Wednesday, June 25, 2014

We Need a Little Christmas

It dawned on me - apropos of nothing - in the days between the Supreme Court rulings on DoMA and Prop-8 and our Pride celebrations here in New York last year that Christmas and the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots are roughly opposite each other on the Earth's orbit.  I liked that idea.  For people who observe them both, there are definite parallels in the emotional and physical build-up that occurs in the weeks prior, with much anticipation and even some anxiety for those of us upon whom others depend for the experience to be a positive one.

Bishop Dietsche on the Episcopal
float at NYC Pride
The similarities grew stronger for those of us in the New York area with the election of a new bishop, the Right Rev. Andrew Dietsche, who bears a striking resemblance to St. Nicholas. He and his wife on the Episcopal float lent an authentic presence to the giant sign behind them proclaiming "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You" given his supportive actions for our community in his first year in the episcopal seat.

Fresh from the news that same-gender couples in New York and other states with marriage equality would soon be eligible for federal benefits, we gathered on the street with some new faces and some who we last saw at the prior year's march, and began our time together in prayer.

And we were in need of a celebration. Our city in recent weeks had seen a rash of violence against gay men, culminating in the death of Mark Carson.  The other diocesan bishop in town (across Fifth Avenue) responded with yet another bulletin insert decrying the advance of marriage equality to same-gender couples.  The wait for the SCOTUS rulings -- though they ultimately ended up in our favor -- did little to settle the nerves. Not to reinforce stereotypes, but I was reminded of the scene in the musical/movie Mame, where a family fallen on hard times scrounges together whatever they can find to make a celebration in the face of adversity.

So we danced, waved, and marched down Fifth Avenue, just as our sisters and brothers in Sacramento, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and Houston (to name a few) bore witness to their own neighbors about the love of God which our church offers.

And then Monday came.  Figuratively, at least, because some march attendees weren't even home yet when the cold reality of the world was thrust at them in the form of a screaming anti-gay tirade on the subway.  The rest of us went back to meetings and spreadsheets, diapers or -- for many of us -- the help wanted section.  And -- like that once-wealthy family who had fallen on hard times --  I wondered what it would take to preserve the feeling of solidarity and power that was so strong just days before.

The answer, if you ask me, lies within all of us.  The way to keep the message that God loves you -- with the gender you claim and the orientation you feel, not the ones the church and society has long said you should -- alive, is to be that message to one another, and to the world. Not once a year, but every day.

We've decided, together, to make the church safe and inviting to all, no exceptions.  Who is going to tell those who haven't heard that news yet, and who are feeling they are without love and without worth?  We can't wait for next year's Pride, because unfortunately some of them won't make it that long.

In parts of the country where this work has been going on a long time, and victories like marriage equality aren't even so new anymore, there's an air of battle fatigue. People have told me, repeatedly, when I raise this issue, that "we marched in that parade, back in the 'eighties!" as if that means the work is done.  Dude, that's great, but someone who was born in the 'eighties didn't see you there.  She needs to see you today.

What I and the leadership of Integrity is asking you to pray on and consider, is how you (No, not her.  You.  Well, her too.  But right now, this is about you.) can be Integrity, right where you are.  It doesn't have to mean going to a chapter social for bad coffee once a month or running for a committee position.  We're inviting you -- here and now -- to blow the doors off that model if it doesn't work for you.  We want to know what you think will work for your parish, for your diocese, for your community, that queer kid you know who thinks all religion is evil.

As we have mentioned in prior posts, we are actively looking to recruit Diocesan Organizers who are connected to what is going on in their area and will work with us to connect with more bishops, congregations and ministry organizations.  We need thoughtful writers to share first-person witness on how LGBT inclusion intersects with their own faith stories.  We need voices representing the church at marriage equality events, protests and rallies.  We need people to simply speak up when people say Christianity and LGBT folks can't or shouldn't mix, and say, "Well, actually...."

Maybe you're already doing these things.  If you are, we want to know about it, so we can tell others the good news.  And we want to know how Integrity can help you do more, reach further, and feel like you're part of a bigger picture.

We've been told -- and we believe -- there are many folks out there who would consider (or reconsider) a church home if they were convincingly told a place exists where they would be truly safe, welcomed and even celebrated.  We know such places exist, because we've seen them.  To bring the two together, thousands on thousands, one at a time, will take the effort of all of us.  We want to know what you're willing to bring to the table.

Are you a current, active Integrity member?  If you have thought about it, used to be.... please prayerfully consider recommitting.  Is your parish connected to either Believe Out Loud, our Parish Partner Program, or both?  Maybe they would be if they knew it was important to you.

These are both annual commitments and we know they slip people's minds, but we need your support and involvement just as much, if not more, today as ever.

Again, the rest is open to discussion.  If this message has touched you even a little, please introduce yourself to your Provincial Coordinator and let them know who you are, where you are, and why this work matters to you. 

We recently published our updated Mission and Vision. In case you missed it, here they are again:

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.
If that sounds like a lot of work, it's because it is.  To make it reality is going to take commitment from a whole lot of us, but it can be done.  The Christmas story sounds pretty far-fetched, too, but somehow, in spite of human nature and great odds, we make it real by being just a little bit kinder to one another every year, if only for a few days.  Like Christmas, the good news message we share at Pride could be extended further, to more people and more places, so that what we know about God's love extends to all genders and orientations and classes and colors, and becomes real to those whom we meet who have been taught to think it was not possible.

All you have to do is believe.

Christian Paolino is the Chair of Integrity's Stakeholders' Council and Diocesan Organizer (Newark). A graduate of William Paterson University and The New School, he blogs at The Verge of Jordan.

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