Bethany Lutheran College
It is really a daunting task to look at this empty word file and know that I will need to try and find the words to describe this day such that those of you who were not here might have a glimpse of what occurred. I can only promise that I will try my best and use my heart and all the love that I feel right now to explain.
Today was truly the encapsulation of the entire Equality Ride. We laughed, cried, ate, drank, sang, were silent, conversed, dialogued, prayed, were arrested, met many new friends, said goodbye to many others, and basically did it all, and what was more and honestly the most special, today was the only day that we did it all TOGETHER. The East and West buses of the 2007 Equality Ride had only one stop at which both buses, 50+ people in total, collectively participated. This stop was Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minnesota.
The feelings of joy, of completeness, in finally being reunited with the only other group out there who could truly understand what we the West bus had done and were doing, were palpable last night when the East bus joined us at the Ramada Inn in Minneapolis. There were few dry eyes in that room. Each bus had given up half our strength so that we might be able to reach more people, do more good, and spread our message of love more widely in the country, but now that we were together again, at full strength, at the peak of our game, there was NOTHING we could not do.
We all assembled early this morning for the 1 ½ hour bus ride out to Mankato. It was really special watching us load both buses, knowing that today we would be working, dialoguing, and praying with ALL our friends and compatriots. We arrived at Bethany Lutheran College, which unfortunately had made the decision to be closed, silencing, and fearful. We stood vigil, one east Rider, one west Rider, and so on, on two long stretches of sidewalk outside the school gates. We held poster-sized photos of scenes from our travels, both of welcome and of rejection. We stood in solidarity with a common message to the students and administration of Bethany Lutheran, that being: What is the Christian response – love, truth, and peace, or silence and rejection?
But even with the wonder and joy of all being together again, we were blessed by the fact that we did not stand alone as Riders at this vigil. We were joined by supportive community members and students from other local schools, in ones and two, in trickles that became a mighty stretch of humanity, until at 12:10 when we all stepped onto campus, to bring our message of inclusion, we were a sight to see. Our line was long and strong. We covered the large grassy field separating us from the school. There were close to 100 people who stepped in solidarity and love onto that grass at the same time, and this vision is something that I will carry in my heart forever.
We were met and turned away from campus loudly and harshly by police officers. Those few of us holding the 10 poster pictures kept going, walking forward when told to stop. They walked toward the school, toward the students waiting for this message, until they were placed under arrest, then knelt in prayer. The rest of us stood silent watching their bravery as they were taken away in police cruisers, honoring their gift to Bethany, until we collectively began to sing, Go now in peace, go now in peace; may the love of God surround you, everywhere, everywhere, you may go.
And then like a dam breaking, we watched as the Bethany students crossed that same field and came to talk and dialogue with us. There were many clumps of students, Equality Riders and supporters all along the sidewalk. Not every conversation was perfect, not every viewpoint understood and agreed upon, but the dialogue happened. And it was good.
Afterward, we had two amazing meetings, first at Minnesota State University Mankato, and then at a local UCC church. We shared our trip via a slideshow with students at the MSU Mankato Pride Center, and had a wonderful time answering questions, talking about our experiences, and enjoying the company of one another and of our new friends. Then we drove down the hill to the church where we were greeted warmly and served a delicious meal. We then meet together in the chapel for a unique and inspiring church service welcoming us home. Pastors from five different denominations attended to welcome and affirm us. We sang, prayed and loved together. It was a great way to end our Ride, together and among friends.