On Saturday, July 28th, I attended the Harrisburg Pride festival at Riverfront Park in Harrisburg, PA. Harrisburg Pride is one of the largest LGBTQ events in the Susquehanna Valley region, featuring a parade, musical performances, drag shows, vendors, food, and family-oriented activities. The awesome Silent Witness Peacekeepers were on hand to ensure that attendees had a safe, peaceful gathering, and their efforts were duly noted by the Pride Festival of Central Pennsylvania. (More on Silent Witness Peacekeepers here.)
It's been a good year for the festival. In 2011, Harrisburg Pride could not hold its annual parade due to permit issues, so the return of the parade in 2012 was a source of happiness for supporters. Earlier this month, Harrisburg City Council acknowledged the contributions of the Pride Festival of Central Pennsylvania, a positive achievement for the regional LGBTQ community.
The festival was wonderful, and the atmosphere welcoming. Amidst happy couples, families, fabulous drag queens, and cute dogs, it was impossible not to feel cheerful. I salute the man who dressed up in a furry wolf costume for an animal charity -- with the high heat index, the poor guy must have been sweating bullets! Despite a small number of anti-gay protesters at the South Gate, the event was peaceful. Peaceful, however, does not mean free of strange occurrences.
A number of Christian faith healers also came to the festival, and while they did not appear to be promoting anti-gay messages, their antics were unusual. Outside the North Gate, I saw about eight of them laying hands and praying over a homeless man. After their prayers concluded, most of them walked down the street, but a young blond woman took it upon herself to tell some Silent Witness Peacekeepers about the prayer. "His arm started to straighten out! His arm had been bent for years! God loves you," she told the impassive peacekeepers.
Inside the festival, I witnessed another attempted faith healing. At the food vendor section, a young woman on crutches was waiting in line for Chinese food. A bald man approached her and, out of the blue, asked if he could pray for her healing. She consented, and he proceeded to pray for her cerebral palsy to be cured. Afterwards, he asked her if she felt any different, and shared a story about how his friend John had been healed by prayer. Considering that the woman remained on her crutches afterwards, I don't think the prayer had much impact on her health. Later, a friend told me that someone had been going through the festival offering to pray for people, so this was probably not the only attempted faith healing that day.
I regret not asking the prayer targets how they felt about these alleged faith healers. Were they annoyed? Amused? Grateful for the kindness and attention? Did they understand that the purported faith healers intended to pray for them right then and there? I don't know. However, I don't feel that such antics were appropriate in a public setting, no matter how noble the supposed faith healer's intentions. I silently wondered if the supposed faith healers did this at other public gatherings, or specifically targeted Harrisburg Pride for their unusual style of evangelism. If the latter, what was their reasoning?
As a side note, I discovered a Chick tract entitled "A Love Story" inside the festival, which I promptly threw in the trash. I don't know if the purported faith healers had anything to do with the Chick tract, but it was an unusual coincidence.
I plan to keep my eyes peeled for the supposed faith healers at future Harrisburg festivals, and at 2013 Harrisburg Pride. Perhaps I'll have the opportunity to learn more about their affiliation and motivations.