First Congregational of Somerville Offers Radical Outreach Service
First Congregational Church of Somerville has produced a radically welcoming outreach ministry using all the creative arts of drag, music and theatre to evangelize to populations who may feel unwelcome in church. The Drag Gospel Festival is an annual event that serves to raise money for the LGBT Asylum Support Task Force, but more importantly raises awareness that the church is open and affirming and welcomes all.
A "drag queen" refers to a man who dresses as a flamboyant woman in order to entertain others. First Church promotes their Drag Festival as flamboyant, entertaining, and yet inspiring. James Adams, a member of the Somerville church, and creator of the event describes the festival to be an "incredible drag gospel celebration of fierce diva performances, awesome music, great food and great fun for a great cause."
"Drag Gospel is, first of all, FUN: for kids and adults, for gay and straight. It's a chance for all of us to let our hair down and make a joyful noise to the Lord, to laugh our heads off, to feel the power of what it means to be who God intended you to be and to demonstrate that God made every single human being beautiful and different," explained The Rev. Ms. Molly Baskette, senior pastor of the Somerville church.
|Serenity Jones and First Church's gospel choir praise Jesus and raise the roof.|
Adams got the idea from a trip he took to Florida a few years ago. He had visited a restaurant/bar in Fort Lauderdale that has a drag queen theme, and where all the service staff are men dressed in drag. The restaurant's Drag Gospel Brunch sold out two shows every Sunday afternoon -- a time of the week most gay places have trouble bringing people in at all.
"The show was fun, lively, campy and ironic, especially for me, an openly gay man and drag queen from a conservative Baptist background," explained Adams, who is also known as Serenity Jones. "There were elements of the show that brought back fond memories of church and spiritual music. But there were also aspects of it, surprisingly, I found offensive as a rebounding progressive Christian. So I thought, 'Hey, what if a REAL CHURCH actually did this; but do it in a way that did justice to both the art of drag AND the true gospel message of Jesus'."
So when the Fellowship Committee got together with the Growth Committee and brainstormed about some new ideas where the two committees might collaborate, Adams suggested the idea of a Drag Gospel Brunch. "I felt a drag gospel format -- without the mocking parody and cynicism seen at the Florida show -- had real potential to move people, especially LGBT people estranged from any faith community," said Adams. "But for this potential to become a healing reality -- an atoning bridge for LGBT folks to perhaps revisit faith -- the gospel message had to be celebrated with honesty and appreciation for its meaning of love, forgiveness, redemption and victory over death."
First Church partnered with the LGBT Asylum Support Task Force, which is operated by the Hadwen Park Congregational Church under the leadership of Pastor Rev. Judy Hanlon, and the Imperial Court of Massachusetts, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising money on behalf of AIDS, breast cancer, and LGBT charitable causes. The festival is produced by First Church in terms of format, music direction, spiritual direction and leadership. The Imperial Court serves as fiscal agents for all the financial/fundraising aspects of the event (and some Imperial Court performers participate in the show). The LGBT task force is the beneficiary of event.
"This is the artistic, spiritual and fundraising collaboration between First Church Somerville and the Imperial Court for the benefit of the LGBT community," said Adams.
The Drag Gospel, which began in 2011, is now an annual event familiar to the Somerville community and has attracted a lot of newcomers. It takes about 50 volunteers and about $800 for brunch food. A Love offering of $20/ticket is gratefully accepted. Last year it was a sellout crowd, with nearly 300 people in worship. The service usually includes a liturgy, sermon, and music. In the past, a few people came to church wearing pride hats, and a couple others came in drag to church.
"And in case you think that the worship portion of our Festival is a joke--it's anything but," said Baskette. "It's done with class, reverence, and when we're done, there's not a soul in church who is not praising God and wiping their eyes."
This year First Church is also offering a Worcester area event, a "Drag Gospel Tea at Three," which will be held Sunday, September 22, 2013 from 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM (EDT) at Hadwen Park Congregational Church in Worcester, MA.