Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Last Sunday, ME in NY...this Sunday, Gay Ordinations in Presbyterian Church

Integrity USA applauds our brothers and sisters in the Presbyterian Church as they enter "a new era of equality"

From HuffPost

An historic change will take place in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on Sunday when a measure takes effect allowing openly gay men and women in same-sex relationships to be ordained as clergy.

The change, which was approved by a majority of the church's regional bodies in May after contentious debate in the 2.8-million member denomination, is being marked by a day of prayer at dozens of churches.

"We are entering a new era of equality," said Michael Adee, the executive director of More Light Presbyterians, a Minnesota-based church group that has pushed to allow openly gay clergy. "Across this country members of welcoming and affirming congregations and ministries are telling the stories of faithful candidates who can now be considered for ordination."

The new rules, which also apply to elders and deacons, do not require churches to ordain gay candidates, but they remove barriers to their ordination that were written into the church's constitution. The old text of the church's Book of Order banned non-celibate clergy who did not live "within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman." That prohibition was added in 1997.

The new Book of Order does not mention gay clergy, but it removes a requirement of chastity for non-married clergy. It places more emphasis on character traits such as a "candidate's calling, gifts, preparation, and suitability" and presbyteries' powers in picking ministers.

Pro-gay clergy advocates said that they don't expect any ordinations to happen Sunday, as the change is a technical one and Presbyterian seminarians are traditionally ordained once they find employment. But Adee said he knew of several closeted gay clergy who are planning on coming out because of the new rules.

"Presbyterians are buzzing everywhere around the country," said Paul Mowry, a 49-year-old gay seminarian from New York City who will likely be one of the first gay clergy ordained after the measure's passage. Mowry, who comes from a long line of Presbyterian ministers, said he had wanted to be a minister since childhood but put those aspirations on hold after coming out of the closet in high school. He left the banking industry in 2005 to become a seminarian and is currently applying for ministry positions.

Read the rest of the story here.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Say "Thank You" to bishops leading the way on marriage equality!

Tomorrow when civil marriage equality comes to the State of New York four New York Bishops are leading the way on marriage equality by authorizing the clergy in their dioceses to both bless and solemnize same-sex marriages.

Pictured left, those bishops are:

Adams (Central New York)
Franklin (Western New York) Provenzano (Long Island)
Singh (Rochester)

If you're a "Facebook person" go to the "THANK YOU" page set up here to say thank you to these prophetic leaders.

If not -- or in addition -- please do consider an email or snail mail thank you note to give thanks for their witness for equality and pray that others might go and do likewise! Click on the links above for email addresses or visit the diocese websites for snail mail. Either way, make your voice heard and make your mother proud by sending a thank you note today!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Let’s Give Thanks for All We Have Achieved – and for What Will Be!

Max Niedzwiecki, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Integrity USA

Integrity USA publishes its 2010 Annual Report

July is a month of “firsts” for Integrity and all of us who think the Episcopal Church and society need to be better at welcoming all of God’s children:

In July of 2009, General Convention opened the door wider for Episcopalians in loving same-gender unions, and directed the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to gather resources for use throughout the Church. General Convention 2009 also finally removed the ban on openly LGBT bishops, paving the way for the Rev. Mary Glasspool’s consecration as Bishop Suffragan in the Diocese of Los Angeles in May of 2010.

This July we mark more “firsts”: We’re seeing the arrival of civil marriage equality in New York State, and the blessing of those marriages in most of the state’s dioceses.

On a humbler note – but still significantly – July 2011 brings the publication of Integrity’s first Annual Report, covering the year 2010. Download the report today  to learn about what we achieved last year to make “all the sacraments for all the baptized” a reality in dioceses and parishes throughout the country, advocate for justice in the wider society, and prepare for a strong showing at General Convention 2012.

At the next General Convention – in July 2012 – with God’s help, we will achieve the ratification of the Standing Commission’s resources for blessing relationships, so that they will be approved for use nationally. We will also push for Episcopal Church to extend a fuller welcome to Christians who happen to be transgender. And we will advocate for many other dimensions of equality, as we have done since 1974.

