Friday, July 27, 2012

TO: South Carolina | FROM: Integrity

An Open Letter to the Bishops of South Carolina and Upper South Carolina:

Dear Bishops:

As an observer in the House of Bishops during General Convention I was puzzled by bishops commenting that there had been inadequate explanation of the terms “gender identity” and “gender expression”. I do not believe this was the experience of most bishops or deputies.

Now, The Living Church has quoted you as saying (Bishop Lawrence) that Resolutions D002 and D019 (which deny discrimination on the basis of gender identity or gender expression) “mark an even further step into incoherency. They open the door to innumerable self-understandings of gender identity and gender expression within the Church; normalizing “transgender,” “bi-sexual,” “questioning,” and still yet to be named — self-understandings of individualized eros. ...” and (Bishop Waldo) “I spoke against this [D002] on the floor of the House of Bishops because of the confusion in church and culture about just what “transgender” and “gender identity” mean. Further, we haven’t even begun a conversion about this in the wider church.”

The discussion in the wider [Episcopal] church was engaged even before the 2009 General Convention. That year, a resolution identical to D002 passed the House of Deputies by a significant majority in a vote by orders. The House of Bishops felt that rather than continue to provide specific protections it would be better to just ban all discrimination. There was insufficient time for the amended resolution to return to the Deputies before the end of Convention.

If by “the wider church’ you mean the Anglican Communion, transgender inclusion is not new news there. There are transgender clergy in the Church of England. The conversation is clearly well under way.

In the month before General Convention, Integrity and TransEpiscopal sent you both (and the deputies from your dioceses) at no cost, a copy of Voices of Witness: Out of the Box, a 28 minute video intended to provide you with information, from the lives and witness of transgender Episcopalians, about the very specific meaning of “gender identity” and ‘gender expression.”

I am sorry if in the busyness of the pre-Convention rush you were unable to take the time to view this important documentary -- or that you were not able to avail yourselves of either of the two screening opportunities to see it during Convention. Out of the Box is currently available on YouTube (where it has garnered over eight thousand views) and Dr. Gary Hall, formerly dean of Seabury Western Seminary, is preparing a study guide to accompany for congregational and community use -- which is in the final editing stages.

Once this is available we will send it to you both, together with another copy of the video, so that you can use this valuable resource in your dioceses. If Integrity or TransEpiscopal can be of any further help as you seek to educate yourselves in order to be able to fully embrace the diversity of God’s children, please do not hesitate to contact us.

The Reverend Dr. Caroline J. A. Hall
President, IntegrityUSA

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

"Voices of Witness: Out of the Box" -- the witness continues!

Just posted to the House of Bishops and Deputies list about OOTB:

“Voices of Witness: Out of the Box” – the documentary produced by IntegrityUSA giving voice to the witness of transgender Episcopalians – continues to give witness post #GC77. Mailed to every bishop and deputy before Indianapolis and screened twice while we were at Convention, the film has just passed the 8000 view milestone on YouTube and continues to receive comments like this one:

Thank you for this amazing video. In my work with the Trans community, individuals that are struggling to find an affirming faith community are incredibly common. The truth is, we do have affirming Churches, affirming faiths, but often people want to hold onto their faith, not change denomination. The answer is not for the individual to change churches, but for churches to change. I appreciate the Episcopal Church for being on the front lines of that change, and boldly so. Claire Swinford.
Stay tuned for a study guide (being written by the Reverend Dr. Gary Hall, erstwhile Dean of Seabury Western and rector of Christ Church, Cranbrook) coming soon for congregations and communities to view and discuss OOTB in the fall!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Integrity Thank You Note Alert!

from the Reverend Canon Susan Russell, Diocese of Los Angeles

The headline reads:
Bishop who leads Pensacola area Episcopal diocese will bless gay unions

Here's the link to the story in the Pensacola paper:
Although the spiritual leader of Pensacola-area Episcopal churches is conflicted, he has decided to authorize blessing same-sex unions. The Rt. Rev. Philip M. Duncan II, bishop of the 63-congregation Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast, stated in a letter to his flock of about 19,000 people: “I will consider each request for blessing individually, and I shall permit it where it has pastoral warrant.”

Duncan’s statement followed a decision by bishops at the Episcopal General Convention in Indianapolis this month to approve rites for gay and lesbian relationships.
Yep. This is Big News. And Bishop Duncan is going to hear about it. And if we're as well brought up as our mothers would like us to be, we're going to make sure he hears from US in thanksgiving for his work and witness on behalf of the Gospel. Here's the note I just sent:
Dear Bishop Duncan,
Just a quick note to add my voice to those applauding your leadership in opening the way for the blessing of same-sex relationships in your diocese. I know all too well that what is routine in Pasadena is revolutionary in Pensacola and I know I speak for countless Episcopalians across the country who see in your actions the “light at the end of the tunnel” in the inclusion wars. As we move forward together into God’s future, may we truly be the church where “all means all” as we proclaim the Good News of God in Christ Jesus to absolutely everybody. Thank you again and may God continue to bless you and your work and witness in the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast.

