Friday, May 30, 2014

HEROs of Houston

S. Wayne Mathis and John Christian Bullit
LaRue, who both testified before the
Houston City Council in favor of the
HERO non-discrimination ordinance
This week the Houston City Council passed the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance. That simple sentence cannot possibly express the emotions that are going through the hearts of so many of us. I was born in Houston and I expect that I will die here as well. In my day to day life, I am never more than an hour away from downtown Houston. The city is in my blood and this week I have never been more PROUD to say that I am from HOUSTON, TEXAS.

The victory over injustice was hard-fought and very emotional. The testimony before the City Council was both heart-rending and frightening. The LGBTQ community and our allies spoke over and over again about the discrimination and hate that occurs on a daily basis. Our folks were willing to bare their souls and risk everything for a chance at equality. Most notably, the transgender community bore the brunt of the opposition’s anger and fear. Most disturbing of the opposition testimony was the number of "Christians" (often ministers) who openly testified that discrimination is justified. They vilified our community with false accusations and lies and could not back up their arguments with facts. They simply preyed on public fear. Attempts were made to make this all about bathrooms and yet, at the end of the last day of testimony, eleven members of council voted YES to equality. The six council members who voted against equality seemed to be voting purely out of reelection fears.

With trembling hands and an unsteady voice, I took my one-minute turn standing up for what I feel is right. Unable to read my notes, I simply spoke from the heart and spoke about (1) God’s Love for ALL, (2)our duty to respect the dignity of every person and (3) Integrity’s mission to take God’s love out into the streets and community.

At the close of my minute, Mayor Anise Parker acknowledged and commended the work of Integrity and stated that Integrity is one of the oldest organizations fighting for the rights of the LGBTQ community. Councilmember Mike Laster then acknowledged and thanked me for my work within the Diocese of Texas. This brought home the fact that none of this work has been done in isolation. My own testimony would not have been possible without the Grace of God and the Love and support that I have received from Integrity. My spiritual peace was found at the altar rail during a Houston Integrity Eucharist. My grand sense of community was formed at the Integrity Eucharist during General Convention and my sense of FAMILY was anchored by the love and acceptance of the TransEpiscopal Eucharist. My activism has been spurred on by my chapter's willingness to allow me the opportunity to lead and the space to take a public stand for justice and equality.

It is important to note that I was not the only Episcopalian testifying. Fellow Episcopalians (both clergy and laity) were in the trenches and were a visible reminder to everyone that we as a church body stand with the oppressed and will do the right thing.

In Texas, we have watched the progress around the country (especially Oregon) and we banked your victories as OUR victories. I know from a Facebook posting of Oregon's Diocesan Organizer Charlene McCreight that you were watching us as well. When she mentioned that she had watched me live, it made me smile and realize that I too was part of the bigger picture. The postings from around the country from my Integrity friends and associates let me know that despite our geographical differences the work of Integrity is universal.

I learned late in the day that some of our local Integrity folks were down on the street carrying signs of support. In light of the angry protesters, this was an act of courage and witness.

I would also like to pause and give thanks to the countless folks who made this moment possible but are no longer here to witness it. Without our trailblazing predecessors, we would not have EQUALITY.

Even with this tremendous VICTORY, we must keep our eyes on the dangers waiting on the horizon. In Houston, it is the threat of a referendum to overturn this hard earned victory. With this threat in mind, we MUST do two things, educate and mobilize.

There is a tremendous opportunity to educate those around us about what it is like to be a member of the LGBTQ community. We must show that LOVE can conquer FEAR. We must show the value of living authentically and we must SHOW the world that gender-neutral restrooms will not signal the end of everything.

We MUST MOBILIZE our efforts and show the LGBTQ community that God loves them and that the Christian faith can rise above bigotry and hate. Our brothers and sisters have been wounded by "the Church" and it is up to us to repair this damage.