Integrity needs your support to continue to make July a month of “firsts” for inclusion and justice. As we luanch our campaign to General Convention 2012 in Indianapolis, as we continue to advocate for human rights, and as we resource  every diocese and parish to become more welcoming to all of God’s children – we hope you will join our team.

You can do that in two ways: Become an Integrity Volunteer. Most of Integrity’s work is one by volunteers. Write to us at info@integrityusa.org, to see how you can help.

Second, make a special, tax-deductible donation to Integrity in honor of all that we have achieved and – more importantly – in solidarity for all that we still need to achieve. You will  receive an appeal from Integrity in the mail over the next week. Please give generously.. Or make your donation online today
Thank you!

Getting Ducks in a Row for Marriage Equality in New York!

(A little Integrity Levity ... courtesy All Saints Church in Pasadena!)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Bishop Singh Opens Doors for Couples in the Diocese of Rochester

Episcopal Diocese of Rochester

July 21, 2011

Statement from The Rt. Rev. Prince G. Singh, Bishop of Rochester,

and the Task Force on Marriage Equality

As we approach the implementation of the Marriage Equality Act, we rejoice in the extension of civil rights to same-sex couples in New York. We believe this extension to be fully consonant with the Good News of God in Jesus Christ proclaimed by the church.

This extension of marriage equality follows quite naturally with the history of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester, which has tirelessly promoted the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in the life of the church, including blessing their relationships as a pastoral response in many parish contexts, for almost forty years. While we recognize that there are differing opinions, even within our own church, we want to clear that these differences do not break the fellowship by which we are bound together. Let us constantly seek reconciliation and act in ways that uphold both our convictions and one another's dignity.

After careful discernment and consultation, we recommend to our parish clergy that they proceed with fully welcoming all couples who seek to enter the marriage covenant of fidelity, mutuality and service. We encourage the celebration and blessing of all marriages in accordance with congregational guidelines. In doing so, we uphold the Episcopal Church's 2009 General Convention resolution (C056) that allows bishops to provide a "generous pastoral response" in those jurisdictions which allow for equal marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships. However, as with current canon law, presiding at any marriage is at the discretion of clergy.

It will take some time for the language of both and the Canons of the Episcopal Church to catch up to this new reality. In the meantime, the Bishop's office will be a resource for those seeking to celebrate and bless marriage with appropriate rites and careful preparation. We encourage clergy to do whatever work of formation and discernment necessary, in order to create consensus, as much as possible, before moving forward. Further guidelines for the clergy will be forthcoming; this matter will be a topic of a clergy gathering on September 25.

May God bless us as we move forward in the spread of the freedom for which Christ sets us free (Galatians 5:1), and may God bless all couples who are seeking to celebrate their commitment and ask the blessing of God on it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Episcopalians March in Rochester, NY Pride Parade

John Clinton Bradley

ROCHESTER NY—Two dozen Episcopalians shared God’s inclusive love with the LGBT community during this city’s pride parade on Saturday, July 16th. Oasis Rochester, which is the LGBT ministry of the Diocese of Rochester, invited parishioners from seven counties to march in the parade.

The Rev. Kit Tobin, Integrity’s coordinator in the Diocese of Rochester, was one of the key organizers of the Episcopal witness. Several members of Dignity/Integrity-Rochester participated.

Holy Eucharist was celebrated on the street just before the parade started. The Rev. Deborah Duguid-May, priest-in-charge of Trinity Episcopal Church in Greece NY, presided and preached. A number of non-Episcopalians took part in the service.

Bishop Prince Singh, who was an outspoken advocate for the civil marriage equality bill that recently passed in the State of New York, marched in the parade along with his wife and youngest son.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Integrity USA Responds to NY TImes 9/18 Article "Bishops Split on Gay Weddings"

Yesterday, the New York Times published an article titled True to Episcopal Church’s Past, Bishops Split on Gay Weddings by Shaila Dewan which said in part,

The Episcopal Church’s rules define marriage as a “union of a man and a woman” but also say the clergy must “conform to the laws of the state” governing marriage. In 2009, the denomination approved a resolution saying that “bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this church.”

