By: S. Brae Adams, Pastor, Open Arms Metropolitan Community Church
Sunday morning, June 12, 2016, 7:30 AM. I awoke to get to my job as the Pastor of Open Arms Metropolitan Community Church. Checking my phone before getting out of bed, I saw the first little bit of the news. At least 12 people dead, more feared at a mass shooting in an Orlando bar. How terrible, I thought, and I made note of the name of the place, Pulse nightclub, to mention in prayer as I went about the business of getting ready for my day.
I arrived at Open Arms and began to prepare. As the worship team gathered for prayer before the service began, I mention the shooting and someone says it was a gay nightclub. Just then, the processional begins and I think, “Oh God. Not us again…”
“Not again…” Metropolitan Community Churches, founded for LGBT folks in 1968, a time in which they could not openly attend other churches. We have had multiple incidences of violence including at least 20 separate incidences of arson or fire bombing and – what was before that day the largest mass murder of LGBT people in the United States- the intentional firebombing of the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans. That fire in 1973 killed thirty-two people, including both pastors and fully one half of the congregation of MCC New Orleans, which was using the bar’s meeting space for services. We know about bigotry and hatred and attacks on the innocent.
Worship began and I felt my phone vibrate, just as I was getting up to pray. I glanced down and felt the room start to spin, “Police estimate that at least thirty people have been killed …” The room fell quiet and very still as I announced what I had just seen on the screen. Gasps and cries were audible and our pianist started the next, already planned hymn, “It is Well With my Soul…” We held each other and cried and prayed and then gathered ourselves and went back to the task at hand. After church, my phone began to buzz with community members looking for a place to gather, to stand together, to mourn. By 2:00, a plan began to take shape. The LGBT liason for the Rochester PD phoned, as did a representative for the mayor’s office – how could they help us feel safe… well, as safe as possible…
At 6:00, the church began to fill, and by 6:30 we began to bring in extra chairs that were quickly filled. State Assemblyman Harry Bronson and Brighton Town Supervisor Bill Moehle were among those who gathered. People kept coming sitting on the floor, the stage, or standing in the back, some folks spilling out onto the sidewalk in front, or in the doorway to the community center. For 30 minutes we simply sat in silence with only the light and whir of the television cameras and then, finally, we lit our candles. When the candles had burned down to the paper, a beautiful soprano voice started to sing, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…” The last notes of the song floated into the air and, wordlessly, everyone away into the night.
There would be more vigils and gatherings and remembrances in the days and weeks to come. Photos of the dead were carried in the Rochester Pride parade and again in the Puerto Rican Festival parade later that summer. The outrage and sorrow and fear has been tempered by time and the news of more frequent, and more deadly shootings around the country. The club site in Orlando has become a memorial to what happened there; the funerals are long since over, the news reporters left long ago, but we remember. We remember the 49 innocent people, out to dance and mingle and laugh who never made it home. We will not forget.