Full Court Christians

What a significant week this has been in the life of our country!  From the extradition efforts on Edward Snowden to the repeal of protections of the Voting Rights Act, to the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act to the upholding of Proposition 8 in California.  On the State front there is still inadequate funding for our schools, major attacks on women’s health, and the immediate movement to obstruct full participation of people of color in our democracy.

As Christians, our baptismal covenant requires of us to seek and serve Christ in all people and to respect the dignity of every person.  Our worlds coalesce today as our politicians and jurists put before us stark and nuanced choices about the worth of persons.  How we treat and think about those who differ from us is a sign of God’s presence or absence in the world.

We may not all agree on every policy that comes down the line as Christians.  As followers of Jesus though, we have to insist on respecting every human person and to do the work of our Lord.  Healing, embracing those at the margins, proclaiming freedom, working for wholeness, caring for the widows and orphans and the demon possessed is our ministry.

Today a major step has been taken in our country by the Supreme Court’s striking down of DOMA and Proposition 8.  Full justice has not been achieved.  May we continue as the Church to model dignity and work for it.

We Have Gay Friends…..

There is a difference between generations.  This has been brought home to me this week as St. Stephen’s prepares for our first blessing service for a same sex couple.

Those in our community who were young people when Stonewall happened are pinching themselves at the reality that an Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Texas is actually going to bless a gay couple in a Sunday morning service.  Underneath the awareness is a fear that crazy folks will show up with guns and wreck the day.  Texas Christians can be a mean bunch, in their personal experience.

Others of us who came of age during the heyday of Will and Grace, assume that LGBT folks are a given in our lives.  Of course, our best friend is a gay lawyer.  Yes, my sister and her partner are coming for Thanksgiving together.  It is a great thing to be able to have the Church come along and do the right thing by blessing our friends.

For those of us who are younger still, the designations of sexual orientation are seen, not as novel, but as an enhancement of identity, a rich opportunity to expand our common humanity.  Why would the church need to have a new rite when we are all equal before the Lord?  These folks assume it is a matter of days or months before the Supreme Court strikes down the Defense of Marriage Act and other such silliness.  Marriage is marriage.

There is a world of difference between Stonewall and the striking down of Proposition 8.  As a community of faith, we incorporate folks who embody these experiences and then some.  A common value is that we will trust God and not be afraid.  No change can separate us from the love of God in Christ.  Practically all of the feedback we have received has been positive, affirming our ministry of reconciliation and love.  May we take heart and bear witness with boldness and generosity of spirit to the power of God’s love among us.

Social Change in Our Community

FirePart of our history as a parish has been to be on the cutting edge of social change—whether it was racial integration, the role of women in Church leadership, or the full inclusion of all people in the Church, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  On March 17 our parish will take another step in that tradition.  While not every congregation may be called to offer this expression of God’s inclusive love, this is our vocation at this time.

If God calls the People of God to bear witness in a given time, God provides the voice, the leaders, and the strength.  St. Stephen’s, the Diocese of Texas and the Episcopal Church have nothing to fear from those who disagree with our ministry.  We have everything to lose if we fail to exercise our call because of fear.  We are ready to take this step—even if people picket or disrupt the proceedings.  I really doubt that this will happen, but we have trained leaders who are prepared to address these issues if they arise.

Now, some in our body may be nervous that this momentous event is happening during Lent.  While it is not the custom of our parish to offer marriage during this season, it is always our habit to offer the sacrament of new life on Sundays!  Sundays are always observances of resurrected life and on the 17th we will certainly be honoring God’s action in Jesus of bringing life out of death.

The celebration of Gary and Jeff’s commitment is certainly a momentous event in their lives.  But it is no less in ours.  One of the blessings of this new rite is its insistence that human love is nourished and sustained by and in community.  We are for one another, just as in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself.  We witness to that power, love, and vocation.

For the full Press Release, click here.

Reflection on Diocesan Council – Guest Post by Johnny Rovell

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.”

Same Sex Covenant Retreat

I was so nervous last Friday night as we gathered to offer the first preparation for couples who are going to have their same gender relationships blessed by God and the Church.  I had never done this before.  While I loved working with Gary Adams, Marty Wright, and Julia and Dwight Wolf on the design of the retreat, I was unsure how it would go, what to expect.

What a privilege to be with seven totally different couples as they shared how they met, what has gotten them through rocky patches, what practices sustain their friendship.  That was just the opening ice breaker!  Throughout the weekend we were engaged cognitively, emotionally, and spiritually, sharing stories of love and struggle.  Learning tools to foster intimacy and trust.  Gaining vocabulary to discuss differences and dreams.

Advent is a time of expectation and anticipation.  God is birthing new hope and reality.  It is happening here, among us!

Same Sex Open Forum

I am enjoying the Adult Forum I have been leading this fall, preparing our congregation for offering the blessing of same gender covenants.  It has been fascinating to listen to the different perspectives folks bring to the conversations.  Single straight people, divorced gay people, transgendered folks who aren’t in relationship, young lesbians who are all bring wisdom and insight to the table.

What has surfaced for me is how wrong my assumptions were coming into this process.  I thought that the questions and issues would pretty much mirror those which straight folks bring to marriage.  Instead, I am coming to know that the gift of couples seeking same-gender covenants bring to the Church is a more sophisticated theological dimension.  When we are not talking about biological function or property rights, we are talking about the nature of fruitfulness, fidelity, companionship, the hope of reconciliation.

This Sunday we will be discussing how this rite will be offered at St. Stephen’s and the preparation which will be required.  I hope you bring your perspective and come to join the dialogue at 9:30 a.m. in Pecore Hall.

Joy for GLBT!

oday the House of Bishops voted to authorize the rites of blessing and witnessing lifelong covenants for provisional use.  The vote was 111-41-3 abstentions.  Bishop Andy Doyle voted no, as did Bishop Dena Harrison.  Retired Bishop Wimberly voted no and Bishop High abstained.  Bishop-elect Jeff Fisher had seat, but no vote, since he has not been ordained.

The lay and clergy deputies will vote tomorrow.

Instructions have been given to the deputies not to gloat in the face of the results.  I understand this in the climate of winners and losers in which we live in the United States today.  We offer each other so little grace.

After working for full inclusion for GLBT Christians in the life of our church and in society at large for the 24 years of my ordained ministry, I’ve got to say though; I feel joy!  The stories and memories of so many faithful men and women come flooding into my heart on this day.

I know that there are many Episcopalians who feel sadness and consider this action wrong.  In good conscience, they will not be able to offer these rites or attend them.  I know that as we move forward at St. Stephen’s to offer these blessings, part of our ministry will be to clergy, family members, and others who cannot do so.  Embodying grace and hospitality to all is our call as a congregation, including those with whom we disagree.

Today with rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.