But New York State’s bishops differ over just what a “generous pastoral response” means, and even the bishops most supportive of gay rights are struggling to balance their desire to sanctify the relationships of all of their parishioners with their reluctance to further alienate conservative Anglicans in Africa and even the United States.

The bishops of the Long Island and Central New York Dioceses have authorized priests to preside at same-sex weddings; the bishop of the New York Diocese (which includes three of the city’s five boroughs) is allowing them to bless but not officiate at such rites; the bishop of the Albany Diocese is barring any involvement by priests; and the bishops of the Rochester and Western New York Dioceses remain undeclared. Read the entire article here.

This is Integrity USA's response to the Times article.

Integrity USA is gratified to see a thorough and thoughtful feature on the Episcopal Church's response on Marriage Equality in New York in yesterday’s New York Times. It provides an accurate look as to where the Episcopal Church “is” on marriage equality – and it also offers a great illustration of the reality that good people of deep faith can be on different places on their faith journey and still support equal protection of civil marriage for same and opposite gender couples. We hope that will be an encouragement to all who work for equality and especially to those who will be testifying on Capitol Hill tomorrow in the Senate hearings on replacing DOMA with the Respect for Marriage Act.

The debate about marriage equality once dominated by religious bigotry and faith-based homophobia has increasingly been balanced by progressive voices of faith stepping up and speaking out, and Integrity is proud of its 35 year history of  moving the Episcopal Church forward as an opinion leader for equality.

And so on Sunday we’ll be celebrating with New Yorkers as marriage equality becomes a reality in their state and we’ll be organizing to support those working to end marriage discrimination by the federal government and looking ahead to our own General Convention next year in Indianapolis. We continue to be convinced that nothing short of the full inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments is good enough for Jesus or for us … and we look forward to the Episcopal Church moving closer to that goal when it meets in July 2012.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Integrity & Episcopal Leaders Quoted in USA Today

In case you missed USA TODAY: Churches debate: May clergy marry gays? , here's a second look.

By Kathy Kmonicek, AP

NEW YORK (AP) — After same-sex marriage becomes legal here on July 24, gay priests with partners in the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island will head to the altar. They have to. Their bishop set a nine-month deadline for them to marry or stop living together.

The Very Rev. Christopher Hofer, right, and his partner of 17 years, Kerry Brady, at Hofer's parish, the Episcopal Church of St. Jude, on Thursday in Wantagh, N.Y., where they plan to wed in August.

Next door, meanwhile, the Episcopal bishop of New York says he also expects gay clergy in committed relationships to wed "in due course." Still, this longtime supporter of gay rights says churches in his diocese are off limits for gay weddings until he receives clearer liturgical guidance from the national denomination.

As more states legalize same-sex marriage, religious groups with ambiguous policies on homosexuality are divided over whether they should allow the ceremonies in local congregations. The decision is especially complex in the mainline Protestant denominations that have yet to fully resolve their disagreements over the Bible and homosexuality.

Many have taken steps toward acceptance of gay ordination and same-gender couples without changing the official definition of marriage in church constitutions and canons. With the exception of the United Church of Christ, which approved gay marriage six years ago, none of the larger mainline churches has a national liturgy for same-sex weddings or even blessing ceremonies.

The result is a patchwork of church policies in states where gays can civilly wed — not only for lay people, but also for gay clergy who want to marry their partners.

"It's a challenge for us," said Tony De La Rosa, administrator of the Presbytery of New York City, a regional body of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). "I think this is a moment of great tumult in the sights of the church."

The New York regional body of the United Methodist Church issued a statement reminding local congregations that the Methodist Book of Discipline bars any celebration of same-gender unions, but encouraged congregants to "extend God's love" to each other, "particularly those with whom we disagree."

Just last Sunday, the Presbyterian Church formally lifted barriers to ordination for gays and lesbians who are not celibate, although individual congregations had been hiring gay pastors and conducting same-sex blessing ceremonies for years.

