Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A New Integrity for a New Church


The Mission of the Holy SpiritThe season of Pentecost is referred to as "the birthday of the church" as we commemorate the Holy Spirit inspiring the disciples to formally begin ministry in Jesus' stead. 

The leadership of Integrity has been exploring some wilderness this past year. We witnessed a sea change of sorts at General Convention last July, when many of the resolutions we supported were passed with comparatively little rancor.  Our interim Executive Director, the Rev. Harry Knox, departed with our blessing to lead the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.  And we dealt with the untimely loss of Communications Director Louise Brooks, who had been for many years the woman "behind the curtain" for Integrity's media and public presence.

We are not immune, either, to the tidal shift occurring within our church and society, which has meant hard questions for many congregations and groups as they struggle to remain relevant and vital in a changing culture.  The model we once followed at the local level, providing discreet spiritual refuge for those who did not yet feel welcomed or safe in the church mainstream, does not resonate with a generation who grew up in a church where discussing -- if not agreeing upon -- issues of sexuality and gender is becoming the norm.  The generation that follows will know no other, thanks be to God.

Integrity Visioning Retreat, Pasadena, Calif., September 2012
In September, we met with a group of these young people, prepared to be told hard truths about the future of our work.  We were pleasantly surprised to discover that they did not in fact think it was time to hang up and go home.  They recognized that achieving a "yes" at the national level is not the same as actually implementing that "yes" across the church.  They are also keenly aware that the majority of LGBT people view the institutional church with trepidation and even scorn, which must be overcome with personal engagement and humility if we are to share the good news with those who have been socialized to believe it is off limits to them.

But they were also clear that the Integrity of tomorrow, much like the church of tomorrow, cannot look like it does today to survive in the long term.  While we still have some traditional chapters who continue to offer worship and programming with an inward focus, we must also be open to new ways of being and thinking as opportunities to minister take shape. This is already happening in:
  • Partnerships with diocesan ministries and other social justice organizations within the church to provide broader educational, social, worship and advocacy programming
  • Collaborating with our peer organizations in multiple denominations as well as secular LGBT partners under the "Believe Out Loud" umbrella to grow the welcoming-church movement 
  • Engaging youth and young adult leaders to represent the church at campus and secular LGBT events like the Creating Change conference
  • Using social media to reach those who are not connected to the church in a traditional way
There is much more that we could be doing.  We are limited only by the amount of people and resources we can bring to bear.  The national leadership is striving to better know the reality at the local level across the church.  To that end, we appointed eight Provincial Coordinators, who will in turn work to identify a Diocesan Organizer in every diocese.  We hope this model will establish reliable and regular two-way communication, allow resource and idea-sharing, and improve our accountability to the whole Church.  These will be the "point people" for Integrity chapter leadership, congregations, bishops and their staffs, and ecumenical and secular partners to engage with Integrity at the local level. If you are passionate about justice and connected to what is going on in your area, please prayerfully consider this role and contact us for more information.

As we "emerged from the desert" knowing much more about ourselves and what we believe Integrity needs to be, we prepared mission and vision statements and a strategic plan to make them reality:

Our Mission

Integrity USA's mission is to inspire and equip the Episcopal Church, its dioceses, congregations, and members to proclaim and embody God’s all-inclusive love for LGBTQ persons and those who love them.

Our Vision

Integrity's vision of its success is that The Episcopal Church thrives as a beacon of love, justice, and compassion, where ALL PEOPLE are equally embraced and empowered.

We are already seeing results.  Hundreds of people have attended Believe Out Loud training opportunities across the country, and are working to bring their congregations into the welcoming-church movement.  We have six chapters in formation or rebirth. We are now in the process of calling a new Executive Director, whose leadership will be the lever to move us forward.  We are excited and joyful to be a part of this moment, and hope the Spirit will inspire you to join us.

Christian Paolino is the Chair of the national Stakeholders' Council of Integrity and the Diocesan Organizer for Newark


Roy Ordway said...

This sounds like a great re-launching of Integrity and a widening of its mission that is relevant,challenging, and forward looking. Good job by all involved!

P.S. Don't forget to update the "Our Mission" statement under the logo in the right column of the blog page.

Christian Paolino said...

Thank you, Roy. We have made the update you suggested.