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Fling the Church Doors Open Wide

By Jim Smith, Dignity/USA Program Manager

The words of the song kept getting stuck in my throat as I sang during morning prayer at a conference I was attending a year ago. “O may our hearts and minds be open, fling the church doors open wide. May there be room enough for everyone inside, for in God there is a welcome, in God we all belong.  May that welcome be our song.” All these messages brought together with the poignant melody left me speechless. After the prayer ended, I lined up with a few others to thank the composer of the song (For All the Children), David Lohman, who just happened to be accompanying on piano that morning. Marianne Duddy-Burke was in that line, and would end up being my boss four months later.

Fast forward a few more months. My Minnesota state legislators had just approved an proposed amendment proposal to be placed on the November 2012 ballet, limiting which limits freedom to marry to opposite-sex couples. The state’s Catholics bishops immediately salivated, spending over a half million dollars to tell Catholics to support the amendment.

Many Catholics were deeply uncomfortable with this hierarchical zeal to limit freedom through a civil constitutional amendment. But how to reach and organize these Catholics, and how to give public, unified voice to their consciences? How to tell the rest of the state that we would not be commanded by our Church leaders into this hurtful, divisive action?

The newly-formed Catholics for Marriage Equality Minnesota, of which I was a board member, began several initiatives, including parish inreaches and a DVD of moving interviews with Catholics. As a further idea, I imagined a church full of Catholics singing their loving support of LGBT persons and families. I envisioned a crescendo effect for the viewer, beginning the song with a few faces and voices, and gradually expanding the view and the sound to ultimately include a church jammed with singing souls. All of it caught on film. And the song? For me, a no-brainer: “For All the Children” by David Lohman, the song that brought a chapel to tears the previous summer. Minnesota’s Catholics would be shown a positive, faith-filled alternative to the “official” message.

The day of the filming, I was deeply concerned. After a ton of effort to bring people out for this event, I had no idea how many would ultimately show. It was a rainy, gray April morning to boot. Twenty minutes to start time, a spattering had arrived. Not good. But true to Catholic clocks, by five minutes after the hour, the church was packed! Over 40 Catholic parishes were represented by participants, including Dignity/Twin Cities.

The last note of the last take was sung, and for a moment the church was bone silent. Suddenly, spontaneously, the crowd erupted in applause and hollers, not as a self-congratulating outburst, but as a natural response to something profoundly good and loving that had just been experienced, one final expression of the Holy Spirit’s power before the church emptied.

Our plan was to premiere the finished video a few months later, and as we approached that event, we decided it would include less speech and more music. In addition to the music video, we planned community song and an appearance by members of the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus. In addition, a local troupe of actors joined the line-up, providing fun sketches to model how to lovingly engage others in conversation about why marriage matters. A professional producer and a husband/wife creative marketing team joined us to offer their free help. They were invaluable. Labor and equipment were donated, and the premiere event beautifully unfolded under a Minneapolis August sky in a downtown park. Over 300 Catholics and friends attended. The music video caught the attention of several media outlets and has enjoyed a mildly successful digital run. DignityUSA offered moral support and financial assistance toward both events, in line with its mission to powerfully engage in the civic conversations with regard to LGBT rights and dignity.

Regardless of the outcome of November’s vote, Minnesota Catholics seized the chance to give voice to their consciences, and to publicly offer an alternative message of radical love and welcome to LGBT youth and same-sex couples and families. The Holy Spirit sang that April day, that August night, and will most definitely sing again.

Watch the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wLQ63LMC-A&feature=plcp