St. Stephen’s is preparing to enter a new stage in our public life. This spring we will begin to offer the blessing of same sex covenants; the first will be announced soon. It is important to realize that this action means that we are modeling for the Diocese and for the city what courage looks like regarding hospitality to LGBT folks, their families, and friends. We must be ready to be bold and welcoming—in other words, who God has called us to be.
Today I share with you a reflection by Johnny Rovell, a new member of St. Stephen’s who was elected to serve as an alternate delegate to our recent Diocesan Council. His experience illustrates why it is essential that our congregation grow in strength and courage. We have a responsibility to embody inclusive values.
I have come to find out that it is a little difficult to be an alternate at Diocesan Council. Along with the fact that you are often separated from other members of your church in a room also set aside for visitors, there is also the frustration of watching things happen governmentally that you have no say in or ability to do anything about. I learned this lesson the hard way while watching our Diocese vote on Canon 43 a measure enacted in an indirect way to essentially prevent openly gay priests who are in relationships from serving in the Diocese of Texas. There was a sneering glee, in my opinion, in the voice of the delegate that put forward the motion to delay any discussion of the measure indefinitely. Yes, that’s right discussion. There was not a vote whether or not to repeal or continue anything, it was simply a vote on whether or not to discuss the language and study it. The Bishop counted votes based on who stood up in agreement with the motion and one by one I witnessed the delegates and clergy from St. Martin’s stand up as well as folks from several other rural congregations. It might seem odd that I would single out the St. Martin’s table, but, I attend Wednesday night services there because it is close to my work. I have accepted Eucharist from each of those priests and each of them knows that I am gay. At the event itself, several of them said hello to me and knew me by name, so when I saw them stand I was hurt.
Since then I have been thinking a lot about the power of witness. As a non-voting delegate, many would question as to why I might waste my time attending when I would have no say. The truth is I was unsure myself at the time. However, though I was unable to vote, I am beginning to understand why I was glad to be there. The concept of witness has a lot of power. People who witness crimes are put into protection because perpetrators know that they have the power to convict them. Muslims believe reciting the Shahada which bears witness to the oneness of God and the uniqueness of Muhammad has the power to make one Muslim. The Gospels tell of Mary Magdalene, one of the most important witnesses in history. In the Gospel of John, she is charged by the newly risen Jesus to tell the disciples that he has risen. She wasn’t part of the process to bring him back, (though that would have been amusing. “Excuse me Jesus, out of bed! Rise and resurrect! Time to finish your salvific work!”). She simply had to bear witness to what she had seen.
If the Bishop had been paying attention when the vote was being confirmed, he would have seen the shoulders of every person under the age of 50 slump. The younger people at the convention were disappointed. We are the future of the diocese and that reaction was the surest sign to me that history will be on the side of those who stand up for GLBT rights in our church. In 30 years I will be 60 and hopefully will be a part of a diocese that has finally gotten over its hang-ups regarding human sexuality. I think that my witness might be more important then. History has a way of blurring details, and people who politic can make rosy the most dismal and damning accounts of events. But I can say, “I was there, I saw when more than half of our Diocese decided to succumb to cowardice and put off the process of equal rights for another year. I saw when people congratulated each other for preventing even the discussion of the unfair canon. I saw when the delegates of St. Stephen’s and others remained in their seats to vote no. And I saw our bishops and other leaders be complicit in prejudice and inequality. Ultimately, I bear witness to a time when our diocese could have become so much better and failed.”