Monday, March 12, 2007

Flying the Rainbow Flag

From the Rector of St. Thomas Parish, Newark, Delaware

To the gay and lesbian members of St. Thomas's Parish, to your families and friends, to all those who love you,

This afternoon I presided at my last Vestry meeting as Rector of St. Thomas's. There is much to do in the parish and the next several months will be exciting and very important to our parish's future.

It is also a hard time in the life of the Episcopal Church, nationally and internationally in the form of the Anglican Communion. As you all know, several Anglican Churches primarily in the Global South have been extremely critical of the Episcopal Church's open and progressive inclusion of everyone in the leadership and membership of the Episcopal Church. In particular, gay and lesbian Christians have been targeted for criticism and exclusion. Women in holy orders, particularly women bishops have also been shunned and demonized. Our new Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori has gracefully and with wonderful calmness met with her colleagues from around the world and been greeted by a refusal to share Holy Communion with her.

The Bishop of Pittsburgh, my immediate predecessor as Rector of St. Thomas's Parish is actively leading a movement to take his Diocese out of the Episcopal Church and to declare himself the only Righteous One, the new American Pope. Bishop Duncan did many good things when he was at St. Thomas's. He also left behind many wounded people that God has mostly healed these past 13 years I have been with you. I know I'm not telling you anything you don't know.

The other day I met with the clergy of the Diocese of Delaware. I talked to Dean Bill Lane of our Cathedral of St. John. I naively
remarked to him how nice it was to be in Delaware. We are almost always caring of each other. We haven't had the awful congregational splits that other dioceses have had over the issue of including gay and lesbian Christians as absolutely full and equal members of all of our churches. Delaware has been a place where this discussion has been going on for forty years! Each bishop since Bishop Clark has engaged all of us in trying to understand the wonders of human beings, all made in the image of God... some heterosexual in orientation, some homosexual in orientation, and some somewhere in the middle (whether we acknowledge it or not). I said to Bill that I was happy that I didn't need to talk about THE ISSUE all of the time. At least at St. Thomas's, we all got along whether we agreed with each other about everything or not. Our several coupled gay and lesbian members have been accepted in all parts of the parish life.

But then Bill shared with me something that I know you know and of which I was reminded. Gay and lesbian Episcopalians in Delaware, their families and friends, all those who love them are SCARED. It would seem that there are folks in the United States and in the Episcopal Church (even in Delaware) who would exclude, shun, ostracize, and hurt you. Just because it isn't always being talked about doesn't mean that it isn't just under the surface. Everything that we have tried to teach and tried to live is being threatened by this movement of hate and judgment. Even in Delaware.

You are members of St. Thomas's. You are members of St. Thomas's who have gay children. You are teenagers at St. Thomas's who are working out who God has made you to be and are being forced to hide yourself and pretend. (Utah, my old home-state, has one of the highest teenage suicide rate in the country. Many if not most of these tragic deaths are of gay teenagers who hear nothing but condemnation and judgment... in church even... in church mostly.)

So what am I going to do about all of this as I head into the last five weeks of my time as your Rector? First, I beg your forgiveness for not being more prophetic all along. I have tried to teach appropriately and I have regularly included the obligation that we be inclusive and welcoming to everyone in my sermons and in my life...
but probably not enough.

As the result of the special challenge the Primates of the Anglican Communion have placed on the Episcopal Church and given the fact that our Bishops will be meeting in a couple of weeks to fashion a response, and given the fact that the Duncanite portion of the American Episcopal Church is acting like an animal that smells blood, I need to do more.

Later this week, I will place a rainbow flag in the church sign on the side of St. Thomas's Parish. On it I will write the words, "St. Thomas's strives to be a safe and inclusive house of worship that welcomes everyone as Children of God and values everyone's ministry in the Church and in the World.

I can't determine the criteria St. Thomas's Parish will use in choosing the next Rector and I realize by this action, I will have
entered the conversation that will have to take place before my successor is named. Maybe I have even made it mandatory. I want you to know that so far as I have any authority left, St. Thomas's will be welcoming, inclusive, and supportive of everyone's journey. And I pray that our parish will be seen as on God's side in this struggle.

Faithfully in Christ,

Canon Thom Jensen, Rector
St. Thomas Parish
Newark, Delaware

posted by permission

3 comments:

Thom said...
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Thom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thom said...

Dear Ann, thanks for posting this. I have had some good response to this small effort to right some wrongs at my parish. I anticipate a very good conversation about the power of symbols. God bless Integrity as we live through this hard time in our church... Thom Jensen

P.S. I can be reached at:
thomjensen at gmail.com.