De La Rosa expects a similar mix of responses to gay marriage laws, even though a minister who conducts a same-gender marriage is at risk of possible disciplinary action by the denomination since the ceremonies are not officially authorized. De La Rosa, who is gay, said he does not plan to wed because the marriage would not be recognized in California, where he and his partner are residents.

New York churches can look for guidance to religious leaders in the five other states where gay marriage is already legal: Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and Iowa, plus the District of Columbia.

The New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which includes four of the five states with gay marriage, issued a document stating that pastors can choose to solemnize same-sex marriages in individual churches that give their approval. The Upstate New York Synod, which oversees Lutheran churches in the Albany area, distributed that document to local leaders ahead of an upcoming discussion on the gay marriage law.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America formally abolished a celibacy requirement for gay and lesbian clergy more than a year ago, but still defines marriage as between one man and one woman.

The Rev. David Preisinger, an assistant to the Upstate New York bishop, said the bishop has indicated that she will not take action against clergy who perform the ceremonies. He said churches in his region have already received several requests for weddings and believes they will take place soon.

"There are some congregations that are very open to it and others that don't want anything to do with it," Preisinger said.

The Episcopal Church blazed a trail, and enraged fellow Anglicans worldwide, in 2003 by consecrating the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. On same-sex marriage, Episcopal dioceses have been guided by a 2009 resolution from the General Convention, the church's top national policy body, that asked for a "generous pastoral response" to gay couples, especially in states with same-sex marriage or civil unions.

However, bishops disagree about what the resolution means. Each has cited the measure when issuing dramatically different policies.

Even before the New York legislature had passed the gay marriage bill last month, Bishop Gladstone Adams, who leads the Syracuse-based Episcopal Diocese of Central New York, had asked the local liturgy committee to draft a rite for same-gender marriage. Adams said individual priests and parishes could decide whether to conduct the ceremonies. He has not yet set a policy on marriage for clergy living with same-gender partners.

In the Diocese of New York, Bishop Mark Sisk said local priests could bless couples who marry elsewhere in a civil ceremony, but could not solemnize the marriages.

"I do not believe that resolution … empowered bishops to authorize clergy to perform such marriages," Sisk wrote in a statement. "Nor do I believe that it is appropriate for clergy to circumvent the vows we have taken by becoming separately licensed by the state to perform such marriages."

His position stunned many Episcopalians. The New York diocese is considered so gay-friendly that the local chapter of the national Episcopal gay advocacy group, Integrity, focuses instead on outreach to other gay and lesbians seeking a religious community, according to Mary O'Shaughnessy, New York City coordinator for the organization.

Sisk's spokesman said the bishop won't move forward without an approved liturgy. Episcopalians are drafting prayers for blessing same-gender couples that advocates hope will be accepted next year by the General Convention.

O'Shaughnessy said she was disappointed by Sisk's decision, but said he has "unequivocally" supported gay and lesbian rights and she understands that he has a broad constituency to consider, including parishes in the diocese that lie outside of Manhattan.

Long Island Episcopal Bishop Lawrence Provenzano said there is nothing "punitive" about the nine-month period he set for clergy to marry their partners — a length of time he said was similar to an academic year. No one will be disciplined for failing to meet the deadline.

Instead, he said he would handle each priest's situation on a case-by-case basis. He noted that some private employers are considering restricting domestic partner benefits to those who are legally married.

"I need to be mindful that the church has always asked people to live in committed monogamous, faithful relationships," Provenzano said. "I won't allow heterosexual clergy to live in a rectory or church housing without the benefit of marriage. When one puts it in that context, then you see how it all begins to make sense."

The Rev. Christopher Hofer, pastor of the Episcopal Church of St. Jude in Wantagh, on Long Island, said he has heard no complaints from other gay or lesbian clergy about the policy. Hofer plans a "big" August wedding in his parish with his partner of 17 years, Kerry Brady. They live in the church rectory, where on a recent evening they waited together for a messenger to deliver their wedding rings.

