Andrew L. Coate is a member of First Parish Cambridge. The congregation’s rainbow flag was stolen last month.
We all know that there is a lot of very real hatred, inequity, and pain in this world. There are people dying from unjust laws, hatred brought on by lack of knowledge, and unfair actions based on anger or stereotypes. So when our pride flag was stolen it was easy to put it off as something that didn’t really matter.
Our church, like many UU churches, is a Welcoming Congregation and one of the ways that we publicly announce that is by hanging a Rainbow Flag outside our congregation. We are also far from the first church, even in Massachusetts, to have our flag stolen, vandalized, or destroyed. At least seven UU congregations have reported eleven separate instances of vandalism to their rainbow flags. We suspect the flag was torn down once in late August, and then it was stolen entirely in mid-September; today we rededicated and re-raised a new flag. After our main service we gathered back in the sanctuary to sing, to pray, to listen to members of the LGBTQ community and then to walk out to the front of our church and watch our flag be raised. We were joined by clergy from neighboring congregations and organizers from Massachusetts Equality.
Despite the fact that, yes, it is “just a flag” it’s still important to make those public declarations. Every destruction requires a sacred ending to have closure, to have forgiveness, and to move on. Silently putting the flag up over and over without a public witness to recognize, celebrate, and reaffirm our commitment to the inherent worth and dignity of all people, including those in the LGBTQ community, would be going half way at best.
We sent out a press release directly following our flag being stolen and then a media advisory preceding the event. Reporters from the Boston Globe and local radio and TV stations covered the event. A news story was on the front page of the Metro Section of the following day’s Boston Globe.
The service was affirming and well thought out. There was a litany of rededication from our senior minister, Rev. Fred Small, and a beautiful reflection from our ministerial intern Elizabeth Nguyen. Our Associate minister, Lilia Cuervo, offered a prayer and Robert Coats, member of the GLBT Commission of the City of Cambridge, offered community thanks and support. Social Justice Council Chair Marcia Hams spoke about the congregation’s commitment and what it meant for her and her wife Susan to be married there. Everyone was so involved and intent on affirming all who were present.
The real magic happened when we walked out of the sanctuary still singing Amy Carol Webb’s anthem “Stand!” as we watched our flag be remounted, higher than ever. One young girl in our congregation jumped up and down and shouted , “We did it! We did it!”
We did it. Or, at least, we are doing it. We are striving to create the beloved community of Dr. King’s Dream. With each act of intolerance that we fight and each bit of hatred that we speak out against with love and prayer and song we are getting closer to that which we aspire to be.