Written by Connie Larkman
Image courtesy of Queer Virtue
A couple of United Church of Christ pastors find God in glitter. And on Ash Wednesday, they hope scores of others can too. They will be distributing glitter infused ashes during a midnight worship service in Massachusetts on Wed., March 1, that follows a Fat Tuesday masquerade ball.
"God promised us beauty for ashes, and after the fires my fellow LGBTQ brothers and sisters have endured, we are the beauty that remains after ruin," said the Rev. George Oliver, senior pastor of Christ's Community Church, Chicopee, Mass. "We did not die, and we continue to struggle to keep the faith."
He and Elivette Mendez Angulo, project coordinator for the UCC's El Proyecto Encuentros de Gracia y Bienvenida and co-pastor of the Manantial de Gracia UCC congregation in West Hartford, Conn., came up with the idea as part of an effort to reach out to the Chicopee area's bilingual LGBTQ community to let them know there is a sanctuary in town "where all of your authentic self is welcome."
Encuentros de Gracia y Bienvenida is an arm of the church that talks about the intersection of the Latinx community and the LGBTQ community and how faith holds the two together.
The Premier Mardi Gras Masquerade Ball at Christ Community Church on February 28 will feature vogue dancers, drag performers, and live music. It will be part Mardi Gras, part Carnaval, a party to raise and embody the welcome God and the church have for LGBTQ people. The glitter infused ashes, Oliver said, symbolize "that we are not hidden in this faith."
The masquerade ball/worship service, combining revelry and reverence, will be an opportunity for people who feel outside, or 'othered' to find community, Mendez Angulo said. "It's very important to be meeting people where they feel comfortable to let them know God loves them."
She partnered with Oliver, who pastors a church founded in the 1830's that now is a primarily African American ONA (Open and Affirming) congregation in a community that is predominantly Latinx, to brainstorm ways to be present as pastoral care providers to people who might have felt excluded from traditional religion. Christ Community Church (C4) has also invited LGBTQ clergy in the Pioneer Valley to be present as allies.
"Incorporating the LGBTQ community, especially the component that is people of color, into the center of our worship means that the Church, which historically and presently has inflicted the wounds of stigma and shame, has the burden to come more than halfway to remedy what we've done against people merely pursuing love and acceptance," said Oliver. "Like the Apostle Paul said of Jesus, I bear the marks, and rejection exacted a high penalty on what felt like mutually exclusive pursuits in my life: being true to myself, and faithful to the call on my life. I hope that this worship innovation spares some young man or woman from feeling exiled from the communion of saints."
"Glitter is helping to connect me to God," said Mendez Angulo. "We walk into a masquerade ball, fully masked and hidden, and walk into the sanctuary unmasked and be who we have always been."
The glitter component, which Mendez Angulo sees "as a starting point for some uncomfortable conversations about what we can create together," was provided by a partnership with Parity, a New York-based advocacy group asking Christians who favor LGBT equality to show support by wearing "glitter ash" on their foreheads to mark Ash Wednesday on March 1.
"The Ball came as a response to Parity's #glitterashwednesday initiative," said Oliver. "We conceived of adding celebration to the normally somber Ash Wednesday services, since celebration is a key aspect uniting Black Church, Latinx, and LGBTQ worship. Thus the Ball will offer the church and these communities a new way to allow their distinct cultures to innovate Christian life."
"Throw glitter, not shade," said Mendez Angulo. "So many times people when they find out who you are, they throw shade at you, they shame you and belittle you. But glitter shines, sticks to you, gives you hope, makes you smile. Jesus shines in the midst of tumultuous times – that's where we landed. For me it's easy, this is important and I want to do it."
"As people hear about what we're planning, they become instantly inspired and excited," said Oliver. "I mean, who doesn't want to be down with a little revelry before we get reverent? This mark that will appear on our heads will remind us and all the world that Jesus died and rose again even for us. We may have been pushed to the periphery by the church, but we are not forgotten by God."
Or by the UCC.
"God is glittering inside of me, whether you see it or night," Mendez Angulo, a licensed pastor who said that 'Throw glitter, not shade' is going to be the theme for her ordination service. "God is shining bright. My uniqueness is welcomed by God, created by God. Can't put me on the sidelines and say this is not the way we are going to do church."