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A Colourful Pentecost Sunday

By Jan Coleman

Pentecost Sunday and collection time at St. Patrick's Cathedral. The elderly Elder extended his money box back and forth along the front rows, receiving the donations with smooth efficiency. But as he approached our pew he spotted three of us wearing the rainbow sash. Grim-mouthed, he whisked the receptacle well out of our reach, thus bypassing any little monies we may have intended to offer.
        Unfortunately, in order to avoid us he had to cut out the proffered gifts of those rainbowless people in the pew as well and, as there were about thirty of our group scattered throughout the cathedral, the takings for this Mass would have been appreciably down. 
        It's the principle, of course. Likewise, a few of the congregation refused to extend the sign of peace to some of us, offering a scowl and a bit of tsk, tsk instead. However, most were non-committal and, like us, had every right to do what they felt moved to do.
        As is our custom, one of our committee had written to the cathedral, letting them know we would be at this Mass, behave with respect and dignity and that some of us would seek Holy Communion. Bishop Denis Hart, acting archdiocesan leader and a frontrunner for the vacant post of Archbishop, rang our president on Pentecost eve and had an affable conversation during which he indicated future talks. A bit different to Archbishop George Pell who not once during his episcopate in Melbourne acknowledged our many written requests for dialogue.
        Dr Pell did acknowledge the Rainbow Sash in a few deep and meaningful ways, however. The first time we went to the Cathedral he read out a long statement on his interpretation of Church/homosexual agenda. It was stunningly hurtful to the gay and lesbian people present and to those supporting them. While some around me wept quietly, most of the congregation began to clap, swept up on the wave of rhetoric.
        Those who go into the public arena are sitting ducks.
Another recognition of our presence in St. Pats was the Hiring of the Heavies. The first time we beheld them on the cathedral steps was on a Sunday when there happened to be an anti-phobia rally just down the road in Spring Street. We had nothing to do with this but maybe George had visions of Dykes on Bikes zooming up on their Harleys and revving in through the huge doors. So there these bouncers were, protecting the congregation with a presence that meant business. They had probably come directly from shoving people in King Street and were now ready to take us on, too, if the need arose.
         They were big Macs-with-the-lot characters: beefy, close-cropped, sporting narrow sunnies, their hands a little clenched; one of them was chewing gum, for heaven's sake! As they looked us over I could see my guilt-ridden face reflected in their raybans and I clutched tighter my handbag containing its rainbow-coloured contraband.
        The Dykes didn't appear and we behaved ourselves, yet for some strange reason those burly bouncers were back at the doors on at least one of our other occasions there.
        Anyway, the rest goes without more saying. We were refused the Eucharist and offered a blessing instead. I don't know what the others did but I suggested to the bishop that both he and I needed more wisdom and understanding (two of those hoped-for gifts of the Holy Spirit) - he, naturally enough, waved me on.
        Afterwards we tied long rainbow ribbons around the cathedral gates. They looked striking and vibrant against the blue-stone edifice. Our spokesman, Michael Kelly, then addressed the assembled media who clicked and audioed and scribbled then, clutching their little spirex notebooks and booms and cameras, hurried back inside the grounds to surround Bishop Hart. They quizzed him for some time. He sounded very approachable and calm and, for what its worth, he has a kindly face. He repeated the official stance of the Church and said he cannot see any chance of change. Compassion is right in there but we have our rules - that sort of thing.
        Inter alia, he did not say, as The Australian newspaper misreported him, that marriage is a bond between a man and a woman for the purpose of creating new life. He did state the former (man/woman bond) but that new life was one of the possible results from such a relationship.
        A variety of reasons brought people to this occasion and to wear the sash. The majority were homosexuals with a yearning for recognition and justice but whatever our position, all of us felt empowered and supported by each other. Even if there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow this was Pentecost Sunday with its gifts of new life, hope and zeal.
        And I imagine that one of the people who still feels good about that day is that Elder, happy that he was able to keep the collection money clean.