Blessings, (The Reverend) Susan Russell
All Saints Church
132 North Euclid Avenue
Pasadena CA 91101
Please do consider going and doing likewise. You can email Bishop Duncan here. Seriously. Go do it now. Your mother will be so proud!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Politics and Prophecy: Jon Richardson Reflects on #GC77

With the 77th General Convention behind us, Integrity leaders returned to their regularly scheduled lives -- and in the case of the Reverend Jon Richardson, VP for Nat'l Affairs -- returned to the pulpit. His sermon for the Sunday After #GC77 was entitled "Politics and Prophecy." You'll want to read it all here ... but to get you started, here's a taste:
The Episcopal Church tried to act with integrity at this General Convention. We discussed and we prayed and we discerned, and our leaders acted in the ways in which they felt called. We called for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. We expressed our support for oppressed Palestinians by calling for positive investment in their communities. We clarified our commitment to nondiscrimination in the church by adding gender identity and expression to the explicit categories of nondiscrimination protected by our canon laws. We affirmed the place of gay and lesbian Episcopalians in the church with the approval of liturgies for the blessing of their relationships. We reaffirmed our denominational commitment to anti-racism. And much, much more.

All in all, we tried to live into that delicate balance between power and prophecy. It made me proud to be an Episcopalian.

In each of our lives, we, too, are called to practice that same balancing act. There are degrees to which we’re all capable of wielding power, and degrees to which we’re all capable and speaking prophetic truth. The story of John the Baptist and Herod is an allegory for us of what can happen when that balance is disrupted.

Power can bolster the prophet. Prophets can guide the powerful. But beware of losing that balance - it’s usually at the expense of the prophetic truth-tellers.

I’m grateful that our church seems to take this calling so seriously. My prayer is that each of us, as members of church that works to model this for us, can use our power and our prophecy in ways that bring truth to the world around us.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Let All Who Are Thirsty Come

"Breathe" I told myself. It's the Episcopal Church's triennial General Convention, you'll be surrounded by other faithful people, and you've worked at high tech conferences and convention halls for 25 years. But this was different.

I was volunteering to be the social media dude at Integrity USA.

The first orientation gathering didn't calm me down. The eager staff and volunteers meeting was packed with clergy, seminarians and the discerning. Who was I to be the mouthpiece or at least the e-megaphone for this amazing group of God lovers?

But after a couple of days, we settled down. I sat in committees, tweeted, posted, blogged, facebooked, photographed, webbed, texted, videotaped, video-blogged, sang, and prayed. I broke bread not just with Integrity but with a caring, larger community from a world-wide church. I learned much about the church in continental Europe as well as in our own backyards. I befriended Bishops, cried with transgender clergy, sang with ordinary canons and canons of the ordinary, and was told to go fishing by +Gene. 

We all worked so hard, got tired, then worked harder. And we hunkered down, afraid of the 107F swamp air outside the convention center. I listened and sang to Taizé songs in my room, for I needed to center myself against the flurry, so as to better share Integrity's message with others.

And the message of God's inclusive love wasn't getting sent out there. It already WAS there. I can't express my surprise at the difference between GC 2009 in Anaheim versus Indianapolis. People WANTED to make all mean ALL. And with that, I was humbled by the Holy Spirit as she lifted us higher.

Even more so, I connected more strongly with social media in a way that I hadn't expected. I became a fan of twitter three years ago after the last General Convention. The fact that the General Convention was one of the TOP TRENDING search topics (#GC77) shortly after the passage of A049 on same gender blessings blew me away. We were acting because of God's prodding, and the world was watching, sharing, retweeting. It was humbling.

And on top of all that, I even got to enjoy a few minutes of Bonnie-Ball (tweet or facebook me if you haven't seen the final score).

At a local watering hole on my last night, a waiter expressed surprise that we were having cocktails AND we were at General Convention. Clearly, he didn't know  the Episcopal Church, on several levels. We shared our message with him, and he seemed impressed, pleased, and most curiously, curious. It's that curiosity that I found most powerful, because in the seeking lies the seeds of new awareness, new life, and new followers.

Thank you Integrity, #GC77, and all who build bridges for those who were lost or locked out. I pray that your work evangelizes and helps the discouraged and distraught find justice and equality. 

