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The first Pride ecumenical worship service in the history of Oklahoma City filled Mayflower Congregational UCC Church Wednesday.

Members of eleven affirming congregations in the metro gathered to embrace the Christian faith which has not always embraced them.

“Gay agenda”

The pastor who delivered the sermon did what so many other outsider groups within the Christian faith have done for centuries.

She took previously derisive language and claimed it, but with a new meaning.

“I invite you to join me in a strict observance of the gay agenda, which follows in the footsteps of Jesus’ extravagant love for all,” concluded pastor Kayla Bonewell.

Kayla Bonewell delivers the sermon for the first OKC Pride ecumenical worship service. Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press

The two churches she serves are Church of the Open Arms and Cathedral of Hope, both openly affirming congregations who welcome anyone including LGBTQ persons.

The sponsoring churches organized the historic event to claim a spot in the busy line-up of activities during OKC Pride Week, which will end with the well-known parade on Saturday.

But, the service also claimed what some in the Christian faith would deny: There are people outside of traditional expressions of sexuality who claim the Christian faith and insist on being a part of the larger Christian community.

“All about Jesus”

Before the service began Free Press talked with Bonewell about the ministry of the two congregations she serves.

What is the key to an affirming congregation that effectively ministers to everyone?

“You know, really it’s all about Jesus,” she said. “We have taken to heart the mission and methods of Jesus to open our arms wide to love and accept all.”

Mayflower UCC church was packed, including the balcony. Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press

Church of the Open Arms and Cathedral of Hope are both affiliated with the United Church of Christ denomination, or UCC, that has its roots in the Pilgrim churches in New England prior to the forming of the United States.

The host congregation of the event, Mayflower UCC, is the oldest church family in the denomination in the metro and has been an affirming church for decades.

Democracy is at the historic core of the denomination and so it allows for congregations to decide as they are led in faith who to accept into their fold.

Traditional service

The structure of the service would be familiar to just about anyone who has attended a few community services made up of many church families.

The congregation was led in singing. The choir, made up of members from several churches, sang a rousing anthem. And, the host pastor, Rev. Lori Walke, gave an animated and fun children’s sermon that seemed to capture the imaginations of the adults in the room as well as the children assembled at the front.

And there was a testimony by Kyle Gosset of Grace Episcopal Church.

Non-traditional context

Gosset’s testimony was quite traditional in structure to many others we might hear in churches across the metro.

It was a story about hardship, pain, and eventual redemption in faith.

Matt and Emily Matthews, members of Grace Episcopal Church attended. Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press

The difference was the context.

Gosset gave a heart-rending account of being outed to his parents by a pastor he trusted when he was a teen. But it was also a testimony of redemption in that he found a congregation that would embrace him in the love of Christ.

It was a good example of the difference in that particular service and any other community service similar to the Thanksgiving services traditionally held each year.

“Loving and inclusive”

Hannah and Robert Leftwich were walking their two children into the church and stopped for a brief interview before the service began. One of the sponsoring congregations, Lord of Life Lutheran Church, is their church home.

Why were they attending?

“I think it’s very important as people of God to embrace all people,” said Hannah.

“And in my own experience, when you start to turn people away, you end up turning everyone away. And so, I think it’s our role to be loving and inclusive.”

The sacrament of Holy Communion was celebrated, the host and cup served. Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press