It was an overcast evening. The sun being hidden by clouds allowed our New Orleans evening to become a lovely June evening. To say it was cool would be to overstate the day. But it was not hot. The room started with a few early comers. They scattered here and there. Over time the musicians drifted into the room, all chatting. Several of the crew from central casting showed up and were rehearsing one last time their parts and how they would move about. The curtain was not about to go up because there was no curtain to raise.
Ed, a large bear and member of The Lords of Leather, handsome with a quick smile was fueling his brazier. Two young women, Jalyn and Sophia, both women of color, were making ready their gowns and were smiling and laughing as young teens are wont to do. Derri, a superstar graduate of Anna’s Place, a black woman with no less than 16 college admissions and who excels in all things, was in place to carry her totem along with Charlie, also planning to carry a totem. Father of Jalyn, he’s the son of a lesbian, legally blind and married to a woman of color. That was the group from central casting.
Then there was you. Beautiful you. It was June 16th and you came. Believers, agnostics, atheists, lovers, drinkers, laughers, Queens, Kings, in your varying personas. You came–trans, in drag, just as you are. Entire communities of both bartenders and bar drinkers. I believe I saw at least two shifts of the Phoenix there. You came. Gay history mavens, cocktail mixologists, yes, even a gold lamé clad nurse. You came.
“And the colored girls say “Doo do doo do doo do do doo…” Maybe some would say that this is not “take a walk on the wild side.” But it is. Just a few decades ago what we all experienced and saw was impossible. Yes, this was the Ordination of Luigi Mandile to the Sacred Order of Deacons in the Episcopal Church. This little essay is not about the Episcopal Church so much as it is about a gathering and what that represents. Equally it is about an evolving.
This gathering represents more than friendships focused on a single very gregarious Italian man and his husband. It is about a large community of LGBTQ+ persons, persons of color, straight, cisgen, conservative and liberal humans gathering in one place and at one time to celebrate.
There were friends who would never ever step into a church. Yet, here they were. There were people who had no clue what the “Gay community” was like, let alone had sat and been in that community (it was something other). Yet, here they were. It was people of color and, yes, I’ll say it, a 21st century “Rainbow Coalition.” Call it ritual, call it worship, call it magic. This gathering was unique and special.
I believe that this gathering was not an incremental step toward universal acceptance about who we are but rather a major tectonic shift. Just this past week I preached about the sins of the church in the past. Not the general church but our little church. Just as a small glimpse at what that looked like. I have two short stories. Maybe not too short.
Within a lifetime a young girl walked down the center aisle of Saint Anna’s. She carried a cross as a young acolyte. She was part of the procession that we Episcopalians are so fond of. During that procession perhaps one third of the congregation got up and left the church. Why? A female at the altar. Scandalous. That woman is now a pillar of the church devoting the past dozen years to serving this community, managing a mobile medical unit after Katrina, then helping to lead an after-school program now called Anna’s Place and to help Brother Don with Saint Anna’s food pantry which has been feeding underserved folks for a decade. Yes and that includes The Community. We evolved as a congregation. Just recently a wonderfully gifted woman was ordained a priest. She was the preacher at Luigi’s ordination. What a sermon she gave us.
Next, not so long ago there was a woman of color who in some of her darkest moments found herself drinking in the morning and wandering down Esplanade Avenue in the rain. She came upon St. Anna’s and walked in during a service. Now the little church that some of you may think you know had a deeply racist past. I won’t belabor you with all the details but here is a slice. It used to do black face minstrel shows to raise money in the mid-1950’s. When that lady walked in, maybe it was not as warm as one might imagine. Yet, an old lady sidled up next to her and said, “Girl let me get you a towel and some hot coffee.” Next, after pleasantries, she said “Come back next week I have a plant I want to pot and give to you.” So the lady, named Joyce, did.
In time, Joyce would come to make friends here. In time, Joyce would be ordained the first black woman deacon in the Gulf South. Evolution is progression and places like St. Anna’s are all around us. Becoming a diverse community that allows so many voices in, and that listens and responds can shift how we appreciate one another.
There are many voices that reach out. PFLAG reaches out. Misti and her radio show reach out. PRIDE when it rolls, reaches out. Each one of these examples are voices that go beyond the comfort zones of our own backyard. It is not hard to talk about being Gay in a gay bar. But it might be difficult if you are trans talking about being trans in some gay bars. Reaching out and communicating our humanness is a beautiful thing.
So, yes, the ordination of Luigi reached out and you showed up. When you did, you reached out to the other. I am quite sure that our Bishop had never quite seen anything like it and it was a good thing. I am sure that several of the priests and deacons that came had never seen anything like our community gathered. My guess is that several of you who showed up had not, for a long time, if ever, been in a church that loved you like you were loved on that warm June evening.
These gatherings are too few not to be cherished. Let us think of a good reason to gather again in all of our variety, diversity, uniqueness and splendor. Because we can change and become a better community when we do. You are beautiful.