‘Love is Louder’ worship service embraced all

The first weekend of Pride month was capped off in Cleveland with a special Love is Louder — “Love Your Neighbor OUT LOUD” — worship service at Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ in Tremont on Sunday, June 2. The church altar was lit beautifully with the colors of the Pride rainbow, and slides of the previous day’s Pride march were projected onto the walls, recalling the joyous celebration.

Pilgrim UCC was beautifully lit with the colors of the Pride rainbow.

The service began with a musical prelude of two selections, “Love is Love is Love,” and “Be the Change.” The Rev. George Graham, newly installed pastor of Pilgrim UCC, offered an emotional welcome, as he recalled being ordained at Pilgrim, and his children being baptized in that very same space. The Rev. Michael Howard, minister of faith in action at the Living Water Association, and Rachael Ward, minister and team leader for gender & sexuality justice at the UCC, also offered words of welcome to those gathered.

All were welcomed by Rachael Ward, Rev. George Graham, and Rev. Michael Howard.

During the service, attendees were invited to reflect on the names, stories, and places that nourished them to Love OUT LOUD for their personhood, whether they were in person or on Zoom. These reflections were written on index cards and placed on the Eucharist table, or in the Zoom chat.

Prayers of blessings and empowerment were offered for Queer youth, our Queer ancestors, Queer elders, allies and for the Church. During the passing of the peace, hugs and introductions of how each person identified were shared openly and with great affirmation.

A moving testimony

Cathy Ullinger offered the Scripture reading, lifting the story of Lazarus in John 11:38-44. In a moving testimony and homily that followed, Cathy’s wife, Bobbi Ullinger (both of The Church in Silver Lake in Kent, Ohio) offered her story of coming out as Trans — and shared how her previous church continually denied her acceptance.

Cathy and Bobbi Ullinger of The Church in Silver Lake offered their testimony.

Bobbi began by noting their pronouns are, “her/she, like the chocolate bar,” and continued by saying that “looking at scripture through a Queer lens can give an affirming and understanding of the LGBTQ+ community. Look at the coming out stories of Moses, Esther, and even Jesus. But most especially Lazarus, who had the support of his two sisters, Mary and Martha.”

Bobbi shared that finding the UCC Silver Lake church saved them. “When Cathy and I walked into church at Silver Lake, we were spiritual refugees. We were looking for a place that was accepting. What we found was family.”

The acceptance of family is what can lead many of those in the LGBTQ+ community to a happy ending, Bobbi offered.

Bobbi and Cathy have been married for 46 years, after having met in college at Kent State. They have five children, and their youngest is gay. “I celebrated my very first Pride in Cleveland with my son several years ago,” Bobbi shared. “The support of our children is so important.”

You are not alone

Rather than asking for monetary donations, Howard took to the pulpit and asked attendees to offer their action: getting involved with the Love is Louder campaign by writing to legislators, attending Pride events, and doing whatever it takes to change the hearts and minds of those around them.

“You are not alone,” said Howard. “Pride is one of the times we get together to do this work, and we don’t have to do it alone. Ohio is positioned in a unique place. While our cities are progressive, in the rest of Ohio, that’s not the case. We have to build a support network among our congregations.”

As noted on the Love is Louder website, there are more than 547 anti-LGBTQIA+ bills in this year’s (2024) legislative session. Howard said, “Our proactive response, now more than ever, needs to be love out loud!”

The program from the Pride worship service.

You are beloved by God

Rachael Ward closed with a benediction, saying, “It’s the collective that brings us together. Enjoy this space. Know this truth. You are so beloved by God, you are made wonderfully and intentionally.”

As Pride weekend came to a close, Ward reflected on how spaces of love can be created beyond Pride celebrations by invitation and witness.

“Saturday and Sunday the invitation was endless, and the love was on display. I hope this movement of ‘Love is Louder: Love Your Neighbor OUT LOUD’ grows across the United Church of Christ. I hope we continue to create brave space, holy space, and loving space so that all may know how loved they are and can be free,” said Ward.

Reflecting upon the service, Graham said he was very excited to share this event with all. “Pilgrim’s commitment as an Open and Affirming congregation for more than 30 years has been long and deep. We were thrilled to host this ‘Love Is Louder’ Pride service, which not only celebrated all LGBTQ+ individuals as beloved children of God, but also allowed congregations to support each other and connect around the work they are doing to extend God’s extravagant hospitality,” he said.

Pilgrim UCC has more than 30 years of history as an Open and Affirming church.

A reception was shared after the service, offering cake and hospitality and continuing the celebration that was Pride Cleveland in 2024. You can watch the entire service here:

The UCC has released a Love is Louder toolkit for congregations, which can be found here.


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Categories: United Church of Christ News

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