By Mark E. Vogler
Board of Selectmen Chair Anthony Cogliano assured the small gathering outside East Saugus Methodist Church Wednesday night that Saugus is “a welcoming community.” To back it up, he vowed to have the “Pride flag” raised in front of Town Hall next year. “Let’s make something good out of something bad that happened,” Cogliano said as he stood in the doorway on the front steps of the church joining other selectmen, church members and faith leaders in a show of support for the LGBTQIA+ community just weeks after a group of kids tried to steal a “Pride flag” sign from the church lawn.
Board of Selectmen Vice Chair Debra Panetta read a poem titled “You Are Loved.” The gathering shared prayers, sang songs and watched later as the church’s Board of Trustees Chair, Paul Joyce, reached out a second-floor window of the church to install a “Pride flag” that would be difficult for detractors to reach.
“Diversity is our strength and we will not allow acts of hate to divide us,” Pastor Pat Oduor said, referring to the sign incident which prompted the “Pride Rally” in front of the church.
It would be easy to dismiss the incident as “just boys being boys,” Pastor Oduor noted.
“However, the sign was not really in a position that was easy to get to,” she said.
“Someone would have had to make an intentional effort to climb up the steep lawn and retrieve the sign and I don’t think it was a coincidence that they took the sign during Pride month. That is an intentional act of hatred,” she said.
Leaders of the 200-year-old church organized the rally as a show of support for the LGBTYQIA+ community. LGBTQIA+ is an acronym that stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer/questioning, asexual and more – terms that are used to describe a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
“We welcome and affirm all of God’s children into this faith community regardless of age, race, ethnicity, economic status, gender or sexual orientation,” Pastor Oduor said. “Whoever you are, you are a beloved child of God – at East Saugus UMC everybody is welcome!”
Joining Cogliano and Panetta were Selectmen Jeff Cicolini and Mike Serino, Saugus Police Chief Michael Ricciardelli and State Representative Donald Wong (R-Saugus). Selectman Corrine Riley wasn’t able to attend the rally, but helped to plan it, she said.
There are about 60 members who attend East Saugus United Methodist Church, according to Pastor Oduor. “I always tell my congregation that we are small but mighty. Our church has a history of being an active seeker of social justice going back to the Rev. Sunderland, who was passionate about the abolition of slavery in the 1830s,” she said.
“Today we stand united in our commitment to creating a community where everyone can be proud of who they are,” she said.
Pastor Oduor said she was pleased with the turnout for the Wednesday night rally. “People definitely came from the community,” she said.
“And I love to see our flag flying. Next year, we’ll have a ‘Pride Rally’ at Town Hall,” she said.