"I think Bishop Provenzano's statement was not only fair, but beyond generous. It gives people time, acknowledging that there's a financial component involved, and recognizing that some may not choose to live together," Hofer said. "Now that the state is recognizing civil marriage, we as priests, perhaps deacons too, who are in committed relationships, have a choice: We either live what we preach, to become civilly married, or we choose to live apart."

No other Episcopal dioceses in states with same-gender marriage have set an explicit deadline for gay clergy to marry their live-in partners.

Episcopal Bishop John Chane, of the Diocese of Washington, allowed local priests to perform same-sex marriages in parishes that approved the ceremonies, but did not ask clergy to marry or live alone. He said it wouldn't be fair, since so few states recognize the marriages, and state and federal laws like the Defense of Marriage Act are still in effect and "deny the human rights and disrespect the orientation" of gays and lesbians. He said five gay clergy have married in the Diocese of Washington since same-sex marriages started last year.

At St. James Episcopal Church, Fordham, in the Diocese of New York, the Rev. Tobias Haller, plans to wed his male partner of more than three decades at the end of this month, but not in his parish. The couple plans a civil ceremony only.

"We had our church wedding 31 years ago," Haller said, of a private blessing they had received from a rector.

Haller said he understands and accepts Sisk's approach to the issue. The bishop meets with gay and lesbian clergy in the diocese every few months and had previously discussed his hope that they would marry their partners if they had the chance, Haller said.

"It makes sense to me," Haller said. "It's certainly a standard bishops would expect of heterosexual clergy."

Friday, July 15, 2011

Integrity USA Announces New Leadership

The Board of Directors of Integrity USA is pleased to announce the election of two extraordinary leaders to new responsibilities as board members. Elisabeth A. Jacobs of New York City, an experienced Finance Director, has been elected Treasurer and the Reverend Susan McCann, who has served as Chair of Integrity's Stakeholder's Council and is the rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Liberty, Missouri, has been elected Vice President of Local Affairs.

Elisabeth "Lis" Jacobs has been an Episcopalian since 1984. She joined The Church of The Intercession in Harlem in 1989 where she has served as a vestry member, treasurer and warden. She played a key role in reducing Intercession's $538k debt to $35k. She is also a member of the first LGBT Committee appointed in the Episcopal Diocese of New York. Her passion for LGBT issues stems from her passion for civil / human rights. She describes herself as "the product of French - Jewish father and a Choctaw Indian mother" and says that "civil / human rights and happiness were the constant conversation of my childhood. My parents raised my sisters and I to be whatever we wanted to be and have the ability to have whatever everyone else had. That stuck with me."

The Reverend Susan McCann, a valiant straight ally, brings substantial experience to the position of Vice President of Local Affairs, having worked locally to move both her own parish and diocese to take welcoming positions on LGBT inclusion. Her passion for inclusion has not gone unnoticed and today she consults with a neighboring diocese on how to move parishes forward. She is dedicated to Integrity's local work and looks forward to the challenge of turning our national victories into local realities.

The Integrity Board met in Pasadena, California last month and left that meeting both “energized and strategized” to move forward to General Convention 2012 in Indianapolis and beyond. “We are blessed to have an excellent leadership team now fully in place as we work to achieve the goal of a national rite for blessing same-gender relationships and to continue to work for marriage equality, transgender equity and the full inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments,” said the Rev. Caro Hall, President of the Board.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

What Integrity USA Can Learn From the Casey Anthony Trial

by Louise Brooks, Director of Communications

Time Magazine dubbed it "the social media trial of the century."

If, by any chance you've managed to miss the media blitz, Casey Anthony is a young mother put on trial for the murder of her daughter in a case compared to the high-profile courtroom dramas of O.J. Simpson and the Menendez brothers. The Anthony Trial -- if there were any doubts before -- became a full-fledged national legal spectacle last week after outrage erupted over the jury's decision to acquit her on charges she killed her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, with chloroform and duct tape. It was a sad story from beginning to end and there were truly no winners in either the trial or in the verdict. But there were some learnings.

The use of cell phones and social media were huge players in  bringing this case to the forefront of national attention. Within a minute of the verdict, there were hundreds of thousands of posts on Facebook with comments, some condemning the verdict and some to honor the dead two year old child. "Porch Lights on for Caylee" had over 900,00o "Likes" in literally minutes.

