The Church of the Good Shepherd in Carbondale held its fourth annual Pride Picnic Sunday with the sunshine as its ally and acceptance as its plight.
“For the last two years it’s rained, and we’ve had to have the event inside,” said Will Davis, the event’s chairman. “But today we’ve got beautiful weather and the sunshine on our side.”
The Good Shepherd, an open and affirming church, advertises itself as a place of safety and affirmation for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
The Rev. Sonja Ingebritsen, who has pastored the church for nearly three years, said the Good Shepherd became the 24th church countrywide to become open and affirming in 1989 amongst the United Church of Christ congregation.
“In this little enclave in southern Illinois, this congregation has been a pioneer in voicing a statement of acceptance for all of God’s people,” Ingebritsen said.
The 13 sponsors had booths at the front of the church and featured everything from radio personalities to foster care centers.
Billy Rogers and Julie Cosenza, hosts of the radio program “Isn’t It Queer?” on WDBX 91.1, said they have sponsored the event for as long as their radio show has been on air.
“The main goal of our radio program is to promote GLBT events,” Rogers said. “This picnic is a hopeful example of the direction our community is headed.”
Like-minded event sponsors such as Sharon McDevitt, director of child welfare for Hoyleton Ministries, strive for what they call a progressive acceptance attitude for people from all walks of life.
“We’re one of the only foster care programs in the area to acknowledge GLBT foster families,” McDevitt said. “Our partnership, along with all the other sponsors, has been strong with this event every year that it’s gone on.”
With a live DJ, games, face painting and door prizes every hour, the picnic and church service may challenge pre-conceived notions of what a church-sponsored event should be.
“This is a different kind of church with a different kind of perspective,” attendee Jeannie Earles, of Carbondale said. “It’s just refreshing to see this sort of acceptance out of a church here in town.”
Davis said community support has been overwhelming in the relatively short time the picnic has been in operation. The event’s long-term goals include a parade on the town square and nighttime activity throughout the weekend, followed by an open-and-affirming Sunday church service, he said.
“Our goal is to make this a weekend event and get the area bar scene involved as well,” Davis said. “But the bar scene hasn’t been very receptive just yet because they still feel it’s a church event, although it’s really not.”