Let all who are thirsty come, and let all who wish receive the water of life freely. Amen.

by Melvin Soriano
Geeky Volunteer/Choir member/Vestryperson from All Saints Pasadena &

Check out all that we did on:

Thursday, July 12, 2012

I’m Standing Right Here

By Marcia Ledford

I testified about my life experience at the July 8th hearing on resolution A049, the blessing of same gender couples. I followed the eloquent Duke University sophomore, Jonathan York, as the second person to rise in its favor. I was sandwiched between two people who opposed the legislation itself and who clearly opposed any kind of blessing of same-gender couples. The collect read by the chaplain of the committee prior to testimony called for that which is cast down to rise up and for that which is old to be made new. It was mindful of Ecclesiastes, “There is a time to be born and a time to die…”

First, let me say that I embrace a church that allows for respectful dissent to be shared freely before our assembly. Voicing opinion is vital to arriving at a place of right conduct. The person who spoke ahead of me said that we are moving too fast. I couldn’t agree more that we are moving. But it feels like a snail’s pace to me and my partner. Linda and I have been together since 1982. How long would the speaker have us and the millions of our fellow lesbian and gay sisters and brothers wait – people who have stories like ours? How long is enough? What right does she have, by virtue of merely her heterosexuality, to impinge so blithely on our personal experience? It is not like it is a secret that lesbian and gay couples exist and live in loving and committed relationships all over the country, and indeed the world. 

The speaker after me, a woman priest, shocked me with her words. She warned that if we passed A049 that there would be bloodshed in other countries against Christians; therefore we should not endanger their lives — it is too risky a business. I had been seated about 5 feet from her, in flesh and blood. I think she did not hear a single word I had just said about my shared life with Linda of nearly 30 years.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that she is not involved in direct ministry with the endangered Christians she is so concerned about. Violence against LGBT Christians in Uganda is a reality. Homosexuality is a crime in 76 countries. The truth is that Christians are in danger all over the world for various reasons, and while I do not want to endanger anyone, I think this was an act of manipulation and emotional abuse. I thought about what Jesus’ response might be and realized that for the most part, Jesus healed and helped those in his midst, in his immediate presence. There were distance healings, but mostly he responded to immediate needs that were closest to him.

And so, someone feeling threatened resorted to fear-mongering and deflection. She ignored the compelling story unfolding right in front of her face by a woman breathing the same air as she. I wanted to say, “I’m standing right in front of you — I’m right here.” I was in her presence seeking a healing and a rising up, and again LGBT people were cast down by such maneuvering.

What is most halting about this experience is that these same old tactics were used to block the ordination of women in the early 70’s. They were used in the 60’s to derail the African-American civil rights movement, and against the women suffragists led by the intrepid Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. They were employed to quiet the oratory prowess of abolitionist Frederick Douglass.

I stand on the shoulders of these courageous change agents. We all stand on the shoulders of someone who bravely opened a door that had been locked tightly. We are now charged to knock and open doors, so that those who come after us may also rise up and walk through them. And may we come through those doors with the blessings of God Almighty.

Response to the Dissenting "Indianapolis Statement"

Deacon Carolyn Woodall from the Diocese of San Joaquin responds to the Bishops who signed the dissenting Indianapolis Statement.

July 11, 2012

To the Signers of the "Indianapolis Statement,"

Rt. Rev. Sirs,

I have read your statement and I respect your choosing to state your positions. I understand they are strongly held. I wish to state my positions and ask that you respect my choice to do so as my positions are also strongly held.
Rev. Deacon Carolyn Woodall

I am a recently ordained deacon. I am a lawyer, currently working as a Public Defender, almost a cradle Episcopalian, and no spring chicken. I am also transgender. Depending on where I live, A049 may apply to me as well. This gives me a somewhat different perspective on what it means to be a Christian, as well as on being Episcopal clergy.

I very recently took the same oath to which you refer. I took it with a clear conscience and with a firm belief that the relationships of faithful, monogamous, loving same-sex couples are worthy of recognition and blessing by the church. I also believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God and to contain all things necessary to salvation. The sexual intimacy to which you refer, however, presupposes something else - that the relationship must be between a man and a woman so that they may procreate. We all know that procreation was of paramount importance. Yet we will, as a church, perform marriage rites, or blessings of a civil marriage, for couples who are not capable of procreation - be it because of age or medical reasons. We recognize the legitimacy of non-procreative relationships between men and women without qualm. Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation, but it clearly was never intended to contain all things necessary to meet every situation in life for time eternal. Hence we rest our beliefs on Scripture, Tradition and Reason. To do otherwise leaves us crippled as to our ability to respond to changes in attitudes, society, technology and our knowledge of our universe and ourselves.

The Book of Common Prayer does state as you have said - marriage was established in creation and it references a man and a woman. We have, over time, changed the Book of Common Prayer. It is not immutable nor is it Holy Writ. It is written by people for the purpose of setting forth our beliefs and our liturgy. The current BCP even recognizes that priests and bishops might be women. The drafters of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer did not conceive of this. When the 1979 Book of Common Prayer was drafted we had not yet reached the point in our society where same-sex relationships were acknowledged as being anything but short term, promiscuous, and devoid of love. Those who were in loving, long-term, faithful, monogamous relationships knew better, but society did not. Most people believed it to be a voluntary lifestyle, not innate. The concept of innate sexual attraction which was anything other than heterosexual was unknown in the time of Jesus. It was largely unknown until approximately one hundred fifty years ago.

