Queer carol service sends important message to LGBTQ+ folk at Christmas: ‘You’re loved for who you are’

Two carolers with their arms around each other

A queer Christian group is using carol singing to let LGBTQ+ people know they’re loved at Christmas.

Carol singing most often happens in religious environments where anti-LGBTQ+ beliefs are clung to, which can create spaces that are unwelcoming and hostile to queer people. 

For LGBTQ+ Christian group OneBodyOneFaith, the solution was simple: they created Big Queer Carols, “a place people can go to where they won’t have to answer any questions about themselves”.

Luke Dowding, the group’s executive director, wanted to show LGBTQ+ people that there are “some churches – not many – but some who welcome and affirm them”. 

“It’s actually a really joyful occasion”, Dowding tells PinkNews.

“There is space for reflection. It can be a difficult time for people, they’ve had experiences that have been tough for them or they’ve lost people, but generally, it’s a place where people can come and just sing their hearts out, whether they’re any good or not.

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“There’s a real atmosphere of joy and of laughter.”

Big Queer Carols began in London five years ago, but the COVID-19 pandemic made Dowding and his team realise that there was a demand for queer carolling all around the country. They’ve since partnered with different organisations to ensure their offerings are “as diverse as possible” with people from different faiths taking part. 

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“We’ve also made materials available online to local churches who want to host their own service but can’t do it because of resources or time,” Dowding says. 

“They can just take those resources and run it locally at no cost.” 

The response from people who’ve attended Big Queer Carol has been remarkable – they’ve heard from vulnerable LGBTQ+ people who have opened up about the impact their events have had.

“That’s why we keep doing it, it’s because people really appreciate having a space they can come to at Christmas.

“It’s also so people can see that there are churches out there that are willing to put their heads above the parapet and say, ‘You are not only welcome but you are loved for who you are.’”

You always have to be on guard and be willing to defend who you are and who you love.

That’s important because LGBTQ+ people of faith still aren’t receiving as warm a welcome as they deserve in their own congregations. According to Dowding, queer Christians often face questions and criticism about their identity. That can be painful for those who are involved in religion because they want to celebrate their faith.

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“You often have to default to the position of educator and informer. You always have to be on guard and be willing to defend who you are and who you love,” he says.

“It’s really significant to acknowledge that as Christians we believe that there is a story behind the festival. Jesus was born as the most vulnerable baby to find welcome in a hostile world and that’s what we try to offer at Christmas for people who are vulnerable and marginalised.” 

Bringing people together

The group has been amazed by the demand for Big Queer Carols – they’ve heard from queer people who have travelled from overseas to attend, and from families who say singing carols together has helped bring them closer together.

“We had a recent celebration where a parent and their child came,” Dowding says. “They shared that, because of this, the child was now able to talk openly about who they were. That provided an opportunity for them to get closer and to learn more about each other as parent and child in a really loving and caring way.”

Big Queer Carols are obviously aimed at people of faith, but Dowding is keen to point out that everyone is welcome; those who aren’t religious but just like singing can also attend.

“Even if you’re not a Christian, we all know many of the words to these carols. To be able to come into a space where you can just sing them out without any real thought, or without any real faith expression if you don’t want that there to be, and to find that fellowship and that warmth – I think that is the value of what we’re offering at this time of year.” 

Dowding hopes LGBTQ+ people who come to their Big Queer Carol events come away with a sense of belonging, but also a knowledge that they’re loved

“I believe that regardless of the faith you hold or the faith you don’t hold, as an LGBTQ+ person you are loved by God. There are no ifs or buts to that, there are no questions attached to that.”

Big Queer Carols will be hosting more festive events for LGBTQ+ people in December 2023.

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