Tuesday, December 4, 2012

et cum Lazaro-- a young adult reflection on World AIDS Day

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est…[1]
Et cum Lazaro quondam paupere[2]
Come then, my God!
Shine on this blood,
 and water in one beam,
 and thou shalt see,
 kindled by thee
Both liquors burn, and stream.[3]

S.R. Glenn
December 2, 2012

December 1, 2012 marked the twenty-eighth recognition ofWorld AIDS Day, the first global health day. It was also the second World AIDS Day since my diagnosis with the HIV virus onJanuary 10, 2011 in New York City. It is oddly fitting that the week-longtorment of my seroconversion (which, at the time, I mistook for a severe flu)happened to follow on the heels of the observance of World AIDS Day in late2010. It was at such time that I was working on a Master of Arts in Music atQueens College in Flushing, New York. In the midst of my fever, aches, massivefatigue, chills, and loss of appetite, I was required to conduct a concert ofmotets by the twentieth century composer, Maurice Duruflé, for my privatestudy of choral conducting. It was with great resistance and bodily objectionthat I pulled myself out of bed on December 15, 2010, put on my tuxedo, andslowly made my way from my room in Jackson Heights, down 82nd streetcatch a train to the Queens College campus. I wondered if I would be able tofulfill my duties that evening. Indeed, I could barely lift my arms to put onmy coat; how was I supposed to conduct?

Lengthy narrative aside, I made it to the pre-concert warmup and managed to work with a fine group of singers through Duruflé’sUbi caritas, a motet that would become an aural signifier of myconversion and eventual diagnosis, some three and a half weeks later. I did notrealize at that time that I would soon become part of a three-decade longstory; that I would shortly be joined by blood, as it were, to a kind ofeschatological community of those living and those departed. I did not realizethen that I would soon, like Lazarus, witness a kind of ongoing resurrectionwithin myself. As a member of a Eucharistic community, I knew long before mydiagnosis the power often signified by blood; yet now it would come to signifysomething more, something quite multivalent.

I had never personally lost anyone to HIV/AIDS, for I wouldonly become conscious of that world long after the trials and tribulations ofthe 1980s and 1990s when I began to identify my queer sexuality as a gay man inthe early 2000s. I did, however, have a role model: Lu, my roommate during mylast two years of undergraduate study in Seattle, Washington. Lu was a reminderof the strength that comes through facing tribulation head-on. He was the firstperson I called after learning of my diagnosis, even before I called my immediatefamily members or informed my now-long-term partner oftwo years. Over the phone, Lu simply said, “welcome, brother.” It was almost abaptismal greeting. Lu had been living with the virus since the mid-90s, andcontinues to live with a vibrancy few can hope to imitate. He broke the wallthat separated me from HIV-positive individuals; I could put a face to thecondition, and a courageous one, at that; a face that I loved and continue tolove. He had lived through the riskiness of early treatments, when medicationshad to be administered every four hours in doses I cannot possibly fathom.Knowledge of those times haunts me nightly as I administer my once-daily doseof Atripla.

During the week after my diagnosis, a week for which fewdetails survive the haze, I attended a daily said Eucharist at my thenhome-church, the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, where I had recentlystarted living above the diocesan house. It was at that service that the canonfor liturgy and arts gave a sermon concerning matters of epiphany season. Thedetails of his sermon escape me now, almost two years later, but they resonatedwith my struggle to face the virus head-on. I recall thanking the canon as Ileft the service, for I was quite candid with him and revealed the reasons forhis sermon’s resonance within me. What he said to me thereafter has remainedwith me since: he took my hands, smiled, and said, “We live now, forthis is when God comes to us.
And so, his words, coupled with Duruflé’ssetting of the Maundy Thursday hymn, Ubi caritas, changed my renderingof the circumstances. Indeed, I have come to learn through my twenty-threemonths with the virus that it is within our woundedness that God comesto us—that we may, in some way, see the face of the wounded yet eternallyrisen Christ. Through our own wounded resurrection, as once did Christresurrect our brother-in-woundedness, Lazarus, we can make manifest the MaundyThursday trope: Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est (Where charity andlove are, God himself is there). Even though the trials of the 80s and 90s arebehind us, the work has, in many ways, just begun; may God grant that we neversuccumb to the atrophy of apathy.

S.R. Glenn is a candidate for the Master of Theological Studies at the Boston University School of Theology and seminarian for the Boston University Episcopal Chaplaincy. 

[1] MaundyThursday Hymn at the washing of feet.
[2] From the InParadisum of the Requiem Mass.
[3] HenryVaughan, Midnight.

Friday, November 30, 2012

God Bless Us, Every One!

