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Arlington Street Church wants to be a ‘home for the holidays’ for the LGBTQ community

A Christmas Eve service at Arlington Street Church.Courtesy of Arlington Street Church

For many people, Christmas Eve comes with a set of beloved rituals: passing candles around a church auditorium, singing familiar carols with extended family and neighbors.

But for LGBTQ people, going to a Christmas Eve service can often require compartmentalizing parts of themselves.

Rev. Kim Crawford Harvie, senior minister of Boston’s Arlington Street Church, knows what it’s like to attend a church service and not feel like you fully belong. “I think a lot of queer people go to church because that’s kind of what you do in the holidays — you have this strange homing instinct to go to a candlelight service or a Christmas Eve service,” she said. “But if you’re queer, you don’t bring all of yourself to most of those places.”


“Most of those places, you know, maybe it’s okay if you’re gay, as long as you’re not ‘practicing,’ whatever that means,” she added. “But I think saying: ‘no, we want all of you here, we want you to bring your whole self’ is so important.”

Crawford Harvie has long been an advocate for the LGBTQ community, and is known for performing the first same-sex wedding in a church in the United States in 2004 at Arlington Street Church. “Lesbian is my middle name,” Crawford Harvie joked; she has been legally married to her wife, Kem Morehead, since 2004.

As Arlington Street Church’s senior minister, she has long worked to make the church’s services a safe place for the LGBTQ community. “To me, it really, really matters that everybody, including queer people, feels like they have a home for the holidays. And that can be at Arlington Street Church.” Crawford Harvie explained that her church has long been affirming of LGBTQ people; the church has rung its steeple bells as the Boston Pride March passes by since the very first Pride March in Boston in the 1970s.


Arlington Street Church, which is a member of the Unitarian Universalist Association, has also made outreach to the queer community a part of its programming. The church hosts an annual “celebratory service,” according to its website, on the morning before Boston’s yearly Pride March along with an AIDS Walk in June. It also holds a monthly group called “Gay Men’s Coffee Connections” that provides a space for gay men to discuss their experiences.

The church’s commitment to serving the LGBTQ community is evident in its Christmas Eve programming, where the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus sings holiday carols for the 7 and 9 p.m. services, which include Christian hymns and Unitarian liturgy, though they are open to people of all faiths, according to Crawford Harvie.

Roddy Emley, an Arlington Street Church member serving as an usher at this year’s Christmas Eve service, said the presence of the choir signaled to him that this church was a safe place for him as a gay man. “The Boston Gay Men’s Chorus has sung there for [almost] 40 years,” he explained. “That’s a big deal, for a church to welcome an explicitly queer group to sing. Hearing that reinforced for me — this is a welcoming place.”

Emley explained that it hasn’t always been easy for him to find a church service that’s welcoming to the LGBTQ community. “For me personally, it’s been hard; my extended family is pretty Catholic,” he explained. Emley said he’s “kind of always had the sense of not quite finding a place of home, where I belonged.”


Emley remembers his first service at Arlington Street Church; Crawford Harvie was preaching. “I just remember the first time she said ‘welcome home’ — it was really beautiful,” Emley said. “It definitely felt like a place where I was welcomed and affirmed and loved.”

Crawford Harvie has heard that sentiment from many queer congregants who have passed through her church. “A lot of them have said: ‘I can no longer go home,’” she explained, “either because I’m unwelcome, or because I can’t stomach it.”

That’s why Crawford Harvie works to make sure that “right away, we’re signaling everyone’s welcome here” at the church’s Christmas Eve service. “My deepest conviction is to be sure that no one is alone, who doesn’t want to be alone, for the holidays,” she added.

Joy Ashford can be reached at Follow them on Twitter @joy_ashford.