The provisional liturgy does resemble a marriage ceremony, and it should. The relationships being blessed are as wholesome, strong and of a character of holiness as those we consider appropriate for marriage. This liturgy will, in many cases, be used to bless civil marriages between same-sex couples. But it does not take the final step of solemnizing a marriage because it cannot by the laws of most states and the current state of the canons. I pray those will, in time, change.

In your paragraph six you state, "We are committed to the gay and lesbian Christians who are members of our dioceses. Our Baptismal Covenant pledges us to 'respect the dignity of every human being' (BCP, p. 305), and we will continue to journey with them as together we seek to follow Jesus." Forgive my bluntness, but I can not see in what way you are committed to the gay and lesbian Christians who are members of your dioceses. I find myself unable to see how you respect their dignity. Marriage, as you know and understand it, is so very important to you that you are compelled to put your objections in writing. Marriage recognizes the legitimacy of a relationship. Many of those gay and lesbian Christians in your dioceses are in relationships with someone they dearly love and to whom they are faithful. Your statement seems vehemently to say that their relationships, and by implication, they themselves, are not worthy of recognition by the Church and the Church must view them as strangers to each other. Are the needs for love and companionship of the gay and lesbian Christians not worthy of recognition by the church? Are those same gays and lesbians to be considered members of an unworthy class of human being? If this is the case, please just say so rather than insult them in this manner.

Our sexuality is a major part of our identity - both as individuals and as members of the Church. I chair the Commission on Equality in the Diocese of San Joaquin, and it was once suggested to me that people should leave their sexuality at the door when they come to church. The suggestion is, of course, impossible of realization. Those of you who are married come to church as part of a married couple. People know you are married and put the two of you together in their minds. If for some reason any one of you is not serving at the altar then you will probably sit with your wife. Your relationship is accepted and respected and you do not, when you walk in the door, suddenly become a stranger to each other. If you are not willing to treat the relationships of your gay and lesbian members with the same respect and recognition - or as closely as can be done in places where they may not legally marry - then you run the risk of being seen as being committed to the preservation of things as you know and like them. Do these gay and lesbian couples not quite rise to a level of humanity equal to that of a heterosexual couple? Perhaps they rate a bit less respect than heterosexual human beings?

Not so very long ago, at a diaconal ordination, the ordinands were told that the job of a deacon is to be "a holy pain in the ass." I pray I have done my job and presented an alternate perspective on this issue.

The Rev. Dcn. Carolyn Woodall

Blessed Anglicans

by The Rev. Dr. Caroline J.A. Hall
President of Integrity USA

Yesterday afternoon the deputation from South Carolina went home. Not just because they were tired and the Exhibition Hall has been closed and the Convention Center cafes are hardly open, but:
"Due to the actions of General Convention, the South Carolina Deputation has concluded that we cannot continue with business as usual. We all agree that we cannot and will not remain on the floor of the House and act as if all is normal. John Burwell and Lonnie Hamilton have agreed to remain at Convention to monitor further developments and by their presence demonstrate that our action is not to be construed as a departure from the Episcopal Church. Please pray for those of us who will be traveling early and for those who remain."
They didn’t explain why, but most pundits assume that it is in response to the authorization of rites for same-gender blessings. That’s probably correct because their Canon Theologian, Kendal Harmon had this to say about the Same-Sex Blessing decision:
"This General Convention action is unbiblical, unchristian, unanglican and unseemly. It will further wreak havoc among Anglicans, and indeed Christians, in North America and around the world.

"By making this decision, The Episcopal Church moves further away from Jesus Christ and his teaching. It thereby makes it necessary for the diocese of South Carolina to take further decisive and dramatic action to distance itself from this false step.

"We in South Carolina must differentiate to stay loyal to Christ, but also to keep our own parish members and not hinder the mission of Jesus Christ who loves all and transforms all by the power of the Holy Spirit to holiness of life, a holiness which has a clear shape agreed by Christians East and West throughout 20 centuries."

Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall
I am sorry that he sees it that way. It goes without saying that I don’t.

Harmon’s comment on holiness is surprising given the recent admission of Alan Chambers, president of Exodus international, that they cannot “cure” homosexuality after all. If I understand Harmon correctly he is saying that Jesus Christ transforms us to a holiness which is defined by the norms of the last two thousand years of Christianity.  The problem with that statement is that the Holy Spirit hasn’t done that for me. And I know an awful lot of other people who haven’t been transformed into the shape defined by two thousand years of history; twenty centuries that have been wrought with conflict, war and oppression (I’m thinking Crusades, Inquisition, Thirty Years war, slavery).  I have stopped trying to be heterosexual, I have stopped trying to be changed into that restrictive shape of holiness.  Instead I look for the fruits of the Spirit in my life and ministry. And I see them.

