Sunday, November 29, 2009

Integrity Leader Jon Richardson Gives Thanks

I’ve heard that there’s an objectivity principle in documentary filmmaking that states that the filmmaker should endeavor, whenever possible, to avoid influencing the events or in any way shaping the story surrounding the subject.  It is argued that whenever the filmmaker becomes a part of the story, even if that part is not seen onscreen, the story somehow becomes less true.

No one has ever sought to make a documentary about me.  I imagine that such a film would have a hard time selling!  But I did get a taste of that “objectivity principle” in action this summer while I was serving Integrity at General Convention.

Our Communications team set an unprecedented goal for themselves – to produce daily videos reporting on the news, history, and characters of the LGBT movement at General Convention.  As one of the co-Leads of the Legislative Team, I thought my days were long.  I had meetings at 7:00 most mornings and didn’t finish all of the daily briefings and planning sessions until after midnight many nights.  But my work was nothing compared to the hours that the Communications team put in!

For one segment Barbara Curry interviewed me about my leadership role with the Legislative Team.  One of the questions that I was asked was about my experience as an openly gay man in the priestly ordination process – how did my sexual orientation factor into my experience of answering God’s call to be a priest? That question was a huge gift.  It continues to play a role in shaping my story.

In many ways the answer is simple: to my knowledge, my status as an openly gay man had absolutely no impact on the decisions that were made in my diocese about moving me forward in the ordination process.  Instead, the decisions were based on my ability to articulate my faith, my spiritual, psychological and emotional fortitude for the challenges of serving God in the church, my ability to build significant relationships with colleagues and parishioners, the list could go on.  But sexuality isn’t anywhere on it.

Ever since that question was asked of me, it’s been sitting in the back of my mind.

I know that I have been blessed to have had an ordination process that honored my humanity and that never attempted to stifle it or to punish me for it.  My ordination process has allowed me to explore the ways that God lives in me so that I could allow my priesthood to bloom.  Never was I asked to be other than God made me.  I was only asked to be open to all that God made me to be.

It’s how the ordination process should be: always life-giving.  Never life-suppressing.

And I’m profoundly thankful to the ministry of Integrity for the role it has played in helping to make my story possible.  For longer than I have been alive there have been people in this organization working to make my sexual orientation a non-issue.

In a couple of weeks, when I am ordained a priest, there won’t be any reporters covering the story.  You won’t read a headline that says, “Openly Gay Man Ordained a Priest in the Diocese of Newark!”  I won’t receive hate mail or letters of commendation from dignitaries.  I’ll just kneel before my bishop, surrounded by the prayers and presence of my friends, family, and colleagues; and when I stand, I’ll be a bit more of the man that God made me to be.  And then I’ll be free to get on with the mission of the church as God has called me to perform it.

I also know that many others are not so fortunate.

I have friends and colleagues both here in the Episcopal Church and around the Anglican Communion whose ordination processes were not (and are not) so life-giving.  In some cases, they are people who live in fear of telling the truth.  In others, they are people who have actually been advised by clergy to lie if questioned.  And that is to say nothing of the scores of the LGBT faithful who live and worship in the parts of our church and our communion where honest LGBT priests are still not allowed.  They have never had the opportunity to see Christ re-presented in the form of priests so like themselves.

I have often heard women who were raised in the Roman Catholic church speak of the power of that first time they saw another woman standing at the altar.

I had a similar reaction the first time I met a priest who was gay and didn’t have to lie about it.  It gave me an unspeakable sense of belonging – the kind of belonging to which Christ invites us all.  Even when we don’t.

So I was glad that my interviewer interfered a bit.  She did change my story.  She made my story more deeply filled with gratitude than it could have been before.

My prayer is that we’ll keep changing people’s stories.  That we’ll keep opening up room for new gratitude and new thanksgivings as the church comes to know more and more the truth that all are within the reach of Christ’s saving embrace.


The Rev. Jon M. Richardson is a transitional deacon in the Diocese of Newark.  He will be ordained to the priesthood on December 12, 2009.  He serves as Interim Missioner for Youth & Young Families at The Episcopal Church of St. Paul in Chatham, New Jersey.  Jon has worked with Integrity's Legislative Team at the past two General Conventions and was a part of Integrity's staff at the Lambeth Conference in 2008.  Jon blogs at

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