Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Rise & Shine: New Integrity Chapter Taking Shape in Tallahassee

Sunrise on Lake Jackson, Tallahassee, FL
PHOTO CREDIT: Stephen Nakatani
Used under Creative Commons License
Some rights reserved
On September 16, I had the privilege of meeting with the Chapter in Formation in Tallahassee, Florida. This meeting was somewhat of a culmination of several email "conversations" and telephone conversations with Jay Schleuning. There were nearly thirty people in the group representing a broad range of ages and ideas, as well as the full spectrum of sexual orientation. And they were enthusiastic about Integrity Tallahassee, LGBTQ issues in the church and society!

The "back story" on this endeavor is not a good one. The previous bishop of Florida forbade Integrity from meeting on any Episcopal property in the Diocese. Dear friends of mine met with him for over a year in an effort to help him understand the need for this ministry, but to no avail. They eventually gave up and ultimately moved away.

The Diocese of Florida is an old one, formed in 1838. The name is a bit misleading; it is mostly the northeastern part of the state, running from Jacksonville on the east to where it abuts the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast on its western end. Its southern boundary abuts the Diocese of Central Florida.  When it was founded, the diocese included the entire state. It remained a single diocese until 1923, when the Diocese of South Florida was created and was subsequently also carved up.

The current Diocese of Florida is in a more conservative area of the state and that is reflected in the church as well. It has taken time for folks to "warm up" to the idea of an Integrity chapter where people are open about their sexual orientation and gender expression/identity.

The present Bishop of Florida, the Rt. Rev. Samuel Johnson Howard, has given his blessing for the creation of an Integrity chapter in Tallahassee (I’m hoping for additional chapters in other parts of the state as well!!) That gives both credence and impetus for the work the new chapter will be doing.

I shared with this gathering a combination of the history of Integrity and my own faith journey within Integrity and The Episcopal Church. Our interaction was entertaining with both humor and seriousness to it. One of the points I made with them is that members of our churches feel they need "permission" to discuss some subjects. We learned this during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Once one of a parish’s clergy spoke about AIDS from the pulpit, it opened the door for the congregation to discuss what had often been very close and personal to them in the form of a child or grandchild or other relative who had AIDS. So when a priest speaks of LGBTQ issues in a positive manner from the pulpit, the entire conversation will change. This hopefully leads to a recognition that the full spectrum of God’s created humanity is included in the baptismal vows of "Will you respect the dignity of every human being? Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?"

Nearly half of those present were members (at large) of Integrity. Once they have been moved from "at large" into Integrity Tallahassee, there will most likely be enough to meet minimum requirements for becoming a full-fledged chapter. The group is already fast at work on getting their bylaws established, electing leadership and the other aspects of moving into chapter status. I wouldn’t be surprised if I don’t get a formal petition to become an Integrity chapter within a month or two if that long.

Let us rejoice that another step has been taken toward the full and equal inclusion of LGBTQ children of God into God’s church.

Bruce Garner is Integrity's Province IV (Southeast) Coordinator.  He has served as our president in the past, and has been a member of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church.

1 comment:

Nancy Mott said...

Wonderful, Bruce. Thank you for your detailed report on this wonderful step in a conservative diocese. I particularly resonate with your observation on the power and importance of hearing the FULL gospel from the pulpit. I often fear that most priests (and bishops) believe their sermons are "successful" only if they generate absolutely no controversy. Not that I think people should be banged over the head with it but when did Jesus hesitate to speak up with his observations on his society?