Two United Church of Christ “God is Still Speaking” rainbow banners were found burning in an alley behind an LGBTQ-welcoming bar in St. Louis just before midnight June 3. Both almost certainly came from a theft at Kirkwood UCC, an Open and Affirming (“ONA”) congregation about 12 miles away, where a security camera recorded a young man cutting down and stealing two such banners at 10:55 p.m. that Monday.
While police investigate, the congregation is responding with courage and love.
A special message went up on the church’s sign board Thursday, June 6, next to the frame that held the banners: “God loves you if you are queer and even if you stole a banner from here.” Two members of the LGBTQ community who belong to Kirkwood UCC, Heather Arcovich and Barb Black, suggested the message, said Pastor Betsy Happel.
The congregation prayed for the thief in Sunday worship June 9. Happel will wear a stole she made from shredded remnants of the banner found on the church lawn after the theft. “This is a young person who is very troubled,” Happel said. “It’s a violent act to carry a banner to a specific place and burn it. There’s something troubled about this person’s soul. I have a lot of compassion for that. I wonder if it’s someone who’s wrestling with their own sexuality and doesn’t know what to do with it, especially in today’s environment. There’s a lot of brokenness in this world and a great deal of misunderstanding about the LGBTQ community, sexuality and gender identity. So we will pray for this person, and give it to God.”
The banners hung outside Kirkwood UCC for seven years without being defaced. The only opposition they attracted until now were occasional visitors who stopped to argue with Happel about LGBTQ openness.
– Written by Hans Holznagel