SOUTH TEXAS PRIDE: San Antonio church walks the walk of advocacy and inclusivity

Madison Square Presbyterian Church pastor to lead members in local pride parade

By Diana Winters

SAN ANTONIO - South Texas will show its support for the LGBTQIA community on Saturday at the Pride Bigger Than Texas Parade and Festival at Crockett Park in San Antonio.

Among those marching will be members of San Antonio churches, including Madison Square Presbyterian Church, located at Lexington and Camden streets north of downtown.

"It's so heartwarming to march as a community of faith," the church's pastor, Rev. Dr. Bart Roush, told KSAT. "The outpouring of support for us to be in the parade is always surprising and quite remarkable when we're trying to show our support for the community."

Roush has been leading his congregation in the pride parade for several years.

"We have a banner that says 'Madison Square Presbyterian Church Celebrates Pride.' All of us have t-shirts that have the same symbol of rainbow hands," Roush said. "Some of our youngest members to some of our oldest members will march in the parade and it's a good mixture of straight and gay and transgender folks, so it really is a representation of our whole church." 

In 2017, about 30 Madison Square church members marched in the pride parade -- nearly one-third of its congregation. This year, Roush said he hopes for another big turnout.

Roush said the doors of his church are open to all -- not just during Pride Month, but every day. He said his church hosts at least two recovery groups year-round, and provides financial and volunteer support to the THRIVE Youth Center to benefit homeless youth in the LGBTQIA community. 

Roush has officiated a number of same-sex weddings in the church's sanctuary, as well.

"I think I actually have done more same-sex weddings since I've been here as pastor over the last four and a half years than opposite-sex weddings," Roush said.

Madison Square Presbyterian has welcomed LGBTQIA community members for close to 20 years, but Roush said he recognizes the damage caused by other churches and community organizations in the years before that -- and at the present.

"I've had a lot of conversations with church members about how they've been wounded by the church in the past, and so I don't take that lightly," said Roush. "At the core, certainly our values that under-gird everything that we do are inclusion and diversity. At the same time, we're human. One of the things about being a faith community is we know we fall short, and so we confess that, we lament that, and then we try to do better."

Roush said currently about 35 percent of his congregation identifies as LGBTQIA, including a staff member. And that policy extends to other leaders within his branch of the denomination, the More Light Presbyterians. The branch allows deacons and elders who identify as LGBTQIA to be ordained.

"There's a huge difference, I think, between tolerance or acceptance and advocacy," Roush said. "So full equality in leadership, in marriage, in the worship life and the mission of the church is extremely important. We want all people to know that they are welcome and have a home here and that there isn't a second-class citizenship."

Roush shared that he wants that message to be clear as soon as community members walk into his sanctuary.

"At the beginning of every worship service, we have something called the Presentation of Gifts, which ends with me, as pastor, saying to all the congregation with my hands outstretched, 'Bienvenidos, people of God. Welcome home,'" Roush said.

And Roush takes that message beyond his sermon.

"If you do a Google search, we make sure that we are optimized on our website. So if you do a search on 'gay-friendly churches' then our church will pop up in San Antonio," Roush said. "It's on our bulletins, (and) any other material about our church, to make sure that there's not any question about whether we're open. So many churches talk about being open and welcoming, but they're not explicit about their inclusion of GLBT folks, so we want to make sure we're very explicit about that." 

The church had participated in pride parades before Roush began as pastor, but by the time he arrived, the congregation had stopped marching. A few years ago, Roush gathered up his congregation, picked up his rainbow banner, and hit the streets once again to bring faith to the community he serves.
                        
"I just think it's really important that there is a faith presence in the community that is supportive," Roush said. "That's one really tangible way to be out and proud about being inclusive of the LGBTQ community."

The Pride Bigger Than Texas Parade and Festival is an official San Antonio Tricentennial event. This year's theme is "Stand Up, Stand Out, Be Counted." The festival will begin at 11 a.m. Saturday at Crockett Park. Admission will be $10 for adults and teens, free for children ages 12 and younger. The parade will begin at 9 p.m.

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