Sisters meet fundies in the Castro
by Rob Akers
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence made another regular visitation to the Castro last Friday night, August 18, as part of their mission to "spread joy" and confronted a group of Christian fundamentalists that has been gathering on weekend nights for several months in the heart of San Francisco's gay neighborhood.
The confrontation with the Christians was described as "intense" and occurred just after 11 p.m. at Harvey Milk Plaza.
"We heard a small group of fundamentalists had gathered up at Harvey Milk Plaza so we went up to meet them," according to Sister Merry Peter. "When they saw us they started praying in tongues and tried to avoid us. But we came up to them and entered into dialogue."
Sister Mary Timothy Simplicity engaged the leader of the group and tried to help him understand "all are welcome in the community if they are really trying to bring healing and love to people."
But she challenged them all to be honest about their intent and not to try and "save" a community that does not need to be saved from itself. She also challenged them to get to know people they claim to want to help and to listen, humbly and respectfully, to the truth they have to share.
"No one is saved by rejecting the truth of who they are. That was the powerful message we shared with this group," Sister Peter said.
The dialogue between the sisters and the fundamentalists lasted until just before midnight. Prior to the confrontation with the fundies, the Sisters' efforts did not go unnoticed by the hundreds who traverse the district's diverse offering of nightlife.
Following a brief meeting for spiritual purposes at the Rose Garden, the Sisters made their way down Castro to 18th where they visited the "four corners" and stopped and chatted with people along the way.
After first arriving at 18th and Castro, the sisters performed a public ritual known as a "die-in." Each sister silently performed their own death, "taking down to the sidewalk with us all the shame and fear, guilt and lies and secrets that hold back our community," said Sister Peter. "Then you saw us all rise again, celebrating joyfully that we had survived and come back to share the joy and beauty alive in our community. We are trying to work with the energy of that space turning it back into a corner where people meet each other joyfully with hope and love."
Making their way through the streets, the Sisters, clad in their easily-recognizable habits and makeup, offered blessings to all in need. They also collected funds for Soulforce, a national LGBT civil rights program that works to oppose the intolerance of religious fundamentalists and spread the message of equality and respect.
Inspired by traditional Hindu spirituality, the sisters led a "Darshan" or joy procession through the Castro to exorcise all shame, fear, and lies from "our hearts and our community and call forth joy."
The Sisters said that their pilgrimages in the Castro started as a response to the weekly visits by members of the "Go Team," from the House of Prayer for All Nations. Members of that group declined to provide much information when asked during one of their visits to the Castro in June.
"This event started as a response. Now it is an affirmation to raise joy and share love in our neighborhood," according to Sister Peter, who has been a Sister for about 15 years. "We are not looking for them [the fundamentalists]. We respect everyone's opinion. But when they talk about love ... when you push them, they are talking about converting gay people. We have to oppose that kind of behavior here in the Castro."
Sister Peter estimated the group "touched well over 800 people directly and many more who witnessed us moving about."
"This was an intricate event and well done," said John Gallagher, a bystander, of the Sisters' appearance. "They are serious good-deed doers and are truly a San Francisco tradition."
"This seems to me to have been a good cause, but it looks a bit like Halloween to me," said Chris Nurss, another onlooker.
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence will continue their weekly public appearances with another "Joy Procession" through the Castro this Friday, August 25. The event is slated to begin at 9 p.m. at Harvey Milk Plaza.