Thank you for welcoming me into the fold and showing me that not only do I have a place in God’s kingdom, but that I have a place in the Episcopal Church. Please join me this Pride Season and let folks know that GOD LOVES EACH OF US!!!!!

S. Wayne Mathis is Integrity's Province VII Coordinator and Convener of the Houston chapter.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Integrity Houston invites you to be a HERO

Integrity Houston invites you to be a HERO on May 27th and May 28th at Houston City Hall.

As many of you know, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) has been put off until May 28th.

There will be a prayer vigil on the steps of Houston City Hall on Tuesday May 27th at 7PM. We need everyone to show up and prove to the WORLD that Houston believes in FULL EQUALITY.

On Wednesday, May 28th, the day will start off with a public hearing in the morning. When everyone has been given their one minute to speak, council will debate and vote on the ordinance (likely late in the day or evening).

It is crucial that we let our voices be heard even before city council convenes. Please be a HERO and call and/or email city council members and let them know that you support the Equal Rights Ordinance.

What started as a local issue has now escalated into a struggle for our very right to exist. Our opponents began this escalation by publicly stating that no woman or child will ever be safe in a restroom again. At the same time, they began busing in protesters and have quickly spread their message of lies and fears to even wider audiences.

We need every friend and ally in the country to begin weighing in on this struggle. Even if you do not live in Houston, let Houston City Hall know what this represents to the outside world. Our biggest fear is that even if we win at city hall our opponents will take it to a referendum vote -- a very costly and nasty referendum vote to be sure.

Let us do this for our sake. Let us do this for those too afraid to speak out. Let us do this for the sake of every closeted young person who is struggling EVERY SINGLE DAY and let us do this so that every LGBT child can grow up in the security of a loving and supportive city.


  • District A Brenda Stardig 832-393-3010
  • District B Jerry Davis 832-393-3009
  • District C Ellen Cohen 832-393-3004
  • District D Dwight Boykins 832-393-3001
  • District E Dave Martin 832-393-3008
  • District F Richard Nguyen 832-393-3002
  • District G Oliver Pennington 832-393-3007
  • District H Ed Gonzalez 832-393-3003
  • District I Robert Gallegos 832-393-3011
  • District J Mike Laster 832-393-3015
  • District K Larry Green 832-393-3016
  • At Large 1 Stephen C. Costello 832-393-3014
  • At Large 2 David Robinson 832-393-3013
  • At Large 3 Michael Kubosh 832-393-3005
  • At Large 4 C. O. "Brad" Bradford 832-393-3012
  • At Large 5 Jack Christie 832-393-3006
  • Mayor Annise D. Parker 713-837-0311

S Wayne Mathis serves as the Provincial Coordinator of Province VII.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Marriage Equality in Pennsylvania. What's not to "Like"?

I first got the news from Facebook.  One of my parishioners who is a partnered lesbian had posted that she was going to miss the State Supreme Court announcement scheduled for 2 pm due to a work meeting.  I did a little digging and to my amazement found that it was true.  Then NPR broke into the broadcast to share the news that the Judge had ruled that PA's "Defense of Marriage" Act was indeed UN-constitutional.

After letting the news sink in I shared my joy on my personal Facebook page.  It was amazing to watch the reaction, both to my post and to the ruling, spread rapidly across my feed.  Here and there another clergy person would react praising the decision.  But then I saw the post from my friends at Congregation Rodeph Shalom.  They did more than express their joy, they called on their congregants to join them at a celebratory rally at City Hall.

I was not surprised (they are a very progressive and activist congregation) but was still impressed.  They didn't just announce it, they embraced it.  This left me pondering, should I take this news and make it a parish issue?

I knew most would "like" it.  Yet not all would welcome it.  My parish of St Timothy's is a very welcoming place.  We have several same gender couples and a few other LGBTQ individuals.  For a smaller parish (an average of 80 people on a Sunday) this is not a bad representation. Although not all parishioners are supportive, they do not make a public issue of it.  Instead, despite the diversity of opinions, we manage to create a genuinely caring community built upon the bonds of faith and fellowship.

