The First Church Congregational in Rochester, New Hampshire -- part of the United Church of Christ (UCC) -- has had two rainbow pride flags stolen in the past week. In response, Pastor Eliza Buchakjian-Tweedy, who is raising two children with her spouse Marcey, is asking for people to send them rainbow flags so they can cover the church building and lawn with them.
Our church, First Church Congregational in Rochester NH, has been "Open and Affirming" (a designation of the United Church of Christ) since 2002. The designation means that we make a specific commitment to welcome the LGBTQ community, to recognize the hurt that has been done to that community by the institutional church, and to work for justice and equality for all. (In a nutshell.)
Last year, we decided that this should include hanging out the pride flag as one of the symbols of our commitment to justice. (We also hung an Earth flag in April and May.) It was stolen over the 4th of July holiday. We got a lovely write-up in the local paper and some press from our denominational offices in Cleveland; we hung a new flag and left it for the rest of the summer.
This year, we hung the flag in early June; it was stolen July 18th in the evening. By 1pm on the 19th, a new one was in place. This morning, the new one was gone as well.
The police have been notified, and are being fantastic.
The response from local - and not! - clergy and friends had been amazing. It was their idea to send many flags, to deck out the church as much as possible (and it's a large building, so quite possible) as a sign that love wins, and we will not cave to fear or harassment. We are expecting vandalism. But this is more important. Being a safe place, including our conviction that God's love encompasses all people - no asterisks, no exceptions - is worth a little annoyance. Or more.
We have received hate mail, and there is a video on YouTube that names me, my wife and our children (ugh) as apostates and heretics. Awesome. But we are a safe place for all people, and I am determined that nothing will change that.
If you want to donate flags (heck, have your kids color a sheet of paper into a rainbow flag), send them to:
First Church Congregational
63 S. Main St.
Rochester, NH 03867
Let's help them with this peaceful yet powerful response to harassment.