Rev. Kevin Moore says it’s not very often he gets mad on the job.
But he admits his shock and hurt turned to anger when he saw that a visiting choir had stripped Port Hope (Ont.) United, Moore’s church, of its Pride flags and other Pride symbols after they were told not to.
“I was really angry when I came in and realized they had removed a flag we told them not to… They removed all the Pride symbols… We have some little hand-carved symbols that say ‘love,’ and they are in rainbow colours. Those were removed, hidden away,” Moore said of the scene after the choir that had rented the church had left. “I was just seeing red.”
“I was really angry that someone would go to all that trouble, to basically scrub every symbol of Pride they could possibly get their hands on before having their concert,” he said. “And when I found the two Pride flags rolled up and tossed in a corner by my office, I was more angry. The disrespect, just treating them like trash.”
Moore has been a minister at Port Hope United a little over two years and had never experienced a church vandalized by patrons.
“We have a good space, a beautiful old Methodist cathedral, almost 150 years old and the acoustics are wonderful. So it’s not unusual for choirs and musical groups to want to rent our space for performances,” Moore explained.
On Dec. 2, the Libertas Male Choir, based in Caledonia, rented the church for a Christmas concert, part of a four-church tour across southern Ontario. Two of the other churches were Reformed and one was Presbyterian. Port Hope was the only United Church on the tour.
The choir’s website says its goal “is to celebrate in music, the freedom that we experience through our salvation in Christ, and freedom through the sacrifices of those who gave their health and lives to improve the lives of others.”
The church board member “called me and said, ‘They’re asking if they can take our Pride flag out of the sanctuary.’ And I said, ‘No, absolutely not.’” Moore and the board member agreed it was unacceptable to remove the church’s Pride flags.
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Port Hope United is an affirming church, meaning “a congregation that is open and affirming of all people… and certainly that includes all genders, all orientations. We proudly display about three different Pride flags,” Moore says.
Launched in 1992, there are more than 200 affirming United Church ministries in Canada and more than 100 ministries in the process to become affirming.
Moore said the board member explained to the men’s choir what it meant to be an affirming church and that the Pride flags were not to be removed. Then came the scene after the concert when Moore saw “the desecration” the choir had committed.
“They didn’t just remove a flag. They actually did everything in their power to remove every symbol of Pride,” he continued, recounting how angry the whole church board was.
“A couple of board members put it pretty graphically and didn’t sound overly Christian. But Jesus turned over the tables so I think we’re in pretty good company.”
Moore decided to ask the Libertas Male Choir why their Pride flags were taken down. Tjitske Van Roenen, Moore’s contact with the choir, explained that some people in the choir “felt strongly” about the Pride paraphernalia.
“I said, ‘Well, actually, in order to remove some of these flags, they would have had to probably get up on a chair or get up on a ladder to remove them because they were hanging quite high. And I can’t believe that no one else noticed them doing this.’”
Moore demanded an apology. “I said, ‘If you want to rent our sanctuary in the future, we are going to need someone to come on a Sunday morning and issue a formal apology to the congregation and promise it won’t happen again.’”
According to Moore, Van Roenen asked if it was OK to email the apology since Caledonia is 220 kilometres from Port Hope and it was a “long way to come,” Moore said.
“I said, ‘Well, you managed to make it here for the concert. So we would require you to make it here for the apology, a formal apology.’”
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Van Roenen said she would speak to the men in the choir. Since then, neither Moore nor Port Hope United nor Broadview magazine has been able to reach the Libertas Male Choir. Broadview reached out through social media and left many phone messages, but no one from the choir responded.
When Moore realized they weren’t going to hear from the men’s choir, he had a meeting with the church’s board. They agreed to not rent the space to the choir again. Board members also decided to update their standard rental contract to say no symbols in the sanctuary are to be removed.
Finally, the board decided what to do with the money the choir paid to rent the space.
“We, as a board, as a church board, decided that we would take the $800 they gave us in rent and donate it to the local Port Hope Rainbow Network to help them put on next summer’s Pride festival,” Moore said.
Then he left a voice message for the Libertas Male Choir telling them about the donation. In the message, he said, “We’d really appreciate it if you told the people that took it upon themselves to remove all of our Pride symbols that this is the end result of their actions. They’re actually helping promote Pride awareness in Port Hope by their actions. They’ve had the reverse effect of what I think they were hoping for.”
Moore doesn’t know the choir’s reaction as they never called back.
Ashleigh-Rae Thomas is a writer and journalist in Toronto.
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