitt St Uniting Church: Amplify Queer Faith is an exhibition showcasing LGBTQIA+ faces (and their allies) from a variety of faith traditions. Overhead hang three illuminated Queer Angels: Courage, Compassion and Joy. The gathering begins with criss-crossing queues for fresh pancakes and joyous conversation. As we eat, Melbourne-based singer-songwriter Gen Bryant serenades us with music that draws on her life-giving Catholic faith.
Worship opens with a Welcome to Gadigal Country from Allen Madden of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council. Rev. Dr Josephine Inkpin then welcomes more than 200 of us into the space on behalf of Pitt St Uniting Church, proclaiming:
“We meet just as we are, claiming what, from God, is ours. For we are Church – beloved community. We do not need to give explanations. We do not need to ask for approval. We do not need apologies (though genuine ones with real change and reparation might be nice). We do not even ask for ‘inclusion’. For we are fearfully and wonderfully made, just as we are. We are of God and we seek to share our love and life. We will not hide. We come to affirm our divine love and to share it with others.”
Anthony Venn-Brown then offers us a brief history of LGBTQIA+ Christian activism in Australia, a timely reminder of how far we have come. He describes the “three battles” that queer people of faith continue to face:
“Firstly, the internal battle where they must overcome self-hatred and internalised homophobia they never chose, but were embedded in them by society, family and their faith communities. Secondly, there is often a battle for acceptance within their faith communities because of ignorance about sexual orientation and gender identity (although that is changing). Lastly, they often find they have a battle and can experience hostility within their own LGBTQ tribes who preach the same message their churches, mosques, and synagogues preach: ‘you can’t be gay and a Christian/Muslim/Jew’.”
The service features a variety of sacred music, from Taizé chants led by Trish Watts to Amanda Udis-Kessler’s hymn Queerly Beloved, and Shaping a New World by Leichhardt Uniting Church musician Mikali Anagnostis. Tash Holmes and members of Uniting Creative also offer a collaborative song called The Moving Prayer, which had the ecumenical gathering on its feet with a rousing call to protest what we pray.
Tash describes their experience of the Pancake Pride service as “the same feeling as when you see a full rainbow in all its colours! You have to stand back and stop what you’re doing to take in all its beauty… When something like World Pride offers a momentary elevation, it is a unique opportunity to see where we are and who is with us on this adventure but in the same light, it does also highlight that there is still much to do in creating spaces of inclusion and diversity.”
Before the service concludes, Chris Csabs and Benjamin Oh call us to action on the work that still needs to be done for the safety and wellbeing of LGBTQIA+ people of faith. Chris speaks about Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Change Efforts, also known as “conversion therapy”, against which survivors are currently campaigning for effective legislation in New South Wales. Benjamin, who co-chairs Equal Voices, highlights the Forcibly Displaced People Network, an organisation dedicated to advocating for LGBTQIA+ people globally who experience displacement.
For Rev. Dr Inkpin, Pancake Pride “is a symbol of the deep queer ecumenism which can give life to all those open to receive it. No one Church tradition can provide the space and support LGBTIQA+ people need but together we can begin to address the pressing pastoral and missional challenges.”
In the days following this gathering, queerphobic vandals will throw grey paint over Pitt St Uniting Church’s rainbow steps, but the community will repaint this beacon of welcome. Rev. Dr Inkpin tells Insights, “We continue to shine, despite the odds and the hesitancy, as well as the opposition, of others.”
Gabi Cadenhead is a mission worker for Christian Students Uniting at the University of Sydney