Have Faith: Flags and faith

Someone took down a Pride flag at an Island church, but they’re coming back with compassion.

First Congregational Church of West Tisbury had their Pride flag replaced by the NAACP. — MV Times

I was all set to write a column about spiritual reading, and then yesterday someone from the First Congregational Church of West Tisbury reached out to tell me that their Pride flag that hung in the front of the church had been torn down a couple of weeks ago. The NAACP stepped in and replaced it, but the fact that it was taken down by someone still remains.

If you know anything about FCCOWT, you know that it is a welcoming faith community. They have made great strides to be an inclusive church. In fact, just earlier this month they instituted a working “Beloved Community Covenant.” This is what the church’s website says about that decision: “As a congregation, we strive to be kind and compassionate and to honor the diversity within our church, recognizing that any lack of respect for one another can undermine our pursuit of beloved community. In the last few years, white supremacy, racial discrimination, systemic racism, and unconscious bias have been at the forefront of our attention. They can and do weaken our sense of community. There are also other causes of disagreements and conflicts, such as differing cultures and traditions, family dynamics, and personalities. This new Covenant (June 2022) recognizes these differences and dynamics, and expresses our intention to be accountable to each other in the work of creating and sustaining Beloved Community. We confess that we err and often fall short of our aspirations. But we believe we are held together by grace, and uphold the faith that together we can build and rebuild a beloved community today and for years to come.”

They introduced this covenant on June 5, and on June 6 they discovered the flag was taken down.

It’s difficult not to be angry, outraged even, about this directed vandalism, but as a church community, they decided to go in the opposite direction and come up with a way to be positive and welcoming, dare we say as a church should be. So, the church’s Open and Affirming team came up with the idea of a therapeutic leaf art workshop which would gather everyone together with a specific intention of welcoming and embracing people fully in the moment, at the end of Pride Month, on Sunday, June 26, at noon at the church. The entire Vineyard LGBTQ community is invited. They will cut leaves and arrange them in small compositions that will then come together to make one large piece. And Amy Greulich from the Open and Affirming team tells me you do not have to have super crafting skills to be a part of this.

“We wanted to create something and not just react to a hateful act, but also build healing and togetherness,” Amy told me on the phone. She said even though the act itself was painful, it was the impetus for the church to “assess what we are doing that is positive for the LGBTQ community.” In other words, how could they respond with hope and healing?

I reached out to the Rev. Cathlin Baker as well, to get her response to the flag being torn down, and she admitted it was discouraging. (The church also had a couple of instances where someone placed a sticker on the church doors citing Scripture that could be interpreted as anti-LGBTQ.) But just as Amy was saying, they are doing their best to turn this into a positive. 

“We also thought of the ways that our progress on LGBTQIA+ equality and affirmation is still met with resistance,” Cathlin explained in an email. “We wanted to create a safe space to look back on Pride Month. What was joy-filled? What was hard? We hope the workshop can be that space for supportive reflection.”

Actions like tearing down the Pride flag outside a church remind us that we’re not past all the injustices we think we’ve made progress with, and that’s upsetting. Especially for a faith community, where there is a constant challenge to act in accordance with teachings, to love one another as God loves us, to remember that we’re all one at the end of the day. 

I know there has been plenty of flag talk in the newspaper of late, but there has also been a lot of good news about local Pride events, and about Juneteenth events. That being said, this incident at the FCCOWT serves as a reminder that we still have a long way to go, and that we should keep moving forward. 

If you have news for Have Faith, send it to connie@mvtimes.com.