Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Billboard is Gone: The Message Remains

By Theresa D. McClellan
“Gay Christian? Yes! “
Campaign Coordinator

Our billboard is down.  But our ministry is even stronger!

On Monday, April 30, our visual and very public beacon of hope, the “Gay Christian? Yes!” billboard, came down. It was the end of our 30 day contract.

The billboard, featuring a rainbow angel with outstretched arms to say “Yes!”  was a welcome sign like no other to everyone entering the Grand Rapids city limits on northbound U.S. 131.

I found myself often taking the 28th Street entrance onto the northbound freeway for no other reason than to see that beautiful symbol of hope that represents the prayers, hard work and diligence of so many individuals, church leaders and volunteers who believe in our dream declared in our mission statement:
“To proclaim the love of Christ for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people and their allies and to affirm their presence and inclusion in the Christian community.”

As the business cycles of life move on, the billboard is also gone for now, replaced by a restaurant ad featuring a delicious meal.

But our billboard provided another kind of sustenance. Beneath the beautiful “Yes!” angel we included our website GayChristianYes.org which continues to delight, enhance, engage and encourage all who visit.

Here is where pastors, theologians and believers shared in the “Easter Keepers” section why their faith compels them to believe that “Yes! you can be Christian and a member of the LGBT community.”

These Easter Keepers continue the teaching of Christ’s message of hope and revival from the chains of despair, which is why that essay series began Easter morning and continues through the 50 days of Easter ending May 26.

We chose to start our billboard campaign during Holy Week, the seven days of deep prayer and contemplation before Easter Sunday. This decision proved to be a God-send as one church, Aldersgate United Methodist Church, 4301 Ambrose Ave. NE, felt so inspired by the billboard, they asked how to be a part of the Campaign on Maundy Thursday and created a petition to join our campaign that was signed three days later by 70 people including church leadership on Easter Sunday morning.

One of my favorite stories of the impact of this billboard came from board member Cara Oosterhouse, whose personal story was carried on the MLive website by the Grand Rapids Press.  Someone in a store she frequents recognized her picture in the media and shared that he, too, was a gay Christian . But he and his long-time partner left the church after being spiritually wounded by an oppressive, condemning sermon message. He had no idea, until visiting our website, that there were multiple churches in this community willing and ready to open their doors to him and his partner.

Before the April 3 Campaign unveiled, we had 25 churches listed on our website. Since the billboard Campaign, we started receiving calls regularly  from church representatives or pastors wanting to know how to get their name on our list of churches opening their doors to all God’s children. We start the process by having them fill out a survey, to-be published soon, explaining what it means for them to be a gay-friendly church. We now have 38 churches listed on our website and expect it to grow.

It is a blessing indeed when a website can be the source of helping to bring the sheep back to the fold of God’s outstretched arms.

We want your stories of how you have been impacted by the “Gay Christian? Yes!” Campaign. Please share them on the  Forums Page.

Every Monday, we will see a video essay by a gay Christian or ally telling their faith journey. Make these your pages and create and share your three-minute, affirming video stories of your faith journey. To submit a video, upload to YouTube and email the link to your video to content@GayChristianYes.org

And every Tuesday, here at Theresa’s Table where all are welcome, I will highlight a program, individual or give you updates on our “Gay Christian? Yes!” Campaign.

We have much to celebrate.

For even though we no longer have that welcome sign like no other for those entering the city limits, Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell makes clear his vision for this region.

You can hear and see that vision 8 p.m. Friday May 4, when the West Michigan Gay Men’s Chorus presents their concert “It’s a New Day When…" at the East Grand Rapids Performing Arts Center, 2211 Lake Drive SE.

Mayor Heartwell created a message of hope for the region with a special declaration that will be unveiled in the video at the concert. I was blessed to be a part of that short video that features community voices telling how “It Gets Better” for even the Christian gay community. Beyond the video, the concert features some powerful and emotional songs with sweet harmonies by the chorus. For the $15 tickets see www.wmgmc.org

The West Michigan Gay Men’s Chorus Board President Joseph Workman said he wants to send a message of hope through the concert that “It Gets Better” and “better starts right now, in this very moment."

“Better starts when we all take a stand in our lives to show others love and acceptance. It is a new day when we stand and say children are precious and beautiful, regardless of the sexuality identity or orientation,” said the chorus board president.

I believe we have started making West Michigan better with the raising up of our sign.

The billboard’s appearance has ended for now. The message proved to be a ray of hope for many rounding that curve on the highway. But keep returning here. Another beacon of hope is just around the corner.

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