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Old South Church award recipient’s message of Pride: ‘We get free when we love ourselves’

BOSTON, MA - The rainbow flag flies over Boston during the Pride Week Flag Raising Ceremony at City Hall in Boston, MA on May 31, 2019.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Boston’s historic Old South Church’s Open Door Award on Pride Sunday went to a womanist bishop, a “same gender lovin’” preacher, pastor, activist and pioneer of numerous LGBTQ firsts, including what is believed to be the country’s first all-transgender choir.

Bishop Yvette Flunder took to the virtual pulpit to promote self-pride, self-love and self-acceptance.

Nancy Taylor, who leads the church’s progressive United Church of Christ congregation, introduced Flunder, 65, of San Francisco, as nothing short of “a living legend.”

“Old South Church in Boston honors Bishop Yvette Flunder for her bold ministry, Christian witness, which has been devoted to pushing, prodding, prying, praying, talking, singing and kicking open any doors still closed against LGBTQ persons,” Taylor said.

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In 1991, Flunder founded the United Church of Christ City of Refuge in Oakland, Calif., a spiritual community uniting a gospel ministry with a social one. She serves as senior pastor there. Out of that church sprang The Transcendence Gospel Choir.

In 2000, Flunder founded the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, a trans-denominational coalition of Christian churches, nationally and internationally, seeking to “celebrate and proclaim the radically inclusive love of Jesus Christ.” Flunder is the fellowship’s bishop.

Flunder, whose ministry is built on the precepts of radical inclusion and compassion, has honed her advocacy work on Black lives, queer lives, medical accessibility and eradicating stigma against people with HIV.

When Flunder took to the virtual pulpit Sunday, her voice, certain, smooth and warm, she spoke to the “power of otherness,” embracing and celebrating one’s queerness, one’s differences, one’s self.

“It’s good to be other, my beloved, it is good to be other, it is good, it’s exciting, it’s special, it is powerful, it is needed,” Flunder said. “And if we emerge from this pandemic with anything, let us come out dancing as those who have been othered. Thanks be to God for the exceptional gift of otherness.”

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“Good Morning” greetings and salutations of “Happy Pride” streamed through the online chat from Braintree, Hingham, Gloucester, Cincinnati, and beyond during the presentation.

“Thank you and bless you, Good Bishop for your courage, kindness, and clarity,” wrote one congregant.

“Bishop Flunder — a blessing from God to the world! May their beauty and love forever shine,” wrote another.

As to her “own personal otherness,” Flunder said, “I am known to often sing a gospel song in a strange way.”

She identified, she said, as a “same gender lovin’” female bishop of African, Cherokee, and Irish descent.

“I know full well this queerness was given to me as a gift from God,” Flunder said.

And that was Flunder’s overarching message to all.

“You see, we get free when we love ourselves, when we accept ourselves, when we embrace ourselves, when we know that we are wondrously made, when we declare that we are a designer’s original and one-of-a-kind,” Flunder said.

The church’s Open Door Award, created in 2014, takes its name from a stone carving, words from the Book of Revelation above the portico to the 1875 National Historic Landmark at the corner of Boylston and Dartmouth streets.

“I’m honored, I’m gratified and appreciate you so much for thinking of me,” Flunder said.

Previous recipients of the Open Door award include politicians, journalists, other bishops and pastors, including a Methodist Minister who was defrocked for officiating at his gay son’s wedding and the Rev. Judy Hanlon, of Worcester, founder of Asylum Seekers Ministry, which helps gay people seeking asylum from countries such as Uganda, Kenya ,and Saudi Arabia.

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Tonya Alanez can be reached at tonya.alanez@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @talanez.