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Panhandle Pride 2019 interfaith service celebrates, reflects on community stories

By Staff | Jul 5, 2019

Community members read Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s poem, “We are Loved by an Unending Love,” on Saturday morning. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church hosted the first Celebrating Our Stories: An Interfaith Service of Celebration & Blessing for Panhandle Pride on Saturday morning.

About 75 community members attended the service, which was also participated in by several other religious organizations, including Trinity Episcopal Church, St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, St. Agnes Catholic Church, Shepherdstown Friends Meeting, New Street United Methodist Church, New Light Metropolitan Community Church, Christ Reformed United Church of Christ and Candle and Crow Community: A Social Pagan Meetup Group.

“Whoever you are, whoever you love, you’re welcome here,” said SPC Director of Spiritual Formation and Campus Ministry Ethel Hornbeck. “It is said that the distance between two people is a story, so we will have three people tell their stories, about how their lives have been changed.

The event, which was scheduled to precede the beginning of the town’s celebration, featured community members praying and reciting Rabbi Rami Shapiro’s “We are Loved by an Unending Love” and slats’ poem, “Rainbow.” Terry Tucker performed “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on the lap harp, which she also used to accompany the singing of “Turn the World Around” and “Rain Down.”

“This morning, let us sing this song, especially if anyone has ever told you you are anything less than beautiful,” said Than Hitt, before he and Mary Anne Hitt played the guitar and sang “How Could Anyone” for the audience.

Community members exit Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church after the conclusion of the Panhandle Pride 2019 interfaith service. Tabitha Johnston

Towards the end of the program, three Shepherdstown residents — Season Jones, Chris Morehouse and Chris Thatcher — took turns telling their stories to the audience.

“What is one thing that we all want, that we all need — that doesn’t depend upon race, gender or sexual identity? Love,” Jones said.

“Imagine telling that child that ‘no one loves you?’ I was given that message from my stepmom, from the age of four to 11,” Jones said, mentioning that treatment affected Jones for many years to come. “I struggled with my sexuality throughout my 30s.”

While Jones’ struggle was challenging, Thatcher’s journey included multiple suicide attempts.

“At the age of 12, I planned my first attempt at suicide. That was the first of four actualized attempts. My family only knows about the last two — both ending in hospitalizations,” Thatcher said, crying. “I didn’t want to die alone, so I got into therapy. One horrible, long, painful year. I would sit in my car, afraid of going into the grocery store. Five months on hormone transition therapy.

“I had been married here, and felt it was a safe place,” Thatcher said, referring to SPC. “When I came here at the end of that year, I wasn’t just welcomed, I was celebrated.”

For Morehouse, attending the service was an emotional experience.

“Thank you all for being here — it is beautiful. It’s so beautiful, it makes me want to cry,” Morehouse said. “Turn the world around, go in peace and happy Pride!”