The young people started congregating after dinner Sunday evening, quickly scribbling their signs. By 6:30 nearly 200 UCC and Disciples youth overflowed the corner in front of the Kansas City Convention Center.
Across the street, 20 or so members of the Rev. Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., picketed the General Synod/Assembly with anti-gay posters: "UCC fag church," "No tears for queers," etc. Most of the anti-gay protesters also were teenagers.
"God Forgive You," "God Loves Everyone," the growing UCC/Disciples group chanted and sang. As people returned from dinner, more young people joined in.
Meanwhile, nearly as many adults kept a watchful eye on them and on the other side of the street. Reactions from many of the onlookers affirmed the youths' counter protest.
"I can't imagine any church preaching that kind of hate," said David Newfarmer from the Illinois South Conference. "God is all about love. I'm very proud of this group of young Christians who believe totally in the equality of all people."
One teen observer, Stephen Wakeline of Bloomfield, Iowa, was somewhat shaken by the hateful sentiments. "It is interesting to see how cruel people are, that they could say that God hates people when really God loves everyone," he said.
Several squad cars arrived with about 10 police officers. The anti-gay protesters called them, said Paulette Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church. Their church pickets large conventions where there sometimes is violence, she explained. Because the UCC and Disciples event is only about an hour away from Topeka, they kept coming back every day.
"These are the first two denominations who spoke the ‘fag way,'" she explained. "That's not in the Bible, so we're going to shout it from the rooftops."
Looking out an upstairs window, the Rev. John H. Thomas, UCC General Minister and President, happened to see the demonstration. Hurrying outside, he addressed the UCC/Disciples youth, thanking them for their witness but admonishing everyone to be careful not to respond to any provocation that could lead to violence.
"As we celebrate hope and the dignity for all of God's people tonight, I ask you, as hard as it might be, to be disciplined and quiet around the picketers," he said.
The demonstration then broke up as everyone went inside for the World Beat Festival.
Cano is a professional communicator based in Portland, Ore.