On Sunday, while attending the NY Conference UCC and Disciples of Christ annual meeting, I turned on the television to provide some noise while I was getting ready for breakfast and a full morning of preparing for and offering worship to a gathered community of over 300. I was immediately hit with the mass shooting news from Orlando. Having just vacationed there, and knowing that "Pulse" is a club for the LGBTQ community, I sat on the edge of the bed and watched. I was immediately taken to a grief-stricken place and began crying.
I made my way to breakfast, well aware that those on the worship team might not have heard the news. When I met Rev. Freeman Palmer, our associate conference minister and my good friend, he had not heard. The shock on his face mirrored my own. We knew that we had to make a place for this in worship, knowing that few in the congregation would have heard. Thankfully, the task didn't fall to me. I was scheduled for the "Call to Worship" -- already printed, a bit lighthearted and energetic. That wasn't the place. We decided to announce it at the "Centering Prayer" with a time of quiet and prayer.
When worship was nearing the end, Rev. Palmer took to the microphone to announce that it was being reported that fifty people were dead and at least that many injured. Gasps were heard and the congregation was silent.
The choir was slated to end worship with a song called "Draw the Circle Wide." It is a song about being inclusive, making space for everyone at God's table. We had rehearsed the fifty-voice choir so that near the end of the song, they would make their way into the congregation -- sitting around round tables in a hotel ballroom -- and invite them to make a circle around the room. As suspected, people were hesitant. The circle started to form quite slowly. But then, as we had hoped, more people joined in. And the circle grew. And grew again, until everyone was included. The lyrics to the song proclaiming: "no one stands alone, standing side-by-side, draw the circle wide."
There were tears. As I stood, I couldn't help but notice that on my right-side I held the hand of a gay woman, to her right a straight white couple, to my left a gay black male, to his left, a transgender woman. "Draw the circle wide, make it wider still...no one stands alone, standing side-by-side, draw the circle wide." The moment wasn't lost on anyone. What we'd planned months earlier was now passionately speaking to us in the face of horrific news.
On the nearly eight hour drive home, I spoke with God a lot. I was angry and sad. While I think it's unfair to attribute human characteristics to God, I wanted God to feel the same way -- to assure me that my tears didn't fall alone, and that my anger echoed in the heavens. In my heart, I grieved for my LGBTQ brothers and sisters, and their allies.
"Draw the circle wide..." That is what we are called to do as people of faith. Sadly, that message is getting lost. More correctly, we're not trumpeting it with enough passion.
When I was in worship on Sunday, I looked over at one of the worship team members. He is a gentle, caring, extremely centered man. He was crying. Moments later he shared that his father had just sent him a text message. "I am thinking of you. I love you." Translated that means, "Every day I worry about your safety. I know that could have been you." As much as I hope for a world where diversity is celebrated and an occasion for learning, I know that there are painful realities. I hugged my friend because both of us knew as well, "that could have been one of us."
I am not naive enough to believe that a world without gun violence and homophobia is possible. But, I have to hold to my faith and believe that we can, however minimally, make an impact and fight for inclusion and respect, and provide safe spaces for God's created diversity.
Please hold in prayer the families of all those who are affected by this tragedy.