So does the Episcopal Church.  “To Set Our Hope on Christ”, an important theological statement written for the Nottingham meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in 2005, says, “we note that members of our Church have begun to discern genuine holiness in the lives of persons of same-sex affection”. How much more so now we have experienced the gifts of ministry in the life and person of two bishops, as well as in the lives of the LGBT people we know and love.

We cannot and will not go back into the cookie-cutter holiness that demands that we conform to the social norms of a bygone era. Wasn’t that why Jesus constantly challenged the Pharisees? Wasn’t that why Paul was so opposed to circumcision and a return to the Jewish law?

In Christ we are free. Free to live in a new way, and free to disagree. I am grateful for a Church that includes both Kendal Harmon and me. We have much to learn from one another. But I have to disagree that blessing same-gender relationships is “unbiblical, unchristian, unanglican and unseemly”.

Harmon knows my position even better than I know his, so I won’t rehearse once again the argument against unbiblical and unchristian. I suspect that “seemly” or “unseemly” is in the eye of the beholder, or at least in the gut of the onlooker.  Recent ethical theory suggests that we often have a gut response to something for which we then construct a rationale. “Seemliness” is surely a matter of the gut – was it seemly for David to dance naked before the ark? Was it seemly for Jesus to overturn the tables of the moneychangers?

But unanglican (sic) I will push back against. The Church of England was born in the middle of social upheaval and political controversy. “Anglicanism” has been contextualized wherever it has gone and has generated new understandings of God, humanity and the work of the Trinity. We are a thoughtful, passionate people. We have major disputes regularly. It is probably more normal for us to be disagreeing than to be peacefully in sync with one another.

There are many Anglicans who agree with our siblings in South Carolina. There are many other Anglicans who agree with me. (Some of them may live in South Carolina and may need the resources Integrity can offer.) There are even more Anglicans who don’t need to take a position. I’m sorry that you “need to differentiate to stay loyal to Christ” but I understand it. “We” also need to differentiate to stay loyal to Christ. We need to differentiate ourselves from those who preach religious oppression, from those who would put LGBTQ people out of the church, those who would put people like me in prison, or even to death. Their voices resonate loudly in the ears of LGBTQ people and their allies.

Our world needs to hear loud and clear that God loves everyone, no exceptions, and that God doesn’t expect or even want, cookie-cutter holiness.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

“TransAction” of Inclusion: Gender Neutral Restroom at GC12

Another “TransAction” of Inclusion:
Gender Neutral Restroom Facility Added at GC 2012

By Marcia Ledford

A “Neutral Gender Bathroom” is located on the way to the Integrity headquarters, aka the Nerve Center. Now my attorney-brain would prefer the sign said, “Gender Neutral Bathroom,” but aside from issues of syntax and semantics, I’m very pleased to see it. This request for such a restroom facility took place too close to the start of the 2009 GC to be able to be fulfilled.  For that reason, several months ago the GC office reached out to TransEpiscopal about making sure such a restroom was designated this year. This is especially important as Resolution D002 (inclusion of transpeople in the ordination discernment process) and D019 (inclusion of transpeople in lay leadership roles) have been passed as Acts of Convention (see IntegriTV Day 6 on for more info on the legislation process). That was a red letter day in the history of our beloved church.

I had some fun photographing this sign. I wanted it to be abstract and strange to look at, because for many, the idea of a range of gender identities and expressions is completely new. I have been interested to see people’s reactions to the sign. Some double-takes are occurring. This is all a bit mysterious to a lot of people. In the House of Bishops, someone asked, “What is gender expression?” It seems that many are grappling with questions and trying to understand. That’s a good thing. As Bishop Gene Robinson preached at the Integrity Eucharist on Monday, the learning curve is great, and much has yet to be done to ensure the full inclusion of transgender people.

It feels unsettling because we are all placed in a box when we are born. I was put in a pink box, and my brother was put in a blue box. He fits his box quite well. He is a male, is masculine and heterosexual, and identifies as a man. I’m female and identify as a woman, but as a lesbian, and I have a more androgynous gender expression. I never wear skirts. I don’t carry a purse. I wear a man’s watch.

The four axes of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and gender expression are all in play for each of us whether we can articulate them formally or not. You can learn more about these concepts by watching a wonderful documentary about the experiences of transpeople in “Out of the Box.” Copies are available from Integrity USA, and it’s on YouTube.

The Gender Neutral Bathroom provides safe space for transpeople because, culturally, our restroom facilities demand a dichotomy of male and female gender/expression. Consequently, such a definition fails to recognize the varying gender identity components of who we are as people. Sexual orientation may or may not be a factor. For example, I have used the women’s restroom all of my life without an issue because I am recognized as a woman and presumed (maybe) to be heterosexual. I do not express “maleness” when in the restroom. In other words, I can “pass” as “normal” or heterosexual. Public restrooms can quickly become hostile places for transpeople if the strict and unstated rules of appearance and conduct are perceived to have been breached.

