Today’s post is written by a guest blogger: Tim Smyth, of Sydney, Australia.
Six banners, each one the color of one of the bands of the rainbow, hang in St. Joseph’s Catholic parish, Newtown, Sydney, Australia, as a sign both of the welcome that the parish has for LGBT people, as well as of the appreciation the LGBT community has for the parish’s ministry of inclusion.
The banners were donated by Acceptance, an Australian LGBT Catholic group founded in Sydney in 1973. It is one of the world’s oldest Catholic LGBT organizations. In its early years, members met in various places around inner Sydney with priests celebrating Mass with members in homes and halls. In December 1990 the pastor at St Canice’s parish in the inner city invited Acceptance to celebrate a Christmas Mass in the church.
Reflecting changing demography, Acceptance moved to the inner western suburb of Newtown in 2006. The parish of St Joseph’s, Newtown, has a long history of working for social justice and has made Acceptance very welcome as part of this parish ministry.
Each week, the Parish Bulletin proudly states “we welcome all to pray regardless of race, creed, culture, gender or sexual orientation”.
The Friday night Parish Mass is a special ministry to LGBT Catholics and welcomes Acceptance members, their family and friends each week. Acceptance members also participate in the parish team, music, liturgy preparation for Sunday Mass, reconciliation and other feasts, and many other activities of the parish.
As a tangible sign of appreciation for this welcome and ministry, Acceptance donated 8 banners to the parish. They were hung in the church for the first time at the annual World AIDS Day Mass, December 1, 2011, and have been up for most of the time since then. In 2012, they went on a short “tour” to a gallery and to an exhibition celebrating the International Day against Homophobia.
The banners were made by Melinda Maybury, a member of Acceptance. She completed a degree in Applied Art, majoring in textiles in 1995. Melinda was keen to participate in this project as it combined her faith, love of textiles, and being part of Sydney’s LGBT community.
The six banners are the colours of the rainbow. They remind us that the rainbow in the Old Testament is a powerful symbol of God’s covenant with people of faith.
Each banner displays a Gospel value – faith, hope, love, peace, justice and compassion. These gospel values inspire and nurture our faith community in Newtown.
The rainbow colours, of course, are also the colours of LGBT pride worldwide.
The rainbow colored banners are joined by two other important banners in the church. All of them together represent the past, present and future of the parish.
One of the other banners acknowledges and celebrates the indigenous traditional owners of the land on which the church is sited, the Gadigal clan of the Aboriginal Eora nation. The Aboriginal people are the world’s oldest living culture, extending back over 40,000 years.
This banner is in the colours of the Aboriginal flag – black, red and yellow. Black represents the Aboriginal people; red, the red earth of Australia and the spiritual relationship with the land; and yellow, the sun, the giver of life and protector.
Designed by Harold Thomas, the Aboriginal flag was first flown in July 1971. In 1995 the Australian Government proclaimed the flag as an official ‘Flag of Australia’.
Hanging opposite in the church is a banner in the colours of the St Joseph’s School – yellow and blue. This banner acknowledges the faith community that built our parish and our schools, a heritage stretching back to 1869.
Melinda and her female partner are happy to report that their son began his education in 2015 at a local Catholic school. Sending him there was an important but risky decision for them. Yet, their rainbow family, like any other, has been accepted as full members of the school community. “We didn’t want our son to have special treatment, but we have been blessed with Acceptance in more ways than one.”
Acceptance members seek a world without homophobia and a world where LGBT people can celebrate both who their identity and their faith.
We are proud and honoured that our parish community celebrates Eucharist with these symbols of God’s covenant, Gospel values, and the ministry of welcome and acceptance.
Tim Smyth is a member of St Joseph’s Parish Team and of Acceptance. For more information on Acceptance visit www.gaycatholic.com.au