When its Pride flag was cut down and vandalized in early August, St. Paul, Uxbridge decided to speak out.
Rather than stay silent about the incident, the Rev. Randy Williams, the interim priest-in-charge of the church, wrote a letter to the local newspaper, the Uxbridge Cosmos.
“Silence means consent,” he says, explaining why he wrote the letter. “It means that someone has done this to us, and we’re accepting it. Or we’re afraid. And that’s one thing we didn’t want to condone.”
The church’s rainbow-coloured flag was cut down and thrown into some nearby bushes. It had been attached by wires to the church’s outdoor sign. The congregation had put it up in June in support of Pride month and LGBTQ2S+ people. The church decided to keep it up for a few more months to honour and recognize the community.
Upon arrival at the church in early August, parishioners noted the flag’s absence. When they learned that their flag had been vandalized, they were saddened and upset, says Mr. Williams. “The mandate of our church is to accept all. We are a loving, caring, Christian community aiming to live the gospel.”
After speaking with the police, the mayor and the local councillor, he wrote the letter to the newspaper on behalf of the congregation. “We wanted to be careful how we did it,” he explains. “We didn’t want to be seen as angry about it, but we couldn’t remain silent, either.”
He hoped the letter would foster understanding in the community. A recent report by Statistics Canada noted a 64 per cent increase in hate crimes in Canada targeting individuals over their sexual orientation. In June, a number of church leaders, including Bishop Andrew Asbil, signed a statement denouncing the hate crimes and affirming their support for LGBTQ2S+ people.
“This flag stood as a symbol of the church’s commitment to inclusivity, diversity, welcome and love for all members of our community,” Mr. Williams wrote in his letter. “Its cutting down was not merely a material loss but a blow to the principles that we hold dear – acceptance, understanding, appreciation and respect – all those characteristics that God encourages us to live.”
The loss of the flag “left a void in the heart of our congregation,” he wrote. “It is particularly disheartening that such an act of hate occurred within our local community. However, we choose to respond with resilience and the determination to foster unity. Uxbridge is a community known for its kindness and compassion, and this incident does not define who we are. Instead, let it serve as a reminder of the work that remains to be done in promoting understanding and acceptance for all individuals, regardless of their background, identity or sexuality.”
The letter concluded, “In times like these, it is our shared values of empathy, compassion, faith in a God who loves us all unconditionally, and unity that will see us through. We believe that by addressing these challenges head-on, we can create a community that truly reflects the love and respect we hold for one another. Our Pride flag(s) are and will fly again.”
Mr. Williams says the response to the letter has been positive. “People who have read the letter have stopped by the church and, along with our neighbours, said that they are standing with us. I was at the foodbank last week and people came up to me and said, we read your letter, thank you for saying that.”
He says it was important that the letter didn’t demonize the person who cut down the flag. The person’s identity remains unknown. “We don’t know the person’s story. It could be somebody who is triggered by the flag, it could be someone who has their own struggles, it could have been anybody. We pray for them.”
He encourages other parishes that have experienced similar incidents to speak out. “Don’t be silent about it, because silence means we’re supportive of what has happened, even though we’re not. We may think it’s happening to just us, but often it’s not – it’s happening to other churches and places of worship as well. By speaking out, we’re building external, caring communities; we’re building support. To reiterate a question: what would Jesus do?”
And the church is flying the Pride flag again – several of them, in fact. The parish has purchased several small flags that are out on the lawn. Mr. Williams used to take them in every evening, but not anymore; they remain outside, flying in the breeze. “They’re out there for all to see that we are seriously a safe and accepting place for whomsoever will,” he says.