So what would happen if I posted something stating that the parish rejoiced in the decision and looked forward to an increase in weddings?

Possibly it would go largely unnoticed by those who disagree.  But then again it might not.  My fear was that by publically drawing attention to a potentially divisive issue I might take embers of division and fan them into flames.  More importantly, a Facebook post would not change the more important reality that St. Tim's is a place where people of diverse race, education, wealth, theology and sexuality all come together to sit together in worship, share coffee and fellowship and kneel at the same rail as sisters and brothers in the Body of Christ.   Was I willing to jeopardize that community just so I could follow my heart?

I realize some of you may be tempted to remind me of Dr. King's, Letter From a Birmingham Jail, in which he proclaims, "Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with G-D, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right."

There is no doubt that as clergy we are called to be prophetic...  to push forward and proclaim liberty and justice regardless of resistance or cost.  Yet it is also our duty to be pastoral and to care for every member of our flock.  This can be a tenuous balance.  At times it seems downright impossible.  How does one manage to keep everyone at the table when the divisions are so profound as to deal with the "rightness" of who a person loves and is at the core of their very being?

I don't know the answer.  What is right for one congregation is not always right for another.  There is a diversity of perspective and practice.  Just as parishes range from spiky high to snake belly low in their worship style, it is the same when it comes to social action.  Some choose to make that commitment to justice and action the center of their common identity.  Others never get involved in politics yet still manage to live out their Baptismal Covenant to "seek and serve Christ in all persons" and to "respect the dignity of every human being" just as fully as the most progressive parish.

So what does this really mean for Episcopalians in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania?  Like the rest of the TEC my Diocese of Pennsylvania is no stranger to the kind of bitter division that can arise as we try to come to grips with what it means to hold unity and diversity in tension particularly over matters of sexuality.  In recent decades some parishes withdrew from our common life or left the TEC altogether.  But over time most have gradually re-engaged and to date only one is now left on the fringes.

Of course that does not mean that everyone in our diocese will agree.  Indeed, I believe this court ruling will have a far greater impact on our parishes than the results of our 2012 General Convention decision to allow for same gender blessing ceremonies.  As parishes across PA start to celebrate the weddings  of same gender couples it will inevitably reopen some old divisions.  St.Tim's will be no exception.

When the first wedding between two women or two men takes place here many will rejoice, not just because they feel it reflects the inclusive values of the Kingdom, but because the people getting married are their friends.  But despite our close ties some will not be able be so happy. The bottom line is that we will not wait until everyone is on board, but at the same time we will not abandon those who disagree just because they are not.  And if we can manage to do that, then perhaps we will manage to keep more people at the table, even as we move forward.

The Rev. Kirk Berlenbach is the Rector of Saint Timothy's Episcopal Church in Philadelphia.  He is very active in diocesan governance and is a deputy to General Convention.  He is also active in Interfaith and Emerging Church movements.  His blog, So this Priest Walks into a Bar... is about craft beer, rock and roll and finding God out in the world.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Integrity teams with Oregon United for Marriage for Victory

Sponsors of Measure IP-52, an initiative that would have permitted Oregon business owners to refuse service to same-sex couples for religious reasons, recently announced they will NOT pursue this harmful ballot initiative. Pressure had been building in Oregon as many business leaders and people of faith have lined up against this discriminating measure

As the diocesan organizer for Oregon’s chapter of Integrity, I have been supporting congregations throughout the diocese.  I have worked with local churches in presenting the Coming Out As A Person of Faith Exhibit and video.  I have had conversations on Why Marriage Matters at Sunday Forums, and have lead Faithful Conversation workshops where we discussed ways to talk with family and friends about a ballot measure that was not about religious freedom but about discriminating against someone because of who they are and who they love.

