By Mark E. Vogler
A group of boys tried to steal a “Pride flag” from the lawn of the East Saugus United Methodist Church last Friday (June 9), according to the Pastor Pat Oduor. But a neighbor who lives near the church ran after the youths and retrieved the flag, Pastor Oduor said.
“It’s happened before – multiple times,” said Pastor Oduor, who reported the incident to police this week.
“I suggested to the police that they have a juvenile officer go to the school and have a conversation about ‘Pride.’ We don’t want to get the kids in trouble, but get them to think about what they did,” she said. “Our oldest member, Bill Stewart, said let’s hang the flag in a window so it can’t be taken anymore. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
Meanwhile, members of the church have decided it’s time for a conversation with the community. They’ve scheduled a “Pride Rally” for next Wednesday (June 21) at 6:30 p.m. at the church at 85 Chestnut St. in Saugus.
Pastor Oduor said she’s reached out to several town officials and community leaders, inviting them to attend next week’s rally. She also is calling on the public at large to participate in the rally. “In the wake of an unfortunate incident that transpired in our community, we, East Saugus United Methodist Church, are compelled to reaffirm our unwavering support for the LGBTQIA+ community and denounce all acts of hatred and discrimination,” Rev. Oduor wrote in her invitation to town officials.
“We write this statement not only to address the recent Pride/BLM sign incident that took place at our church, but also to emphasize our commitment to fostering an inclusive and accepting environment for all,” the pastor wrote. “We stand united in our commitment to creating an environment where everyone can be proud of who they are. Together, we can transform this incident into an opportunity for growth and understanding, making Saugus a beacon of acceptance and love. Diversity is strength and we will not allow acts of hatred to divide us.”
Pastor Oduor said the rally “aims to honor and support the LGBTQIA+ community in our 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.
“At the Pride Rally, we will come together as a community to embrace the beautiful mosaic of identities that enrich our town. Whether you identify as LGBTQIA+ or as an ally, your presence will contribute to fostering an environment of love, acceptance, and understanding,” Pastor Oduor wrote in her invitation.
“Together, we can inspire positive change and promote equality in Saugus. The Pride Rally will be a safe space to share stories, make new connections, and learn from one another. It will also be an occasion to express gratitude to the individuals and organizations working tirelessly to support the LGBTQIA+ community,” she said. “Come dressed in your brightest colors, wave your rainbow flags, and let your voices be heard. We encourage you to bring your friends, family, and neighbors along, as this event is open to all who believe in fostering a community that embraces every individual, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Those who are expected to speak at the rally include Retired Bishop Peggy A. Johnson, Interim Bishop for the New England Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, and Rev. Nizzi Digan, incoming Commonwealth East District Superintendent of the United Methodist Church.
Board of Selectmen Chair Anthony Cogliano said he was contacted by Pastor Oduor and plans on speaking at the rally. “Saugus is a welcoming community, and I believe that starts with me,” Cogliano told The Saugus Advocate. “I was proud to help organize, march, and speak at our Black Lives Matter Rally. I worked with Chief Ricciardelli and Rabbi Yosi Lipsker to set up a rally against Anti semitism and went on to set up our first Annual Menorah lighting in front of Town Hall. This event is no different. I support our LGBTQ family and want everyone to know that Saugus is no place for hate.”