Hartford-Area Congregations and Conference Join in Ministry at Pride Festival

Hartford-Area Congregations and Conference Join in Ministry at Pride Festival

Rev. James D. Ross II, SNEC Minister for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Rev. Kelly Jane Caesar, Senior Pastor at First Congregational Church of East Hartford; and Rev. Isaac Lawson, Area Conference Minister for the South Central Region of the Southern New England Conference during Hartford Pride.
Pridefest might rightly be considered a time to celebrate the advances of LGBTQ communities, to examine where equality is still lacking, and to enjoy and have a fun time, but for the Southern New England Conference and Open and Affirming congregations in the Greater Hartford area, it also was a time for essential ministry.

The Conference and several Hartford-area ONA congregations collaborated to offer their first joint exhibit during Hartford Pride on Saturday. The following morning, Center Church (The First Church of Christ UCC), Faith Congregational Church, and the Conference held a joint Pridefest worship service.

“When we began our conversations about a shared presence during Pride, I knew that it could be an efficient use of resources and an opportunity for deeper engagement among us as covenantal partners,” said Rev. James D. Ross II, Minister for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Southern New England Conference. “I had no idea, however, that we would so significantly impact so many people, including folks who told us about their traumatic experiences in faith communities.”

The exhibit during Saturday’s Pride festival included traditional elements, such as Pride flags and bracelets, as well as fun items like Rainbow temporary tattoos, lots of candy, and a battery-operated bubble machine. But it also included a large display map showing the ONA congregations in Greater Hartford and copies of a take-away list of the congregations. Several churches shared information about their events and offerings. Before the end of the day, nearly everything was gone.

Most surprisingly to some people who visited the booth, the elements for Holy Communion were also on display and authorized ministers administered the sacrament for everyone who desired it.

“To watch a young woman estranged from church get giddy as Rev. Liza (Arulampalam) of Center Church of Hartford served her communion at Pride was powerful,” said Rev. Isaac Lawson, Area Conference Minister for the South Central Region of the Southern New England Conference, which includes the Hartford area. “To witness a trans teen get church literature for their mom because their mom chose them over her old homophobic church was powerful. The opportunity to BE the church out in the world was powerful.”

Rev. Liza Arulanpam, Pastor at Center Church and Rev. Cleo Graham, Pastor at Faith Congregational Church

Sunday’s worship service continued to disrupt expectations. In welcoming people to the service, Rev. Darrell Goodwin, Executive Conference Minister, invited congregants to celebrate that God has created them exactly as they are and noted that congregations throughout the Southern New England Conference have gone through the process to declare themselves Open and Affirming.

The service included a choir comprised of members from both Faith and Center Church. The sermon was drawn from Psalm 139 and selected verses from Romans 8 and jointly offered by Rev. Arulampalam of Center Church and Rev. Cleo Graham, pastor at Faith Congregational. It was followed by testimonies from members of both congregations. The full worship service may be viewed on the Center Church Facebook page.

“Our joint worship service created space to celebrate our unique threads woven as spiritual siblings and to honor God’s unique creations,” said Rev. Graham. “Although sometimes our uniqueness is misunderstood, Psalm 139 connects us with our identity and with one another. Praise God, for we are fearfully and wonderfully made.”

The impact of the weekend’s activities also reiterate that the Conference and our congregations can -- and are called to -- live the love and justice of Jesus as we create a more welcoming world through large actions as well as those that seem small, such as participating in a community festival.

“I am tremendously grateful to the Hartford-area congregations that responded to the Conference’s call to engage in this joint ministry, for all of the volunteers, and for all of the authorized ministers who were part of this effort,” said Rev. Ross. “And thanks be to God for the ways in which God continues to do new works in and through us.”
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