Church's Welcoming Anniversary Helps Student LGBT Groups
When the First Parish Church of Groton, Mass., decided to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the congregation’s vote to become a Welcoming Congregation, it also found a way to involve the surrounding community. The congregation hosted the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus for a public concert, filling an 800-seat concert hall at a local middle school. The concert raised $7,416, which was divided among five high schools to benefit Gay-Straight Alliance groups and projects supporting tolerance and opposing bullying.
The concert created a positive event for the local LGBT community, raised awareness of UU congregations as safe havens for youth, and connected LGBT youth in area high schools with each other.
Organizers said the concert, on Nov. 6, 2011, was a success because there was a lot of advance planning and publicity, including displaying concert posters all around the area. “The people who were distributing the posters said that they were transformed and they saw the community transformed,” said Sarah Iacobucci. “They came back with story after story of parents or siblings talking about gay or lesbian family members. Some people they met said that they had never told anyone this before. They had never felt comfortable.”
She added, “There were other stories of posters being taken down and torn up and then store employees then making it their mission to prevent that from happening again. We heard stories of students who brought posters to their places of employment and how educational that was for them and others. They gave them to their parents to bring to work, and their parents described what they experienced as they hung up the poster in a lobby or lunchroom.”
First Parish’s minister, the Rev. Elea Kemler, said the event engaged the whole community just by being there. “Just seeing the words ‘Boston Gay Men's Chorus’ up on the large sign at the Middle School was an educational moment for many in this town an hour outside Boston.”
The congregation partnered with groups within three private schools and two public ones for the concert. All of that activity led to the reactivation of one Gay-Straight Alliance that had been dormant.
The Children’s Choir of First Parish Church joined the larger choir for part of the concert. “There was dancing in the aisles and total support and joy,” said lead organizer Donna Nowak. “It was beautiful, like a vision of the world as it should be and can be.”
Nowak said the concert organization created a “new model” for how the Gay Men’s Chorus partners with community groups. She encouraged other congregations to consider similar events. “Groton is a special place, but it is not unique. This succeeded because our sense of vision was clear and strong, and that, along with a lot of hard work and organizing, is what made this event unfold as it did.”
In a sermon a week after the event she explained why the concert’s importance went beyond simply marking an anniversary:
I couldn’t help thinking, imagining what would it be like to be a gay or lesbian teenager watching those beautiful men come pouring onto that stage. What would it be like to be a young bisexual or transgender teenager sitting in that auditorium surrounded by hundreds of the people of your little town? To see your neighbors there, your teachers, your parents’ best friends, all of whom had come to support kids like you . . . Imagine how life-altering a moment like that could be.