The first “Open Hearts Pride Picnic” was held at St. James Episcopal Church in Dexter last Friday, June 8. It was a rousing success with students, church members, and community members showing up for the fun.
The Open Hearts Pride Picnic had all the stuff of a great summer picnic – games, activities, music, food, and lots of fun – but there was a bigger meaning, something Divine was driving the event. It was a picnic to embrace and support Dexter’s youth who identify as LGBTQ.
“Several of us at St. James realized that there are at risk youth in the middle and high school that self identify as LGBTQ,” says church member Janet Cook. “Some are members of the high school GSA (Gay, Straight Alliance) and the newly formed GSA at Mill Creek middle school.”
St. James formed “The Open Hearts Club” which is an inclusive and open teen gathering which meets weekly at St. James Episcopal Church to support youth who self-identify as LGBTQ.
“People in our church community want them to know they are supported and loved!” Janet says.
The kids in the club wanted a picnic, so a picnic they had. And in the spirit of inclusion and embrace, they invited anyone and everyone.
Of the roughly 100 people that showed up for the picnic, 31 were from St. James with the other two-thirds coming in from around the Dexter area to join in and show support. Club members had the chance to introduce themselves to the applause of the crowd.
One parent with a middle school club member remarked, “This is the most Christian thing I have seen.”
The Open Hearts Club, for grades 6th and higher, meets Thursday afternoons at the church for social time around food and conversation, crafts and games, or outreach projects. Much of the time is focused on celebrating and understanding similarities and differences from one another.
“There is no other mainline church in Dexter that welcomes these kids as is, and offers support and a place to meet, eat and play ping pong, charades, make buttons and talk,” Janet says.
Peter Tchoryk Jr. said of the picnic, “It’s great to see such a strong outpouring of love for the LGBTQ community in Dexter and we’re thankful to St. James for showing the power of inclusion and hosting this first Pride event.”
Dexter seventh-grader Sydney Tchoryk also noted, “It was open to anyone and everyone and was such a positive place to be”
One club member appreciated the inclusion and embrace saying, “For me, the picnic showed me that Dexter is very accepting of everyone, and it just made me feel normal, unlike at school where it’s just me.”
One picnic organizer commented, “I am so pleased by the response of this community and the greater Dexter area to this pride event. We had participants from Dexter, Howell, Pinckney, Chelsea and Ann Arbor, all gathered on the front lawn of St James in support of and in celebration of the diversity that surrounds us.”
Picnicker Erin Peven said “I look forward to the day that we celebrate diversity as a whole. I believe this celebration was not about how we may be different but instead, how we are similar. “
It was an encouraging and uplifting event, a great way to kick off summer. If you would like to learn more about St. James and what they offer, you can visit their website for more information.