It was at one level so outrageously in your face and yet at another level so very simple and either way enough to bring a lump to the throat. For some Norwich Pride was their chance to publicly parade their inner gorgeousness and flaunt it for all it was worth. Others came as just themselves in all there beautiful ordinariness.
Everybody was out to show they were rainbow friendly. Shops vied with different ways of introducing rainbow colours into their displays, the police strutted their stuff with rainbow epaulets on their shoulders, parents dressed their babies to match the day’s theme and you were left feeling naked if you did not have rainbow face paint. But most impressive of all was the all-pervading friendliness. Stranger engaged willingly and easily with stranger. It was the very embodiment of that wonderful phrase joie de vivre.
And when the parade moved off, the sense of joy was infectious. Everywhere there were just people having fun. In this relaxed, rainbow coloured, wonderfully diverse gathering of all ages, (and joy of joy so many young people), Norwich Pride gave us for a moment a glimpse of what it means to live life in all its fullness, to be human beings fully alive. There felt to be a greater spirit of true carnival than on carnival day itself – no disrespect to the Lord Mayor’s procession intended.
As the slogan on the Stonewall t-shirt said: Some people are gay, get over it. For these all too brief hours of pride Norwich really had got over it – this is who we are and we are proud of it. What is the problem?
… And of course the Christians had a stall. It was good they were there challenging the too oft portrayed negative image that many have of the Church’s attitude on this and other issues. And clearly conversations showed that for some a visible Christian presence was very affirming and an important way of saying Christian and Gay is ok.
But of course with the Church there is always an agenda. In a sense there is a very big agenda – The Church is struggling to truly affirm and accept the LGBT community in its midst and not a little hung up on equal marriage. But equally would it not be wonderful for Christians to simply come and be and not on their own special stall but just there, dancing with hula hoops, offering face paint or standing alongside those campaigning for mental health issues.
Is it just about another agenda issue, another drum to be banged? Or is it deeper and more fundamental? Is it more about the very nature of Church? Churches draped in rainbow colours is not what matters. Rather how can our churches, both buildings and communities, be safe spaces where all are welcome and all can dare to be themselves? It is not just the LGBT community that struggles with Church. Those who too often find themselves on the margins of society find themselves also on the margins of the Church, whether that be people with disabilities, mental health needs, the economically marginalised, the homeless, the over-burdened carer, the old who feel the Church only wants the young and the young who feels the Church does not understand their culture – the list goes on.
The words “inclusive” and “welcoming” have become essential church-speak but their very familiarity can blind us to the people we do not see and the voices we do not here. They can also become the clothing that helps us turn away those we feel are illiberal – being code for those who think differently from us. If we truly mean God loves all people sometimes that “all” can be very uncomfortable.
Can we discover a radical hospitality where the Church is known, unquestioningly as the go to place for acceptance and understand, challenging and questioning but never judgement or dismissive, honest in debate but always with a spirit of love and tolerance?
As people pranced and posed, drummed and danced, cheered and cried, laughed and loved, hugged and honked, drank and dreamed their way through Norwich Pride, there was a moment when we gained a glimpse of what that radical hospitality might look like. As the procession poured into the park it really did feel that all, all were welcome in this place.
If only we could have bottled that moment and gifted it to the Church.