While surfing around the web trying to find out if anything interesting was happening in Harrisburg while I was at Mennonite World Conference I found out that last weekend was Pride weekend. On the website promoting this weekend I noticed that there was an interfaith worship service at the Metropolitan Community Church of the Spirit (MCC; for Mennonites this acronym is indelibly linked to the Mennonite Central Committee). I had heard of MCC before though I didn’t really know anything other than its connection to the LGTBQ community. There are only three MCCs in Canada and they are all in Ontario. I thought this would be a good opportunity to take in a service I would not otherwise be able to.
To be honest I was not prepared for my initial impression of this service. I can only describe this impression as being soft. Not just soft, but really soft, pillowy soft. I mean, literally. The lighting was soft. In the front of the worship space hung paintings in soft pastels. The chairs were soft. The skin of the 40 or so white upper middle aged worshippers was soft. And I kid you not but the majority of men walked softly and literally had a gentle soft arch in their back (even the younger ones). The women tended to overweight with soft curves moving across their bodies. I wanted to criticize. I so dearly wanted to criticize this, particularly when the white guy from the Blue Mountain Lotus Society offered the call to worship with his 3000 year old Buddhist sutra. I mean, I was beginning to think this just another cocoon of soft white privilege.
But things started to change. A representative from a marriage equality advocacy group came up a spoke. This person was of course happy to celebrate the recent rulings in the United States but he also noted the sadness and the hurt that was gathered there. When he said this there was a slight tremor in his voice. And suddenly I was taken back to the hard world in which many of these ‘soft’ people have to live.
The service otherwise was quite simple and straightforward. We even sang a hymn that we regularly sing at my church, Here in this place. They had a small choir that performed beautifully. There was nice message of trying to see our underlying issues of fear that turn to hate. We sang the community’s ‘theme’ song about being woven together during which we were asked to ‘look lovingly around at one another’ and during the song people did just that. There was a liturgical prayer, a poem was read and benediction given and then we went into the fellowship area for some snacks.
I started feeling awkward at this point. People seemed friendly but no one was initiating conversation with me. Quickly I began to feel that I should just go back to my hotel and leave it at that. I actually left the building and began walking away when I stopped and thought that I needed to give this time a chance. So I headed back into the building. I milled around for a minute when an old man (I found out later he was 76) made eye contact and said, “Hi there young fella.” I stopped and began chatting with him. He was easy to talk to and told me how long he had been attending the MCC. I asked him what his background was before coming to the MCC (assuming he would know I meant religious or cultural background). He said he was ‘whore’. As I thought hard and quickly to make sure I heard him correctly he went to say that he had sown his wild seed back in the day and that he could not really come out as gay when he was younger because of his religious background and the way things were back then. He shared about how important it was for him to find a place like this. He said that he is now 30 years sober.
The conversation continued to flow and he shared about the church more generally, his role on church council, a little bit of gossip about some of the members, his concerns about their future now that other churches are becoming more welcoming (everyone has church growth anxieties right?). To make me feel more welcome (or something) he pointed out the few straight people there. At one point he leaned in closer with a whisper You know at first I couldn’t stand how huggy they are around here. Though a few minutes earlier he had greeted another member with a friendly kiss on the lips. I said to him that I guess hugs aren’t so bad when you get used to them. He smiled. He pointed out the straight people.
This man certainly moved me. This notion of softness also lingered with me. Maybe this man’s softness was reborn. Though I also wondered if for others you don’t survive softness by becoming hard. You either die from it or you find a place and a community that will protect your softness. I could not help but be struck by this softness. It was so distinct, so pervasive. It seems that softness is not the same comfort. That in fact it is telling that the population most marginalized from the church reflects an expression that is also often lacking in the church (well at least in the Russian Mennonite tradition). It is in fact not easy to be soft. There must be a lot of strength to maintain your softness and fight for your rights.
At the very least I could go away saying that I met a sinner whom the Lord had saved, a drunkard the Lord had redeemed. Praise be the Lord.