Athol Congregational Church to celebrate Pride & Inclusion Sunday

The altar at the Athol Congregational Church is draped with the rainbow flag of the LGBTQ+ social movement in preparation for this Sunday's Pride & Inclusion Service.

The altar at the Athol Congregational Church is draped with the rainbow flag of the LGBTQ+ social movement in preparation for this Sunday's Pride & Inclusion Service. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

By GREG VINE

For the Athol Daily News

Published: 06-19-2024 3:43 PM

ATHOL – In recognition of Pride Month, Athol Congregational Church will present Pride & Inclusion Sunday, a service which will take place June 23 beginning at 10 a.m.

Pride Month is celebrated each June to commemorate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals worldwide. It began following the Stonewall riots in New York City which prompted a series of gay liberation protests in 1969

“This year, instead of just focusing on Pride, we’re calling it a Pride and Inclusion service,” said Rev. Candi Ashenden. “So we’re going to divide the service up into a couple of parts. Rev. Cindy (LaJoy) and I will each be offering half of the message.”

Ashenden said she will speak on the acceptance of gay and lesbian people, “and will also seek to answer the question ‘why is this still necessary?’ When we think we’ve made progress, why is it still important for safety in particular to declare this at least once a year, and to declare it publicly?”

LaJoy, said Ashenden, will speak about inclusion relative to race and disability.

“She is an adoptive mother of five children from Pakistan and Kurdistan,” Ashenden said. “So she has experienced first-hand being a white mom of different colored children,” some of whom also deal with disabilities.

Ashenden said it is particularly important to discuss inclusion and LGBTQ+ acceptance at a time when the rights of members of that community are under increasing attack.

“I do perceive it as more important now than ever before,” she said. “When the hate is public in other arenas, I think it’s really important for the church to be a safe place. So many Christians – who practice a different kind of Christianity – in practice, put a very different kind of message out there and I think it’s crucial that faith communities in particular speak out with the true message of love and acceptance.”

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Ashenden said there are far too many stories of bullying and even self-harm by gay and lesbian people, “and it’s just a travesty to think that in this day and age, children feel there is no one to turn to. The church should always be a place people can turn to.”

Ashenden said the service will include playing clips from the Lifetime movie “Prayers for Bobby,” starring Sigourney Weaver. Set in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the film is about a gay youngster, Bobby, who grows up in a fundamentalist family. While Bobby’s father and siblings eventually come to accept his homosexuality, his mother, played by Weaver, continues to believe that God can ‘cure’ him.

After his mother declares she will not have a gay son – calling him “sick” and “perverted” – Bobby takes his own life. Weaver’s character comes to reevaluate her attitudes and beliefs and eventually works to promote gay acceptance in her community.

“It’s a drama, but we’re going to be talking about that and then I’ll be relating a personal experience of why I think it’s necessary to continue to talk about this,” said Ashenden. “Our refrain through the whole thing is, ‘because children are listening.’ We’re going to do that across the gay and lesbian issue and across the racial and disabilities issue. We need to be very aware about the kinds of messages we are putting out, and for our faith community that’s a message of love.”

Greg Vine can be reached at gvineadn@aol.com.