My name is Barbara and I have the great honor and privilege of serving as the pastor of Clayton Valley Presbyterian Church. We are the congregation on Kirker Pass Rd – which is what Ygnacio becomes heading East, that flies a rainbow flag from our sign. While Clayton Valley has always been an open and affirming congregation with a strongly diverse membership in terms of sexual orientation in particular, we have only been flying the flag for the last 8 months. We made the decision to fly the flag when we became aware of the bullying of LGBTQ youth going on in two of our local high schools. We came to realize that while for us celebration of diversity has always been an important and obvious component of what it is to be people who profess to believe in a God of love, that parts of our larger community still do not have the eyes to see that we are all family, all created to love and to grow and to learn. We made the decision that we needed to make a statement that expressed that love, affirmation and celebration of diversity in a prominent and clear way.
In the last eight months, then, since we began flying the flag, we have also had our concerns about the hatred and anger that still exist in the larger community confirmed. Our flag has been stolen, has been burned, and notes of condemnation have been left for us. We have experienced fear. Some of the parents of the preschool children who attend our children’s center on campus have especially expressed fear, fear that the violence done to the flag might escalate into violence aimed at those on the campus, even the children. We have experienced fear from some of our members; one, a gay man, sent word that they could not come to church yesterday because they were afraid our flag would attract violence after what happened in Orlando.
But the reality is that the expressions of hate and anger that we have experienced are nothing in comparison to the tragedy that hit yesterday in Orlando. Lives, people, our family members, died yesterday; and whole families were devastated by each one of those losses. Fear has reared its head again, both as a cause and as a result of the violence.
It is in the midst of that fear, it is in the face of that hatred that we stand here today, people who are diverse and yet who are all persons, united by our ability to love, united by our ability to care, united by our commitment to be those who celebrate diversity rather than condemning it. We have a long way to go. Acceptance of diversity seems such a small goal and yet even that small step towards true celebration, even that small step seems elusive in times like this.
Still, I stand before you declaring that each day there are more people who see, more people who choose love, more people who take that step towards openness. My congregation as well as so many in this community, in this country and in this world will stay strong in our conviction that love is stronger than hate; that acts of grace and forgiveness are more powerful than violence, anger, or revenge; that it is possible to build bridges across our differences, to build communities that are, like the rainbow, beautiful because of their celebration of different colors. We choose to walk in hope and to stand together knowing it is the only way that we can change our world and make it the place of love that it is meant to be.
As we grieve those who have died in this tragedy, we vow to be part of the solution and part of working to create a world where everyone is safe, despite their race, color, ethnicity, culture, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, differing abilities, religions, creeds, etc etc etc. We want a world where everyone is free to love and to know they are loved. We want a world where diversity is recognized for the gift it is. And where unity does not mean “sameness”. I am honored to be part of this vigil, though I grieve deeply for the need of it.
O Great Mystery, hold us all in the arms of your love. Bring us a vision of love, of understanding, of acceptance, of celebration for what each of us are and can be. Help us to see a way towards healing, towards compassion and towards grace. In your many names we pray. Amen.