A United Church of Christ (UCC) congregation in Massachusetts is generating both wanted and unwanted attention after it promoted an annual “Drag Gospel Festival” with a 12th century icon of Jesus Christ “digitally enhanced” with makeup and earrings.
First Church Somerville UCC in Somerville, MA touts the festival as its third highest-attended Sunday each year, after Christmas and Easter services. The event features a talent show, Gospel worship, drag show and brunch all raising money for a group assisting those that seek political asylum in the U.S. based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“This year’s poster for the Festival ruffled some feathers,” acknowledged Lead Pastor Molly Baskette.
Baskette has praised the event as “a grand occasion” but fretted about the safety of this year’s event after a young man interrupted the Sunday worship service and “began to condemn us with ancient words from the Hebrew scriptures.”
“We all froze,” Baskette wrote, citing her fear of the recent shooting deaths at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. “We felt the happy liberal Massachusetts bubble we thought we were in suddenly burst, showering us with fear that this would end tragically.”
The man departed the service without further incident after speaking with the lipstick-wearing male associate pastor.
First Church embraces a “theologically ultra-progressive” identity, participating each June in Boston’s LGBT Pride Parade complete with a marching band and costumes. The congregation describes itself as “about 40% LGBTQ” and “mostly, but we’re working on it, Anglo.”
“Are these church people weirdos, nerds, hypocrites and heretics?” the congregation’s web site asks, answering its own question with “Short answer: yup!”
First Church has hosted Drag Gospel Festival since 2011, when the congregation’s “Drag-Queen-in-Residence” Serenity Jones launched it as “a fun romp and a testimony of our solidarity with the queer community.”
“There are kids running around in feather boas, straight men in skirts, people who never thought they’d be in a church basement hollering Hallelujahs!” the church’s web site proclaims. “It is a guaranteed good time.”
“God is GOOD all the time! That means God is a DIVA… and girl… Jesus is FIERCE!” the congregation states on its web site. “For one weekend in October, First Church Somerville becomes FIERCE Church Somerville for two joyful days of Spirit in worship and praise, using our GOD-GIVEN musical and artistic talent, creativity and FASHION WITHOUT BORDERS, welcoming all God’s children to her FIERCE DIVA queen-dom.”
First Church Somerville is part of the United Church of Christ, an oldline Protestant denomination formed from the 1957 merger of Congregationalist and Reformed churches. The denomination traces its roots back to Puritan colonists and counts 943,521 members as of 2014, a decline of more than half since 1962.