One overarching message echoed through the sanctuary Thursday evening at Salt Lake City’s First Baptist Church: Whatever divinity you believe in loves you.
More than 200 worshippers filled the pews at the Utah Interfaith Pride service to celebrate the lives and loves of the state’s LGBTQIA+ population in song, sermon, poetry and ritual.
As clergy and representatives from several faiths proceeded down the center aisle of the brightly lit church, each placed a flower in a vase at the front, symbolizing beauty in diversity.
Who here is Buddhist? A few stood. Who here is pagan? A few others. Who here is Jewish? A dozen or so. Who here is Unitarian Universalist? Several dozen. Who here is Christian? More than half the audience arose.
After each group was mentioned and recognized, a leader from that faith read a litany specific to the tradition. They spoke of liberation and freedom and hope and the search for meaning.
Then Kelly Byrnes, who described himself as a Sunday school teacher at First Baptist, invited attendees to use colorful squares of paper in the program to write down their “hopes for our queer community,” and then roll them up and place them in a Utah-shaped wire sculpture at the front.
“This is the biggest church I’ve ever spoken in,” quipped the Rev. Tyler Marz of the Utah County Community of Christ in the opening of his keynote address.
Throughout his childhood, Marz hid from his authentic self. When he tried to come out “of that closet,” he was told to live “a different way.”
He has always been a person of faith, growing up Lutheran, then converting to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, before, more recently, joining the Community of Christ.
“My own faith has been a journey of discovery,” Marz said, “longing for a space where I could be my real self.”
He had prayed, he said, that this “beautiful part of me — my sexuality — would change.”
But what kind of God, he wondered, would deny him “the fullness of joy?”
Finally, he left the LDS Church, which he believes taught “bad theology,” and found a faith “whose doors were wide open to all.”
Marz is now “proud of who I am,” he said, “and who I am becoming.”
The service was sponsored by the Utah Pride Interfaith Coalition, whose purpose is to “provide a voice and a presence” for those in the queer community “who identify as people of faith.”
The group affirms “the sacredness of all the children of deity,” it stated in the night’s program, and seeks to “introduce our community to welcoming and affirming congregations of various faith traditions.”
As the attendees exited, the Rev. Lora Young, minister at the South Valley Unitarian Universalist Society in Cottonwood Heights and co-chair of the event, encouraged them to repeat: “We are faithful. We are connected. We are proud.”
Some then went into the courtyard to get a “glitter blessing” on their foreheads or hands from a clergyperson as a symbol of their joyful celebration.