Twitter blazed with righteous indignation over what was widely viewed as a surprise verdict. The case generated untold number of tweets, including from the 9th Judicial Circuit Court itself, where the case was tried. Even celebs tweeted their horror over the "not guilty" decision.

Everybody had an opinion and they let it be known. They became "opinion makers" and their positions were discussed by everyone else who had an opinion. This has never happened before. But it is a sign of the future.

What Integrity can learn from this "social media trail" of the century is that each and every one of us can be an opinion maker as well.

Integrity USA has a Facebook page. Anyone can post to it. Many folks post links to stories they want to share and that's a great start. But consider this: You can also put forth opinions and engage in discussions of topics related to Integrity in particular and to the Episcopal Church in general.

You may want to talk about the changes you'd like to see in your diocese or to ask others to discuss theirs. Or start a dialogue on how about the latest thinking on civil versus religious marriage is influencing the marriage equality movement; the proposed Anglican Covenant; the new Episcopal Church media marketing plan … well, the list goes on and on.

We are increasingly becoming a “multi-platform” culture – with multiple ways to communicate as individuals and organizations. We know that Integrity members and friends can and do make a difference each and every time we step up and speak out. What we learn from the Casey Anthony trial is that we have the tools at our disposal to make our opinions count.

Learning to effectively use social media to make our voices heard is another way to “believe out loud” – to be agents of change in our church and in our culture as we proclaim together the good news of God’s inclusive love.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Church Pension Fund Does The Right Thing!

Changes to Plan Rules Governing Benefits for Same-Gender Married Spouses

At its meeting on June 16, 2011, the Church Pension Fund (CPF) Board of Trustees voted to amend the rules governing retirement benefits for spouses of eligible participants in the Church Pension Fund Clergy Pension Plan (Clergy Plan), the Episcopal Church Lay Employees’ Retirement Plan (Lay DB Plan), and the Church Pension Fund Clergy Post-Retirement Medical Assistance Plan (Medicare Supplement Benefit) to provide parity of benefits for legally-married same-gender spouses. The changes are effective July 1, 2011.

For more specifics on how this applies:, click here.

Another great argument for marriage equality!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

My Country ‘Tis of Thee

As of yesterday I have been an American citizen for ten years. I'm quite proud of that, but as a British native I still feel somewhat ambivalent when it comes to July 4th. Yes, independence and freedom are good, but so are the people of the British Isles! I’m not quite as ready as were our forebears to slough off king/queen and mother country to forge a new reality where all men (sic) are equal.

I think The Episcopal Church (TEC) has been in a similar state of ambivalence when it comes to the Anglican Covenant. But the recently published report of the Standing Commission on Constitution and Canons (SCCC) has changed the whole picture. We are being asked to sign on to an agreement which was basically created because some of the other former British colonies don’t like what we are doing, even though we have followed our own discernment process to the letter. Now the SCCC has declared that it is “of the view that adoption of the current draft Anglican Covenant has the potential to change the constitutional and canonical framework of TEC, particularly with respect to the autonomy of our Church, and the constitutional authority of our General Convention, bishops and dioceses.”


So, if we sign the covenant, we are not just providing a way for the other members of the Anglican Communion to tell us off if we get out of line again, we are actually agreeing to change who we are. Something in that reminds me of what can happen after a family goes into uproar when their favored son comes out. “Yes Mom, I know you’ll disown me if I introduce my boyfriend to your friends. In fact now I know how upset you are I’ll just forget the whole thing and make like I’m straight.”

I don’t think so. It doesn’t work for us to pretend we’re not who God made us to be. It doesn’t work for TEC to pretend it’s something it’s not. Increasingly it seems like signing on to the Covenant would limit our ability to welcome more and more people into the freedom which we find in Christ Jesus. Why would we do that?

Our forebear’s God, to Thee, author of liberty, to Thee we sing;
Long may our church be bright with freedom’s holy light;
Protect us by thy might, great God our King.