I have been using this Gender Neutral restroom whenever possible as a show of solidarity with my sisters and brothers in the transgendered community. It hasn’t been easy for me to live in this society as a lesbian, to be sure. But I think that transgender people have a much more difficult experience because gender roles and expression are intrinsically embedded in us from birth.

As a woman, I am constantly assessing the safety of a given location because of the possibility of rape or physical attack such as a mugging. I like the idea of designated safe space for attending to personal matters and applaud the General Convention planners for this vital first step in true inclusion of our transgender people.

Marcia Ledford has worked as a civil rights attorney for 25 years and is an Integrity Volunteer on the Communications Team at GC12. She is a seminarian studying for the Episcopal priesthood.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Episcopal Church Authorizes Same-Sex Blessings

Episcopal Church Authorizes Same-Sex Blessings
INDIANAPOLIS, IN — The Episcopal Church at its 77th General Convention, meeting in Indianapolis, decided today, by a large majority, to authorize a service for same-sex couples. Starting on December 2, 2012, Episcopal clergy, with the agreement of their bishop, will be able to bless same-sex unions using the  provisional liturgy authorized today by the Convention, the Church’s governing body.

Integrity USA has been working for thirty five years towards the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the Church. Same-gender unions have been blessed in Episcopal churches all over the country for decades, but this is the first time a church-wide public service has been agreed. It is a milestone in the journey toward achieving full inclusion, and being able to truly declare that “all means all” in the worship life of the denomination. It will enable Integrity to reach out to LGBT persons who have been rejected by the churches they were raised in, as well as those who were raised without any connection to Christianity.

The new blessing liturgy is not a marriage service. It does not use the language of marriage, but emphasizes the lifelong, monogamous, committed nature of the relationship being blessed. Integrity will continue to work for full marriage equality in The Episcopal Church.  The president of Integrity, The Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall, said “This is a hugely important moment in the history of this church. The Episcopal Church does not have statement of belief other than the ancient creeds. We say that if you want to know what we believe, you can look at the words of our worship. So a liturgy for blessing same-sex relationships brings gay and lesbian couples fully into the life of the Church and proclaims that the Episcopal Church considers that their lives can be holy and blessed by God.”

This permission for same-sex blessings follows the addition of “gender identity and expression” to the non-discrimination laws of The Episcopal Church yesterday. This change makes it unlawful for transgender persons to be excluded from leadership positions, either lay or ordained, based solely on their status as transgender.

For further information, please contact Louise Emerson Brooks, at

It’s Official: Episcopal Church Welcomes Transgender People

It’s Official: Episcopal Church Welcomes Transgender People

July 9 was a historic day for the Episcopal Church as it declared that gender identity and gender expression are not reasons for excluding someone from the discernment process for ordination, nor from any other activity or lay position in the Church.

In 1994, the Episcopal Church expanded its non-discrimination rules to include “sexual orientation,” but it has taken a great deal of patient work from transgender people and their allies to bring the Church to this point. Integrity's President, Caroline Hall explained, “just as the Church began to accept gay and lesbian members and clergy as fellow members of the Church with just as real a relationship with God, so over the past five years, trans-men and -women have become visible. Their ministry among us has been exemplary and they have worked tirelessly to help the Church understand that to be transgender is as valid a human experience and as acceptable to God as to be happily heterosexual.”

A few months before General Convention, Integrity released a new video in the acclaimed “Voices of Witness” series. Called “Out of the Box,” this video tells the story of transgender Episcopalians, both ordained and lay, in their own words. It was sent to all deputies and bishops before the Convention began, but demand has been high. Matt Haines, Integrity Vice-President for Local Affairs, said, “They’ve been going like hotcakes. People really love Out of the Box and want to take it home to share with their friends and parishes.” It is also available on YouTube.

For more information contact:
Louise Brooks, Director of Communications
Integrity USA

Monday, July 9, 2012

Update on A049 by Rev Susan Russell

The resolution (A049) moving the Episcopal Church forward in authorizing the use of liturgies of the blessing of same sex relationships moved out of committee this morning and is headed to the House of Bishops. Considering the testimony from the open hearing held Saturday night and input from committee members, the revised resolution includes an articulation that Canon I.18.4 (stating that no clergy person can be required to preside at a marriage) also applies to the rites being authorized and provides support for the consciences of both those opposed and those supporting this move forward.

It is not a perfect resolution and it is not the end of the journey toward the full inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments. It is, however, a profoundly important step forward on that journey. To reprise my commentary on the work we did in Denver in 2000: It’s not the whole enchilada, but it has enough guacamole for me.

It has both rites and resources to bless, teach and pastor same-sex couples as they come to the church for God’s blessing on their lives together. It has a mandate to the church to continue to explore God at work in those relationships through further theological study. And it provides generous pastoral oversight for both those seeking the Church’s blessing for their relationships and for those still “evolving” on the issue.

