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Bloomington church hosts drag-themed Pentecost Sunday service

Drag queen Kaelin performs
Lyndsay Jones
Drag queen Kaelin performs at an outdoor brunch drag show at Hope UMC on Sunday, June 5, 2022.

Church, but make it drag.

Pentecost, but celebrate it with Ms. Penny Cost — a drag queen.

Such was Pentecost Sunday at Hope United Methodist Church in Bloomington on Sunday, where a large number of seats were filled, with still even more people tuned into the livestream, for a drag-led service that preceded an outdoor drag show.

It's true that the themed service fell on the first Sunday of Pride Month, and Pentecost, making Ms. Penny Cost extra-relevant. But it certainly was not the first service of its kind at the East Empire Street church.

In fact, it's arguable that what made Sunday's service so special was the fact that it wasn't the first of its kind, nor was it the first time Hope UMC assistant pastor Isaac Simmons donned drag and Ms. Penny Cost preached from the pulpit.

"Phil Vischer (the voice of Bob the Tomato from Veggie Tales) once called Bloomington-Normal the birthplace of drag worship," Simmons said after the service. "I don't know if that's true or not, but I'll take the quote!"

Vischer was among some critics of Simmons' style of ministry a bit more than a year ago, one of the people whose intent was to, at best, question whether drag or anything queer or queer-adjacent had a place in church.

That Hope UMC was as full as it was, and its post-service drag brunch seats nearly all filled, suggests drag, as a ministry of this local church, is working, is appreciated, is accepted.

"I done my vestment of makeup, my feathered, molting (dress) of one color, stole of jewels to craft a work of art for God and for neighbor, " Simmons said from the pulpit. "I am wearing a drag that is, for me, a tangible manifestation of my present reality and queerness. It stands to represent all that I was told I could never be and all that I know God has called me to be. In this, this moment has afforded me with the opportunity to engage the Divine in a way that I have never done before. It makes this formless, boundary-less parent in heaven, personal, relatable, and knowable."

Simmons wasn't the only drag artist there: others included drag queens Kaelin, Chicago's Vivan Dejour, longtime Bloomington-Normal staple Sharon Sharealike and drag king FN EZ.

Another member who was also in drag, Star Lyght, said Sunday's service was emblematic of what, exactly, Hope UMC is in the Bloomington-Normal community. A transwoman, she said there are few spaces in which she could serve in church — a pain that struck extra poignantly for the child of a pastor. At Hope UMC, however, things are different.

"Everyone is welcome here," she said. "A lot of churches will say, 'Oh everyone's welcome,' but they're not, actually. There's fine print. When we say you're welcome, we mean it."

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Lyndsay Jones is a reporter at WGLT. She joined the station in 2021. You can reach her at lljone3@ilstu.edu.
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