"They said to me, ‘Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.' When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven." - Nehemiah 1:3-4
At my church I have the honor of being the resource minister for our Open and Affirming Ministry Committee, the folks who keep before our congregation the work of educating, celebrating, and advocating around issues of justice for LGBTQ people.
It is often a ministry of welcoming home exiles. Like the people of Judah returning to find their holy city wrecked, many walk through our doors (and perhaps yours, too) feeling spiritually demolished.
The discrimination and religious abuse they experienced had convinced some they would never enter a sanctuary again, but would leave their faith-life a smoldering ruin as a testament to the Church's failure.
When they cross our threshold, the bravery they show in placing the first brick back into that broken wall leads us all, like Nehemiah, into prayer and tears.
Tomorrow is Pride in Gainesville. (It's too darn hot here in June.) Our congregation will have matching t-shirts, a float, a brigade of drummers, kids on bikes, a couple giant puppets, one 40-foot rainbow flag, 40 one-foot rainbow flags, and our second annual church marching band. We'll hand out hundreds of colorful invitations to Sunday morning's services.
And if we're lucky, a few people may hear, in our chants and our trombones, the Spirit singing a faint but persistent song of home.
Sing, sweet Spirit, sing. Rebuild our broken places. And send us back into the streets.
Vince Amlin is Associate Minister at the United Church of Gainesville, Gainesville, Florida.