Monday 28 August 2023

Stewarding at the Pride Eucharist

The Rainbow flag flying on the flagstaff of the Manchester Cathedral.

In the beauty of service

I am humbled by how the call to serve has brought me into proximity and recognition of the powerful. It is a distinctive antithesis of human nature where many have a quest for power rather than the desire to serve.

Whilst one cannot say this is something I would have gravitated to in the natural cause of things, I do remember that when I eventually found a church to associate with in Amsterdam, I found that getting involved in the basics of helping to set up and dismantle the settings for services and worship was something to do because it was needful.

In the process, I got involved during the infancy of the church in finding a new venue, providing storage space, hosting but not leading a prayer group, and was in the ushers and serving team. I however declined positions of leadership that were offered as I was in much conflict about what that entailed.

To welcome and to steward

As a welcomer and a steward at the Manchester Cathedral, positions I assumed after the long courting and persuasion of others who deemed my attendance as one that suggested enough affinity and the readiness to be involved, even more so when the dean through his wife expressed that I had to be involved because there is no reason not to be, I relented.

At the Annual General Meeting of the cathedral, I was voted on as a steward and soon after in my activities with the Volition programme became a welcomer of visitors to the cathedral.

However, yesterday, in attending the Eucharist for Pride which enjoins to bring the LGBTQI+ community into communion and worship, I arrived early to help, just in case extra hands were needed. At the Dean’s Garden Party two Saturdays ago, he, the dean said there was no way the cathedral could function without the volunteers that help in services and other activities that need doing in the cathedral organisation.

Between right and respect

I soon took over at the door to welcome and hand out the service programme to people who had come to attend the Pride Eucharist and it was notable for the fact that the Bishop of Manchester was also in attendance to welcome, bless, charge, and dismiss the congregation. The clergy that ministered at the altar were all ordained by the bishop too. [The Manchester Pride takes place in the August Bank Holiday weekend from Thursday night through Monday night.]

I had interesting encounters at the door, the cathedral is open to all visitors, and I have probably met visitors from more than 35 countries. However, when there are services in the nave, the church is closed to visitors with a big sign posted at the door informing anyone not attending the ongoing service that the cathedral is closed.

Yet, there are some that ignore the sign and come through the doors insisting they need to visit almost as if it is a matter of right. The difficult conversation that ensues between understanding that the house of God is open and the need to respect that the act of congregational worship should courteously and understandably not be disturbed is almost a battle of wits, reasonableness, and enforcement.

Stand for the open heart

To one lady who was ready to barge in, I told her, there was an ongoing service and except if she was here to attend the Pride Eucharist, the church was now closed to visitors, but she was not going quietly. With a look of incredulity on her face she asked why the church was catering to gay folk, to which I answered that Jesus died for all and the church is an open place of worship for everyone. Much as everyone needs prayer.

She understood as much before we moved on to issues of symbolism and doctrine, by which time, I had to move her from the inside of the church into the corridor of the doorway, with the hope that she would leave peacefully. Yes, we are a Protestant church, the Church of England, The depictions of Jesus or Mary are not venerated in answering other questions before she insisted her sister-in-law was attending the service and she needed to get to her.

Pointing in a direction I could hardly determine, two of a group that was initially hesitant to attend walked towards the door from the furthest part of the seating and they all left the cathedral.

The door of conflict and consent

It soon dawned upon me the precariousness of manning the door, as earlier, someone had left their rucksack at the doorway, which caused a bit of tension that it was inspected by the staff after an announcement did not elicit a response about ownership. Eventually, he returned to claim his bag, but it could have been something else.

Another could barely contain the sense of rage about the church involved in this service, and we have at times had someone come in to disrupt an ongoing service protesting that the gathering was not a reflection of true Christianity, as if disrupting other people’s devotion is Christian in any sense at all.

It was revealed when the Bishop of Manchester in his welcoming remarks stated that one of the requirements that came up in his application for the role was that he needed to be accepted by the LGBTQI+ community of Manchester. I was surprised but what makes for harmony is the welcoming of diversity to the love of Christ and therein the gospel is heard by all rather than limited to a few.

The Pride Eucharist was attended by about 150 people, it was a celebration of Christianity, and many stayed behind for refreshments. Later, the bishop thanked us for serving and stewarding, which included taking the offering and ushering to the communion. A welcoming church allows Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit to do their work rather than become gatekeepers and sentries to the grace and gift of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The cover of the Pride Eucharist programme.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are accepted if in context are polite and hopefully without expletives and should show a name, anonymous, would not do. Thanks.