A reflection on the election and ordination of a Los Angeles bishop
The Rev. Thomas Squiers
The internet, as far as Episcopalians were concerned, was hot on the day of March 17, as we all awaited news from the Presiding Bishop’s office that Canon Mary Glasspool had completed the consent process. This broke ground for the first lesbian to step into the episcopacy in the American branch of the Anglican Communion.
I remember one week earlier to March 17, receiving an e-mail from an Integrity board member asking if the Diocese of Fort Worth had given consent or not toward Glasspool. Unfortunately, the paperwork got mixed up in the mail and ended up in the offices of the “other” group who left the Episcopal Church in November of 2008. By the time the Fort Worth diocese received the consenting forms, Glasspool had already received the number needed toward approval for elevation. Despite the late submission, Fort Worth was still allowed to participate in the vote. Interestingly enough, from the standing committee three voted YES and two voted no and one was undecided.**
As a member of the Diocese of Fort Worth, I was looking forward to the outcome of the vote from our standing committee. First of all, I feel it would have painted a bigger picture of the future of the diocese where LGBT persons and ministry are concerned. The good news is that the standing committee was allowed to vote according to their conscience, which in former years would have been given a heavy hand by the past leadership. By three voting YES, that tells me that the Diocese of Fort Worth has certainly moved beyond the former years. Just as Mary Glasspool’s election and consecration is a turning point in the Episcopal Church, it is also a vital turning point in the Fort Worth diocese that three people consented to this election.
A few years ago, anyone on the standing committee who even hinted of wanting to support Glasspool would have been told to vote ‘no.” This type of fear and oppression is what has stagnated many in the Christian Church from moving forward. What we are experiencing now in the National Church (and slowly in the Diocese of Fort Worth), though we still have a long way to go, is a movement that has stirred the hearts of many and is releasing others from the bondage which once existed. The prejudices which have seeped into the fabric of the Church is being washed away as the Holy Spirit is (and has been) pointing our stubborn selves in the direction of the healing waters of our Baptismal Covenant.
I believe that this message was heard loud and clear at the 2009 General Convention with the passing of several pro-LGBT resolutions, one of which Canon Glasspool is soon to partake of its after effects. This message is at the heart of the Gospel of Inclusion, the Gospel that was Christ’s message for us…for all. This is a message that exposes us to the Light of God in a way that turns away darkness and allows the green blade to rise. We are the blades of green on this path.
When I was in college in the 90s, I remember the Diocese of Fort Worth talking about the Kuala Lumpur Statement on human sexuality. I remember that each congregation was “encouraged” to sign this statement as an affirmation or statement to LGBTs “You are not welcome here.” It was painful for me, one who has always been deeply in love with the Episcopal Church, to hear this language of exclusion. I can remember the day that the message on this Statement was introduced at the parish I was attending then and the confusion that ran through my mind. Though I was not “out” at the time, I feared even the thought of being gay because I knew my Church did not approve – at least on the local level.
Twenty years later, we are in a different place. The ‘statement’ now is just a historical piece of evidence of fear and hatemongering which once existed to aid as a stepping stone to an egoistic power trip for a group of middle-aged, fuchsia shirt wearing men, many of which have since been deposed by Her Grace for their desire to create schism (the others have either died, retired or resigned altogether). Twenty years later we are advancing the Gospel of Inclusion in ways many never thought was possible. This is a message of hope. This is a message of liberation. This is the message that Jesus the Teacher has been trying to get us to, as St. Benedict says “listen with the ears of our hearts.”
And so we begin to see God working God’s purpose out as the patchwork continues on this quilt of faith in the Church. We see walls which have long divided our family of brothers and sisters crumble – much like the walls of oppression that fell at Jericho, that fell at Auschwitz, that fell at Berlin. We see gay and lesbian Christians, called by God, taking their places at the Altar of Christ, leading the people as we are joined by one common cause: our Baptismal Covenant. A Covenant that is not and shall not be surrounded by walls but held together by the hearts of children, women and men – of yesterday, today and tomorrow. A Covenant that claims each of us worthy to be inheritors of the Kingdom of God and delight in the work of God on this earth, without regard to race, age, disability, expression of gender, sexual orientation, theological expression, nor any other common or not so common means by which we have been divided.
It is by this Covenant that Mary Glasspool has been brought into the Circle, by consent, of the ancient order of bishops “…who carry on the apostolic work of leading, supervising, and uniting the Church.” [BCP, 510] And the important thing is that this work she has been called into in the church has very little to do with her sexual orientation. It is a great accomplishment of the Episcopal Church that we have come this far to recognize people of various sexual orientations, whether straight or gay. It is an even greater accomplishment that the Church recognizes women and men for their talents, what ministries they are called into, and does as Hebrews says, to exhort one another in this spirit.
It is by this accomplishment of the Church that we have much hope in the Diocese of Fort Worth. Opportunities are now open for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Episcopalians to step into leadership roles without fear of retribution. We currently have LGBT individuals in the discernment process for holy orders. Additionally, our current Provisional Bishop, Wallis Ohl, has assigned a committee for the Listening Process which will begin soon in the Diocese – an opportunity to listen to the stories of LGBT Episcopalians and explore how this diocese may seek better ways of inclusion. LGBTs are taking active roles in their churches, serving on vestries, teaching Sunday School, and serving on diocesan committees. All these developments require us to find ways to make new alliances, to work collaboratively with those who are coming from a place of fear, and to offer support and resources to help the work along.
In the New Testament reading for the 5th Sunday of Easter, we heard from St. John’s Revelation where God speaks aloud and says “Behold, I am making all things new.” That which is old is passed away. And I believe that this is what is happening in the Episcopal Church. This is what is happening in the Diocese of Fort Worth. The old ways are behind us, the new ways are here and ahead of us. God is making all things new.
So let us turn then, a family united by this Baptismal Covenant, standing arm in arm as God’s grace is poured out once again on another pilgrim who has made her way along this journey and has found favor in God’s sight. Let us rise among the green and hold our sister high in this fellowship as a cloud of witnesses of the inclusive Gospel of Christ. Let us hold fast to this truth: that Christ’s love is truly for all and bears no exceptions.
The Rev. Thomas Squiers is a Benedictine Priest of the Order of St. Michael, of which he is the Director of the Benedictine Chapter of St. Luke in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, working in conjunction with St. Gregory’s Abbey in Three Rivers, MI, by way of the Confraternity of St. Benedict. He is also the Co-Convener and Chaplain of Integrity Fort Worth and directs the Healing Ministry at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Hurst, TX. He lives in the Midcities of the Fort Worth Metroplex with Jason, his spouse of ten years.
** Corrected from the original post.