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 The Rainbow Sash Movement - An International Action for Gay rights and Spiritual freedom!

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The Ritual of The Rainbow Sash Movement

 The Rainbow Sash action, or ritual, is simple, strong and clear. In this lies its strength.  It also requires careful preparation and mindfulness.  The following guidelines detail the practices we have followed over the past three years.  They have worked extraordinarily well.  We recommend that they be followed as closely as possible as other communities consider taking up the Rainbow Sash.

 1. -- Some weeks before an action is planned, a formal letter is sent to the Bishop or priest who will be presiding at the liturgy where we will wear the Rainbow Sash.

Included are copies of our "Letter to the Church" and "Letter to Pope John Paul 11" (we also recommend including the articles "Rainbow Warrior" and "Jesus' Radical Ministry" as background for our rationale and the meaning of the sash.)

 A carefully worded COVER LETTER briefly explains who we are, the date and time of the Mass we plan to attend, and, most importantly, a strong and courteous assurance that we will be reverent, prayerful, dignified and utterly non-violent in word, action and attitude, and that we will be in no way disruptive.  We are Catholics coming to Mass.

 2. -- We use brochures, e-mails, and mail networks etc to promote the action, being careful how we promote it and to whom, always stressing our strong, peaceful and respectful attitude:

"The church is our sacred space, too, and we claim it with dignity, pride and in peace".

 Closer to the actual date we notify the media, if this seems appropriate, through contact with individual journalists and, a few days before the action, through a press release.

All enquiries are directed to the group's designated spokesperson who should be articulate, theologically literate, genuinely committed to the gospel and to a transformed church, and able to speak on the issues calmly, clearly, without bitterness or anger, but with conviction.  Overly negative language should be avoided.  We intend to challenge and call the church to justice and liberation, not simply to attack it.  Should anyone attack us, in word or action, we respond with calm strength and dignity.

 3. -- On the actual day, we gather people together one hour before the liturgy for a briefing that is MANDATORY for anyone planning to wear the Rainbow Sash.

We choose a nearby venue -- even a park etc.  We carefully explain the details of the action, the rationale and spirit behind it, and stress that it is communal and peaceful.  We ask everyone to commit themselves to our common vision and intention.

We distribute the rainbow sashes (which are to be returned after Mass), collect donations, addresses etc and designate people to distribute our "Letter to the Church" as the congregation leaves church grounds after Mass. (We are addressing the whole People of God - not just the hierarchy).

We finish with a moment of prayer or centering meditation together, to recall to our hearts and minds the inner hope, motivation and commitment that have brought us together on this day.

4. -- We proceed to the church/Cathedral, in groups of four or five etc, with our rainbow sashes in our pockets or handbags.  In this way we enter the Cathedral as ordinary members of the church.  (It also means we cannot be simply stopped as we enter the church).

Inside, we disperse ourselves throughout the congregation, not in a single block, but in small groups -- so we have support, but appear as we truly are: gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender members of God's People found throughout the church.

It is helpful if the group's leaders take seats towards the front of the church.

 5. -- As the Opening Hymn is sung, we stand in the usual way, and vest in our Rainbow Sashes.  These are worn over one's left shoulder, across the back and the chest, and pinned by one's right hip.  (It’s good to help each other here; we want to look neat!)

 6. -- We participate reverently in the Eucharist in the usual way.  It is important that we seek to make this a real time of prayer for ourselves and our church.

 7. -- As the priest or Bishop comes down from the altar to distribute Communion, all the Rainbow Sash wearers simply stand up in our places in silence.

 8. -- As our turn comes to go up to receive Communion, we join the line in the usual way.  We approach the priest or Bishop (and, where it is practical, we suggest Rainbow Sash wearers should approach the Bishop or priest rather than lay ministers.  Certainly, at least some of the sash wearers should approach the main presider - the priest. The symbolism here is important)

 As we reach the priest, we stand and open our hands to receive Communion.  Here, it is important not to be brushed aside.  Stand for a brief moment, waiting to receive the Eucharist.

We are generally refused Holy Communion.  Sometimes the priest or bishop offers us a blessing instead.  Some of us accept this, if it feels right, some of us decline it -- VERY politely.  We do NOT engage in conversation or discussion or argument with the person distributing Communion.  At most, we say "Peace Be With You".  The Movement strongly insists on this simplicity and courtesy.  It is only by maintaining this peaceful attitude in word and action that we will be able to stand with dignity in this painful and complex situation.

