THIS is a guest post by Richard Bibby-Brooke, a member of Open Table at St Bride’s Liverpool, who writes about being on our community stall at Liverpool Pride for the first time:
When I offered to help look after the Open Table community stall at Liverpool Pride this year, I did not expect the experience to be quite so enriching and educational as it turned out to be. A conversation with a friend in the days leading up to the event left me with a particular song in my head – Everyone Under the Sun by Vicky Beeching, my favourite gay Christian. Certain lines from the song kept coming to me throughout the weekend as different people approached the Open Table stall, so I thought it appropriate to refer to them in this reflection.
Come if you’re joyful, happy, laughing, with a song spilling out of your soul…
The whole area was filled with joy, laughter and song. Many who approached the table were visibly delighted to see a positive representation of the Christian faith. I heard comments like, ‘This is amazing!’ and ‘It is wonderful to see this’. People truly rejoiced at finding God’s presence in their midst – whether they had been looking for it or not.
Welcome to freedom’s embrace… come if you’re hiding your struggles inside…
There were a few who seemed reluctant or hesitant to approach the table, and a few others who came to see but did not participate. Perhaps they did not feel worthy of God’s grace. Perhaps they felt ashamed. Or perhaps they identified in some way with one of the “sinners” we read about in the Gospels, who couldn’t quite believe that Jesus would give them the time of day.
But as the icon which Bishop Paul so generously donated to our community tells us, Jesus came to proclaim liberty to captives, to bind up hearts that are broken, and to comfort those who mourn.
At one point I noticed a man who kept glancing at the display through the crowd as he went past, then came to the other side for a closer look; he reminded me of Zaccheus the tax collector, who climbed a tree to get a closer look at Jesus (Luke 19:1-10).
Another man observed from a distance, then sidled up and quickly stuffed a leaflet into his pocket when he thought nobody was looking. ‘If I can just touch the hem of his garment…’ (Matthew 9:21).
Many took the opportunity to offer messages of love, wishes, thanks and prayers, either for themselves or for others, but all of them in quiet, humble respect for the safe, sacred space they had found in the centre of the community tent. ‘Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner…’ (Luke 18:13).
Millions of voices, just one song; come to the place where we belong…
It appeared to me that most of those who approached the table had a sense of faith, one that was well established or one that they wanted to develop and explore. But there were a few who had no faith – I knew this because they told me so. One man described himself as a devout atheist, but was nevertheless impressed to see a group of LGBTQIA Christians expressing their faith in a positive way. Another man was an old friend of mine, whom I had not seen for about ten years when he approached the table to speak to me. He commented on the importance of there being a safe, sacred space for people to be able to practise their faith, even though it was not something he engaged in himself.
For all of these people, Pride was partly about having a sense of common belonging, where each human person can be who they are created to be, and where nothing that God has made clean is called unclean (Acts 10:15).
And so to the refrain of the song, which requires no further reflection as I think it speaks for itself:
Come, everyone under the sun, lift up your heart to the Saviour.
Come, everyone under the sun, and feel how it feels to be loved.
Come, everyone who walks this earth, lift up your song to the heavens.
Everyone, everyone under the sun.