Some might call it a surprise when our First Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina offered a community concert by the San Francisco Gay Men’s Choir. However, I knew the church had spent several years on a journey from being a somewhat traditional church to embracing and including all of the community. This community concert was one of many steps along the church’s journey toward inclusion, and I was happy to celebrate and enjoy that moment with them.
I’d never heard a choir of all male voices — incredibly powerful and beautiful. I had not expected to be so moved by the music, the men, and their performance. Yet I was not alone in my surprise at the comical Drag Queen performance on the dais at the front of the church.
One of the most touching moments was when the choirmaster shared his personal testimony of how he had once been a minister of music in a traditional church, not unlike the one we were in that day. He talked of coming out, of losing his family, of losing his connection to the church, but not his faith.
So, did the concert and the music that day change the culture of our community? Perhaps not. Were those of us who attended the performance changed? Perhaps.
So, what are our takeaways?
The performance of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Choir at our First Baptist Church was a great example of bridging. It was challenging and thought-provoking (drag queen performances in the Baptist Church?) but also powerful and beautiful, with personal stories that broke down barriers, created personal connections, and evaporated stigma. Music has the power to elevate and touch us emotionally, but here we see that music can also help to bridge.
Meeting People Where They Are and Reducing Risk
The choir gifted all of us in attendance with the power and beauty of their voices and their performance. They touched us with their humor, with their humanity. The church gifted the community with this moment of bridging and unexpected connection. The church provided a safe place for connection, a familiar place, reducing the cultural risk for many.
As attendees, unexpectedly, we discovered that we were, in some ways, also giving back to the men in the choir. So many of these men had been shunned and pushed out of their churches. They found the welcome by the First Baptist Church and our broader community to be a gift to them, a homecoming of sorts. Through that experience, I was reminded that receiving can be giving, and giving can be receiving in ways we might not expect.
All Change is Personal and Relational
Even though we are working to shift the culture of the community, in the end, all change is personal. However, for the work of inclusion and equity, that personal change is in the context of a relationship with another person or a group. Whether it is through attending a performance along with others in your community, becoming more comfortable with a specific group, or being welcomed back into the church. It is only through time and a series of both personal and relational changes that the community will, little by little, change.
If you'd like to pull back the curtain on this musical experience and learn more about how the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus came to tour the Deep South and perform at our local First Baptist Church, this documentary does just that.