I believe it offers a classically Anglican response: moving the Episcopal Church forward while creating as wide a “via media” a place to stand as possible. It give me hope that we can continue to be a church where our unity is not found in uniformity but in charity, compassion and a willingness to embrace differences while striving together to meet the pastoral needs of all God’s beloved family.

My deepest hope is that this legislation will move quickly through our two houses of deliberation and that we will leave Indianapolis with the historic “job well done” of having collected, developed and ADOPTED both theological and liturgical resources for the blessing of same-sex relationships. 

by Rev Susan Russell

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Meeting +Gene Robinson

by Jonathan York
Integrity USA Volunteer at General Convention

I have to be honest – I had an agenda when I met +Gene Robinson. As a young LGBT person of faith, he has been a personal inspiration to me for some time, and I was determined to meet him during my stay at General Convention through the Young Adult Festival I was attending. I had planned how I would introduce myself should I run into him, and I planned to invite him to the "Celebrating Young Adult Ministries" reception the following evening, as many of the young adults attending General Convention had expressed a desire to meet him.

Jonathan York
As fortune would have it, after a day of searching, I finally ran into him on the Exhibit Hall floor. I introduced myself (as I had carefully rehearsed), and began telling him how popular he was with the young adults and how eager many of us had been to meet with him. His reaction was immediate – "Can I? I would love to meet them!" I was blown away by how warm and eager he was to meet me and the rest of the young adults. Finally having the opportunity to meet someone who has been such an inspiration to me, and feeling the incredible welcome which radiated from him, left me reeling for most of the day.

I understand why I have been eager to meet Bishop Robinson, but I have been quite curious as to why so many of the other young adults (LGBT or not) have been as well. For many of the actions we are taking at this Convention, the messages they send are almost as important as the actions themselves. Each Resolution and budget line we pass (or reject) is a declaration of who we are as a Church. +Gene Robinson is such a declaration, and I believe that is why the young adults here at Convention are so eager to meet him.

Robinson is a declaration of the Episcopal Church's insistence that the Spirit of God does not discriminate. He is living proof that Episcopalians throughout the world are beginning to accept their duty to seek and serve the image of Christ in all people – and that is something young people (Episcopalian or not, LGBT or not, American or not) are very excited about; it is something we should all be excited about, and it is something we would do well to remember throughout this Convention.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Gathering on Acts Chapter Eight

by Marcia Ledford

One of the fascinating things about General Convention is the number of side meetings, receptions and gatherings that take place. Some are spontaneous, and some are pre-arranged. I attended a gathering that was organized by Tom Ferguson, Dean of Bexley Hall Episcopal Seminary, Susan Brown Snook, a priest from Arizona, and Scott Gunn of Forward Movement. Prior to the start of the meeting, I asked Susan what the meeting was about, she said she didn’t know, but a study of Acts 8 and discussion would be involved.

Dean Ferguson
Dean Ferguson stressed, “There is no agenda; we are the agenda. It is for those who love this church.” He opened the session with a collect that addressed God as Father, followed by a series of “he-he who he-he,” references to God. He then talked about Anglican Christianity and had a verbal hitch when mentioning Episcopalians. This felt like an afterthought. I wondered what was transpiring.

Ferguson has served the national church as ecumenical officer. He cited motivators for the discussion such as the end of Christendom and globalization. He is a church historian and readily offered that culture has adapted and molded the church while still preserving the essential core of the gospel.

Susan Brown Snook
Susan Brown Snook mentioned that the House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson has called upon us to pray and meditate on behalf of the church. Snook is concerned that the same tired complaints arise that the church is shrinking, has no money, and is aging out of existence. She said that we would read part of Acts 8 that picks up after something bad has just happened. Interestingly, she did not initially mention that it was the persecution and stoning of St. Stephen, first deacon and martyr of the church. 

She also said that the Episcopal Church is not being persecuted. Did she mean it has nothing to do with persecution? The church is involved in addressing persecution through the Millennial Goals, as an example.  Individual members of the church are persecuted every day. I’m assuming her social location is that of a well-educated white woman, and I was trying to give her the benefit of the doubt. I found her statements to be curious but was willing to go with the experiment, at least for a while. 

The passage was about how all the followers scattered, except the apostles, and went out to the people to evangelize in Samaria, of all places, and to heal and to exorcize. And, there was great joy. We broke into small groups to discuss. People mentioned several things about the text that spoke to them:
  • There was an interesting juxtaposition between persecution and yet the description of great joy being present;
  • Persecution is not automatic evidence of wrongdoing;
  • It seems preposterous that the scattering of the church resulted in good things happening;
  • It took great courage to go out despite the persecutions that were led by the powerful Saul of Tarsus;
  • Just because you are afraid does not mean you should not proclaim the gospel;
  • The apostles did not do anything in this passage, the “laity” did;
  • Jerusalem was not the place to be.
Scott Gunn
We were asked to discuss when we personally have felt scattered, and when we have felt joy. For me, that was an easy answer. I’ve felt scattered by the church, closed out, and unloved, because I am a lesbian. I had to the leave the toxicity of a homophobic church to quiet the suicidal thoughts. I feel joy at this convention because TEC is taking historic steps for formal inclusion of LGBT people. The people in my group grew very quiet. Several were from historically conservative areas of the country. There were two supportive smiles, and the rest did not make any eye contact. I immediately started to think this was a grassroots effort of traditional Christians who are really uncomfortable about where TEC is headed, but perhaps feel it is not politically correct to say so overtly. 

