Church offers different option to Mardi Gras revellers


Friday 1 March 2013

Tomorrow, while the tribute to alternative lifestyles is in full swing outside, visitors at St Michael’s will have a more sedate choice: coffee or tea. 

The Anglican church in Sydney’s Surry Hills opens its doors each year to those who gather for Mardi Gras. The annual parade which celebrates “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex pride” passes the church, and crowds always take up viewing positions outside.

For some, the wait proves too long, and they’re more than happy to enjoy free refreshments or use the church’s toilets.

Rev. Francis Chalwell with visitors to his church during Mardi Gras 2012 in Sydney

Minister Francis Chalwell and church members expect to serve up to 200 hot drinks tomorrow during the outreach. “Our doors open at 7.3opm and we’ll continue till just past 11pm when the parade goes by,” says Chalwell. He’s been doing it for the past twelve years, but St Michael’s has opened its doors to Mardi Gras crowds since the ’90s.

“A broad spectrum of society is there, and our team goes outside to welcome people in. We want to reach anyone with the love and compassion of Jesus, and to offer them the hope that is in Christ.

“I probably have more opportunity to speak with newcomers in those few hours than I do in months,” he points out.

Asked if people go in for more than just rest and refreshment, his answer is an emphatic yes.  He says some like the building’s traditional architecture which “feels like church” to them. “On this night, some feel like talking. It offers the opportunity to talk about the juxtaposition of what’s going on just outside the church, and what’s on the inside.”

Chalwell acknowledges that while the open doors are an act of service for everyone, the church does use the opportunity to interact with those from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

Outside the church during Mardi Gras Outreach at St Michaels Surry Hills in 2012

“I’ve ministered to many LGBT individuals over the years. Some I see every year! There’s Roz who’s lesbian – she’ll take part in the parade, and then drop by later to say hello. She feels perfectly comfortable discussing spiritual things.  She keeps coming back each year for more – it’s a connection!

“Then there’s Paul from Adelaide; he goes to church, and is homosexual.

“I take the stand that sexuality is a gift from God, to be expressed in the context of heterosexual marriage… so we have lots of interesting conversations!”

Asked what he’d say to Christians thinking of watching the parade, Chalwell says, “I wouldn’t go see it. It’s very confronting, and I think it encourages a type of body image that’s not helpful for young men or women.”

St Michael’s minister may not be watching the parade tomorrow, but the doors of his church will be open to all those watching the parade or participating in it.

“We listen and engage and continue to speak on what our position is, but we always demonstrate the love of Christ – that’s why we call our outreach Emmanuel at the Mardi Gras ……  Emmanuel, of course, being Hebrew for God with us.”  

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