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'All are welcome in this place': Norwich United Church holds Pride service in divided small town

It was a colourful congregation inside Norwich United Church (NUC), in Norwich, Ont. during its second annual Pride service.

“We’re here to support because it's not just about Pride Month, it's about the safety of our communities,” said Elizabeth Quinto, who was attending the service. “It's important that we all come together and promote diversity equity inclusion.”

Songs including the lyrics “All are welcome in this place” were performed during the nearly hour-long service.

The celebration comes six weeks after Norwich Council decided not to fly the pride flag on municipal property during the month of June.

The service also was happening at nearly the same time as the Netherlands Reformed Congregation (NRC) was holding its Sunday reading. The NRC has expressed its opposition to the LGBTQ2S+ community by posting on its website “any form of sexual immorality (including but not limited to homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality, bestiality, incest, fornication, adultery and use of pornography) is sinful and offensive to God.”

“All of a sudden it became a big issue in this town,” said Janice Pow, a pastor at the NUC. “We stood up and it wasn't easy for everybody. But the more you see that you can't be silent against injustice.”

A colourful congregation at Norwich United Church waves pride flags during the Sunday Pride service on June 4, 2023 in Norwich, Ont. (Brent Lale/CTV News London)

With OPP standing by to keep the peace, members of Oxford County Pride (OCP) packed the front pews of NUC.

“Is there a divide here? Absolutely,” said Tammy Murray, president of OCP. “Is there an avenue to bring that together? Hopefully one day. Sometimes we have to dispel myths, and I think this is the journey that we're taking to do so. I have to say I’m really proud of this community for mobilizing.”

After the service, nearly 100 people joined in a solidarity march through the downtown.

“I think it's important for people to understand that human rights is not up for debate,” said Melissa Holden, the organizer of the march. “It's not a negotiation, and everyone's entitled to their rights. But your rights end where mine begin.”

Norwich, Ont. resident Vic Woodcroft leads a “solidarity march” through the downtown on June 4, 2023. (Brent Lale/CTV News London)

Norwich Mayor Jim Palmer, who was the deciding vote in council's decision not to fly the pride flag this month, still has not spoke to the media since the decision.

CTV News London contacted Palmer on Sunday by phone, but when we identified ourselves, he immediately hung up.

“We are taking the town back,” said outspoken resident Vic Woodcroft, who led the march in his scooter. “We're going to take people to task and we're going to make Jim Palmer answer his phone and take accountability. He obviously is ashamed of what he's done, or he would have been picking up his phone by now. And so it's time that we made him understand that we will not stand for this.” Top Stories

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