To be fair, I have never met the organizers. But when a meeting is called under the auspices of no agenda, I think it is natural to listen for subtleties that would provide some kind of compass. I’m not sure it is possible for a group of human beings to be together without any sense of a purpose of direction. We are not wired that way. Perhaps that is a reason to do it.
However, I was very intrigued about the spontaneity of the moment. Tom, Susan, and Scott conceived of the idea that as Christians we can assemble and listen to the leadings of the Holy Spirit outside of the rubrics of liturgy. This is a marvelous notion, and I would say that the Spirit was present per St. Chrysostom’s prayer, “where two or three are gathered, God is in the midst.” What Spirit was saying was less than clear.

People were asked to state, in one sentence, their dreams for the church. Here are a few:
  • One can’t tell where the world ends and the church begins;
  • The church is not afraid to follow the Holy Spirit;
  • The church honors its past without sacrificing the future;
  • It is ecumenical;
  • It raises the dead;
  • Where people can sing their song;
  • The church is a home for all;
  • It is a church that takes a risk;
  • It says yes much more often than no;
  • Doesn’t say, “We’ve always done it that way;”
  • The average age is not 62;
  • It recognizes idols;
  • It lays its life down for the world rather than focuses on self-preservation;
  • Does mission instead of studying it;
  • There is no “I’m just a lay person” attitude;
  • There are no barriers to disability.
After this sharing, people broke into groups to begin “organizing.” Someone mentioned after that, the mood changed markedly. The emotional tenor scaled back to business as usual. I think it was a fascinating encounter in seeking the Holy Spirits as strangers together who are part of the body of Christ. It seems to me that the better next step would be to take the experience back to the home parish. Part of the frustration is about how over-orchestrated our business model feels at times. It has the ability to squelch our spirituality if we let it. Yes, it is orderly, but sometimes it just bogs down and the message gets lost or truncated.

Instead, like the creatures of habit that we are, we went right back into our default mode of groupings, meetings, and strategizing. There’s a saying, “People want change, but they don’t want to change.” There was some of that going on last night. There were good ideas, but there was also wandering and tacit expressions of feeling lost. Perhaps it is a wilderness time. Change is scary, even when it is the right thing to do. 

Perhaps this was an Acts 2 meeting where we were in fact speaking a common language despite a polyglot of language. There was understated confusion, fear, concern, and lack of direction. Perhaps this assembly will have the greatest impact by just talking about those feelings and sharing the experience of when we all get home.

An Icon for Change

A Conversation with The Rev. Cameron Partridge, Ph.D

Eloquence is something that is difficult to define, but we know it when we hear it. That was Marcia Ledford’s experience yesterday at the legislative hearing of D002. She was very moved by the testimony of Cameron Partridge, and he graciously agreed to an interview. 

The Rev. Cameron Partridge, Ph.D
ML: What was your primary message about trans-inclusion in the discernment process (Resolution D0002)? 
CP: Within The Episcopal Church (TEC), and in other Christian traditions, it is moving for transpeople to see clerics who are also transgender. Many transpeople have had very, very negative experiences with church. My presence as a priest and transman shows the community that our church is not a monolith. This message empowers them.

ML: Does this empowerment extend beyond Christianity, in your opinion?
CP: It does. Groups who are turned off by the church, are agnostic, or are atheist see that difference is more widely embraced, and this is an important message for all of us. Human beings span such a range of expression. Priests can serve as icons of those expressions.

ML: I understand you are teaching. What and where?
CP: I am a Lecturer in Liturgy and Preaching at Harvard Divinity School, where I am also the denominational counselor for Episcopal students. I also serve as the Episcopal Chaplain at Boston University. My area of interest is in early and medieval Christian theology, and in theories of gender and sexuality. 

ML: What was your dissertation about?
CP:  It was awarded out of the Religion, Gender and Culture Program at Harvard Divinity School, and focused on the Byzantine monastic theologian Maximus the Confessor (580-662 CE).  He placed a strong emphasis on the dynamism of difference within unity, and on the transformation of human beings as they grow into their identity in the body of Christ.  He frequently quoted Galatians 3:28: “in Christ there is no Greek or Jew, slave or free, male or female.”

ML: Thanks for joining me today, Cameron.
CP: It was great to talk with you.

Marcia Ledford is a postulant for the Episcopal priesthood from the Diocese of Michigan and civil rights attorney.  She is serving as a volunteer at General Convention with Integrity USA.