A CHURCH in Georgia has been forced to cancel services because of fear of attacks by hate groups over LGBTQ rights.
The US Episcopal Church’s Mission of St Nino, in Tbilisi, is one of only two churches in Georgia which welcome LGBTQ people, and the only church to offer blessings of same-sex relationships.
Violent clashes broke out in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, last week, when protesters took to the streets to demonstrate against a planned Pride March. The offices of Tbilisi Pride were attacked, rainbow flags were destroyed, and more than 50 people were assaulted, mostly journalists, although a member of the congregation of St Nino’s was also attacked. A TV cameraman later died from his injuries.
A silent rally the next day in protest was also subjected to violent attacks by far-right groups.
A member of the congregation, Nino Bajelidze, said: “On 5 July, when hate groups led by [the] Georgian Orthodox Church had [an] anti-gay protest, they beat 53 journalists and cameramen; also in this day our active parish member was beaten because his friend was wearing pink trousers.
“Last Sunday, we were not able to have [a] service in church because we have fear of hate groups. We plan not to gather in church on the following Sunday. We are looking forward with hope and ask for your prayers.”
The Orthodox Church had called on supporters to gather before the march for public prayer against it. It had demanded the cancellation of the march, saying that it “contains signs of provocation, conflicts with socially recognised moral norms, and aims to legalise grave sin”.
The Prime Minister, Irakli Garibashvili, also spoke out against the march, describing it as “unacceptable for a large segment of Georgian society”.
St Nino’s Mission meets in the Evangelical Baptist church of Georgia’s Peace Cathedral, where it is visited regularly by a priest. It became an official mission of the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe in 2019. A lay worship leader, Thoma Lipartiani, who is involved in Tbilisi Pride, said that it felt unsafe for him to go outdoors, and that the police had advised him to cancel services.
The Bishop-in-Charge of the Convocation, the Rt Revd Mark Edington, told the Episcopal News Service that he had contacted the United States ambassador in Tbilisi and received “a good response”, and that he and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Revd Michael Curry, had written a letter to St Nino’s “to let them know that the Church stands with them”.
Bishop Edington said that his goal was to support the congregation without drawing further attention to them in Tbilisi, which could make them even more vulnerable; but he said that the wider Episcopal Church should know about St Nino’s and what was happening to them.
“They’re a really a remarkable and faithful group of people,” Bishop Edington said. “I’m glad that they’re there.”