I was relieved when the initiative was dropped.   A participant in my workshop last weekend expressed my thoughts exactly.  "Our journey is not complete until we discuss the issue of acceptance of and for all.  It is time we support love in all sectors of our lives, religious and otherwise, thus ensuring discrimination does not become a reality in Oregon."

Aubrey Thonvold, Faith Director with Oregon United for Marriage says, "Episcopalians all across Oregon have been leaders in the holy work of winning the freedom to marry and defeating the hurtful discrimination measure.  Our voice as people of faith is critical in making sure God's love is extended to all through welcome, justice, and freedom."

Charlene McCreight is the Integrity Diocesan Organizer for Oregon.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The South Will Rise: Marriage Equality in Arkansas

On Friday evening, as I attended the annual Episcopal Relief & Development Network meeting in the southern city of Atlanta Georgia, a friend of mine raced over to my table and told me what just came through his push notifications. "Arkansas judge strikes down Amendment 83 to the Arkansas state constitution and parallel state law known as 144 of 1997 which limits marriage to opposite sex couples."

I knew there would be a ruling last week and I knew the odds were pretty good that the judge would overturn the law but I still couldn’t wrap my head around the news when it actually happened. This is Arkansas, home of Mike Huckabee and his more conservative friends.

This is the last place in the country where I expected this to actually come to pass. I thought that when all was said and done, Arkansas would be one of the last holdouts in the race to marriage equality. We would certainly join the rest of the country dragging our feet, kicking, and screaming. Little did I imagine that Arkansas would be the leader from the south to forge the way forward. And so Friday evening two Arkansans (one by birth and me as an adopted daughter) raised a toast in the banquet hall of a hotel in the city of Atlanta.

It’s interesting, during my time in Atlanta last week I heard the burning of Atlanta referenced three times. The people in the south felt like their way of life was taken away from them, they felt they had lost everything that made them who they were. I’m sure it feels like that for many in the state of Arkansas today. And yet for others it is the very breath of life and freedom. Let us remember to pray for those who are hurting and yet celebrate with those who are able to be married today. May the joyous be shielded and the afflicted be comforted. One thing is for certain today: in this state, everyone is experiencing shock and cannot believe the things that have come to pass. We are united, if not by the outcome of this decision, by feeling the shock of it.

As I continue my own transition I know how important "firsts" can be. Last week I travelled to Atlanta for the first time since transitioning into the person God created me to be, Gwen. I am thankful for the Circuit Court in Pulaski County for giving me the opportunity to do something as simple as legally changing my name in April so that I could then get a new driver’s license with name and the appropriate gender. These simple legal changes that affect the lives of all transgender people allowed me to travel with reduced anxiety through the airports knowing that name and gender marker would not now flag me or automatically out me to the TSA agents at the airport security check points. These and other small legal acts are accessible to all in our society, everyone, and yet they are huge milestones for those of us who simply want to live out our lives with authenticity and integrity. That is what happened here in the state of Arkansas this weekend. The gate has not opened wide but it has been left ajar. Small baby steps now haltingly move us forward giving us confidence and hope as we all gain strength for the journeys we will take in the days to come.

In his ruling, Judge Piazza compared overturning Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage 40 years ago to our current struggle for marriage equality, "It has been over forty years since Mildred Loving was given the right to marry the person of her choice. The hatred and fears have long since vanished and she and her husband lived full lives together; so it will be for the same-sex couples. It is time to let that beacon of freedom shine brighter on all our brothers and sisters. We will be stronger for it."

The legal right to marry the one we love here in Arkansas is a huge milestone and today Arkansas is stronger for it.

The Reverend Gwen Fry is a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas; she is the former Priest in Charge at Grace Episcopal Church, Pine Bluff and is now working as a Supply Priest throughout the diocese. She also serves as the Diocesan Coordinator for Episcopal Relief & Development.