 9. -- We return to our places and remain standing silently, in witness and challenge, throughout Communion and until the Prayer After Communion, when the congregation also stands

(Should there be any statement made about us by the priest or bishop, we do NOT respond at this time except by maintaining our dignity through silent witness)

 10. We officially encourage all of our members who identify as “Catholic” to both wear the Sash and seek Holy Communion. This includes both people who active in their practice and in their parishes, and also those who are baptised Catholics but who may have “lapsed” from Church practice because of issues such as the teaching on homosexuality. Coming back into the church and wearing the Sash can be a powerful and prayerful way of reclaiming our spiritual heritage – and bringing our gifts into the Church.

We welcome Christians of other denominations, and all people of good faith, to join us at Mass and to wear the Sash. However, because of the Church’s ruling that only Catholics may receive Communion, we cannot officially invite them to join us in seeking the Eucharist. “Inter-communion”, as it is called, is itself a contentious issue in our Church, and we do not want to confuse issues and arguments, nor allow our critics to claim that those of us who seek Communion are not “real Catholics”.

However, we do welcome all such people to wear the Sash and attend Mass with us, to take part in the prayers etc, to simply stand in silence during Communion while those who are Catholics go forward, to witness our refusal, and to remain standing in solidarity with us when we return to our seats. This action also shows that the Catholic Church’s treatment of GLBT people is challenged by Christians from other churches and by many people of good faith. It is a powerful sign of solidarity.

 11. -- It is always possible that before, during or after Mass an individual or another group of protesting people (possibly GLBT people) may speak out or act in aggressive, angry or blatantly confrontational ways that go against the peaceful spirit of the Rainbow Sash Ritual. Careful and prayerful preparation should minimize this risk, but we must still be ready for this possibility. Should our movement become publicly associated with abusive or violent words or actions, much of the good work we are doing in the Church would be jeopardised. We therefore recommend the following: If any aggressive, disruptive or violent word or action is expressed publicly by an individual or group while we are wearing the sash at Mass, we will simply take our sashes off (another reason for the leaders to sit forward in the church – their lead will be crucial here). If this happens while we are standing throughout Communion, we will also sit down. We will maintain silence.

After it is clear that the disruption has been resolved or dealt with, we will put our sashes back on and, if it seems right, stand once again. In this way we clearly disassociate our movement from any disruptive action, but we also make it clear we will not be deflected from our purpose. In particularly charged situations it may be appropriate to inform the bishop beforehand that this will be our procedure in the event of any disruption.

 12. -- After Mass our spokesperson makes a prepared statement to any media outside the church, and takes questions.

Designated people distribute our “Letter to the Church” at the gates of the church's property.  If anyone from the media approaches sash wearers they are welcome to speak personally about their feelings or experience.  Any other questions are to be referred to the spokesperson.  This is vital in keeping a consistent line throughout the movement, and makes consistent communication with the hierarchy possible.   The rainbow sashes are collected after Mass is over.

 13. -- As soon as possible, we gather together at a nearby venue -- preferably at a cafe, restaurant, hall, etc., to talk, share, celebrates, de-brief etc.  This is a very important part of the action.

For many people, the experience of wearing the Rainbow Sash is their first public stance on this issue.  For some it is even a coming out.  For many the refusal of Communion is shocking and distressing, and for all these reasons it is important to affirm and celebrate together the strength, the courage, and gift we are giving to the church and to one another.  We must turn the church's attempt to disempower us, into affirmation and strength.

 14. -- Within the next week, the groups leaders meet to review, discuss, plan etc -- and to keep members informed of developments with the hierarchy, the media etc.  Here, it is important to be prepared for quite extensive and ongoing involvement.

 15. -- As the Rainbow Sash Movement grows and spreads, is important that we send letters or e-mails about our actions and involvement to other Rainbow Sash groups, and certainly to the central convenors and spokespersons, so that our networking is strengthened, and our movement has a consistent and coherent approach.

 Any individuals or groups, who are considering organising a Rainbow Sash action, are warmly invited to contact our national or international committees and spokespersons for encouragement, information, resources and support.

                    Let us make the journey to justice together.