Friday, October 25, 2019 - MILFORD - Under a rainbow of hanging peace cranes, five local churches came together in ecumenical partnership, to hold a heart-opening benefit concert for local LGBTQ+ advocacy group, Milford Pride.
The concert, hosted by First Church's Open and Affirming (ONA) Ministry, starred award winning singer-songwriter Bobby Jo Valentine and raised over $1000 for the grass-roots organization.
Collaborating churches included First United Church of Christ, Mary Taylor Memorial United Methodist Church, Trinity Lutheran Church, United Church of Christ in Devon and Woodmont United Church of Christ.
"We were looking for a way to live into our church's Open and Affirming Covenant by having a benefit for Milford Pride, when we learned that Bobby Jo Valentine was touring New England this Fall," said Jamie Mullen Rude, chair of the ONA Ministry at First Church. "We were so moved by Bobby Jo's music when he performed for the ONA Coalition's National Gathering two years ago. We've been following him ever since."
"So, we booked Bobby Jo for an October Concert and started promoting the show. As we reached out to other churches, they started asking how they could support the event. One by one, things just fell into place."
On hand to help open the event were state senator James Maroney, state representatives Kathy Kennedy and Kim Rose and Milford alderman Bryan Anderson who presented Milford Pride with a Connecticut General Assembly Citation honoring their outstanding service to the community and advocacy for marginalized and at risk youth and adults.
Founded in the summer of 2018, Milford Pride’s mission is to spread visibility, awareness, and education of LGBTQ+ experiences in the Milford community while harboring a safe space for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Non-Binary identifying persons.
In June 2018 Milford Pride collaborated with the city to raise the “Pride Flag” at city hall as Mayor Ben Blake issued an official proclamation recognizing June as Pride Month.
Events that Milford Pride has initiated and/or hosted include Pride Hour at the Milford Library Children's Center, a Stonewall Speakers forum, the Support the Gay Agenda to Save the Earth initiative, a Hawkwood Games meetup, the Hella Gay Holiday Hoedown at the MAC, and a Fiber Crafts meetup.
They have also participated in several other events including the Downtown Farmers' Market, the 2018 Oyster Fest, the Dog and Flea Market, and Pride New Haven's block parties.
"This concert will help us greatly as we further our mission of advocacy," said Sarah O'Brien, president of Milford Pride. "We are so grateful to the churches and other sponsors for their support."
“We have short term goals of a cohesive Pride Week in the summer of 2020 to bring more educational and awareness events to Milford, as well as long term goals of forming more concrete groups for LGBTQ+ teens and adults."
After the award presentation, it was time for the main event – storyteller and singer-songwriter Bobby Jo Valentine, an out gay advocate for equal rights for all, who has been cultivating his unique blend of folk/pop for over a decade.
Softly playing background guitar, Bobby Jo recounts being raised in a church of “strict lines and sharp edges,” coming out, leaving faith behind, then finding a way home, as he leads into this first song, “A Place to Belong.”
For the next 75 minutes Bobby Jo's authentic story-telling and poetic songs held the audience of about 100 on a roller coaster journey, alternating between tears and laughter, lively applause and spellbound silence.
The finale, “Fly,” spins the tale of a ten year old boy - his pain and his sorrow, but more importantly, his hopes and his dreams. As Bobby Jo slows to strum out the final chorus …
But in my dreams I can fly
And I soar and my feet touch the sky
And it seems I can go
Anywhere if I try
And the world's not so dark
When the clouds make it white
If there's no hope, tell me why
In my dreams I can fly.
The audience rises to its feet - the applause, resounding. "Holy cow, he's the real deal," said First Church member, James Sykes, after the show.
A spirited reception followed, downstairs in fellowship hall. Members of the audience getting to know each other while trading stories about those living on the margins and the importance of building truly inclusive communities.
"When did your church come out?" joked Marisol Cummings, peeling back a cupcake. Never underestimate the amount of food that five churches can prepare and consume in a single evening.
At a corner table Bobby Jo engaged with new his new followers as he sold CDs. More laughing, more tears, a lot of hugs. Without a record label, underwritten solely by a growing number of faithful fans, Bobby Jo has produced six albums and sold over 20,000 copies while performing around the globe.
Later in the evening he posted on social media, "An absolutely incredible debut concert in Milford, benefitting the Pride here... and all done by the beautiful communities of faith who are opening their arms to everyone who needs love."
"This is meaningful work and it still is needed. A beautiful ten year old girl who just came out, and her mom supporting her, were in the audience tonight. We hugged, in tears, about the courage it takes to be yourself. Feeling like part of something much bigger tonight, and excited about that."
James Sykes was right. Bobby Jo Valentine is the real deal.
First Church's ONA Ministry and Milford Pride are so grateful to the five Milford churches who came together in ecumenical partnership as well as our business sponsors for underwriting this event!
Local business sponsors included Barrett Outdoor, Brewport, Humanitects, Katt Training and Consulting, Keep-Safe Storage, Marisol Yoga, Milford Photo, Pop's Family Restaurant and The Canvas Patch.
This benefit concert would not have been possible without their support!
Somewhere deep in the heart of everything lies a melody. It speaks to our truest selves, binds us together with the ones we love, and brings out the best part of who we are. Bobby Jo Valentine is a singer/songwriter who chases after this particular kind of music.
He writes songs that travel light, but “grow deeper and deeper with each further listen”, as the music publication Soundtrack to My Day describes.
The poetic nature of his stories and songs has resulted in many notable awards and a growing, supportive, loyal following. Bobby seeks to write music that means something good, and speaks hope into the beautiful, sacred, terrifying, mesmerizing world that we live in.
Bobby has been awarded Song of the Year three times from West Coast Songwriter’s Association, is an out gay advocate for equal rights for all and has performed thousands of events around the globe.
His most recent collections, Fox Eyes, Whale Heart and Maybe Stars, are available everywhere music is offered online.
[ Bobby's Website ]
First United Church of Christ
34 West Main Street
Milford, CT 06460
All are welcome at First Church! As an inclusive community of God's children, we affirm the radical welcome and hospitality of the United Church of Christ; No matter who you are, or where you are on life's journey, you are welcome here!
|Contact Us / Directions|
|News & Events|