After years of work by Integrity USA and its allies, The Episcopal Church approved a Rite for the Blessing of a Same-Sex Relationship at the 2012 General Convention. The Rite is now available in a final format - click here for just the rite, or click here to buy a full book with the Rite and the other liturgical resources.

The Church has authorized the use of this service - depending on the assent of each diocesan bishop - beginning Advent I (December 2) of 2012. Does your diocese have policies allowing (or not allowing) this rite, or same-sex marriage? Please email us the information so that we can create a record of what’s happening across the country.

Is your parish considering whether to have these blessings in your church? One resource you might find helpful is from St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Click here to read their story, watch a video, and find links to additional resources.
The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music developed a tremendous resource which is not yet published but is still available online in the Blue Book on the 2012 General Convention website. It includes a section on canon law, a pastoral resource section, particularly the declaration of intention and the model congregational guidelines.
In addition, Gary Hall, Dean of the National Cathedral and  Ruth Meyers  of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific edited a study guide entitled Christian Holiness and Human Sexuality, which doesn’t directly address these particular resources but is intended to help Episcopalians reflect on the subject more broadly.
 If you, your clergy or bishop want to go even deeper, CDSP is hosting a week-long discussion of the blessing and its implementation as part of its 2013 Epiphany West program,  January 21- 25.
Are you and your sweetheart getting blessed? Send us a photo and tell us your experience. Integrity will be participating in providing feedback for consideration by the next General Convention.

Searching for Hope on World AIDS Day

by Bruce Garner

World AIDS Day is December 1, this coming Saturday.  (The secular world did not consult the faith community when it chose a date to declare as World AIDS Day, so the observance is almost always in competition for either the first or second Sunday in Advent.)

I am painfully reminded of another Saturday in November, the Saturday after Thanksgiving in 1987.  It was the 28th, which falls on Wednesday this year....today.  I received a phone call letting me know that my dearest, closest and best friend had died from AIDS on Saturday, November 28, 1987.  I knew Alan's death was coming.  I had seen him the previous weekend, evening sitting by his hospital bedside the entire night after I arrived in Ft. Lauderdale where he lived.  Most of the night I prayed that God would take him home... would give him peace... would free him from the pain and confusion the virus was wreaking on him.  It would be yet another week after I returned home before my prayer would be answered.  

Alan and I were like brothers born from different mothers.  We spent vacations together and developed a bond so strong that whenever one called the other, we could tell within minutes if all was okay with the other.  His death was devastating... and in ways I didn't even realize for months.   My grief took time... and I didn't realize how much time I actually needed. Some of the anger still lingers... always will.

Those were the times during this epidemic that we never had a chance to grieve our losses. Those were the times of multiple funerals a week.  Those were the times when we wondered who would be next.  Those were the times when death was a constant companion.   I stopped counting the number of friends I had lost when the total reached 200.  It was, in more ways than we realized, like being in a war. We were in a war.  We were fighting a virus about which we knew little except that it seemed to have almost a hundred percent mortality rate.  And those were the times when politicians rarely uttered the word AIDS except in some derogatory context.  Those sick and dying were expendable... after all they were people of color, fags, intravenous drug users, sex workers and immigrants from an island where a nation called Haiti was located.  The only group impacted that generated any degree of empathy were those who relied on blood products to live... mostly hemophiliacs.  Even then there was the disdain shown to those with chronic health problems.

Those were the times when airlines dumped people with AIDS on the tarmac or sidewalk rather than take them as passengers.  Those were the times when a landlord could kick you out of your house or apartment just because you had AIDS.  Those were the times when you could be fired from a job... especially in public contact positions... for having AIDS. (Some people still can't comprehend that unless you are having a sexual relationship or swapping needles with your wait person, you will not get AIDS from them... imagine how it was then.)  Those were the times when funeral homes would not handle the body, much less the funeral of someone who had died from AIDS.

So what has changed since those first AIDS cases were reported in June 1981?   That depends on your perspective, I suppose.

There are medications available... very expensive medications.  Yet their efficacy is highly dependent on a certain level of literacy and ability to comprehend the regimen required for them to fight the virus.  If you read at a second grade level, the chances are good that you have no clue what you should be doing with your meds and why, much less the consequences of not following the regimen you have been given.  And if you don't have significant resources or can qualify for compassionate care resources for the medications or don't have access to insurance or Medicaid or Medicare, and on and on and on... there may as well not be any medications.

There have been great advances in the treatment of what we now call HIV.   See above paragraph before proceeding.  

It is fairly rare to hear of someone being evicted for having HIV... rather they get evicted because trying to treat the condition has exhausted their resources and they become dependent on public assistance for their income.   We do have laws prohibiting most forms of discrimination based on having HIV... but as always there are those who get around the law by careful use of language.

We do have more effective prevention education programs... provided you live in a state that allows something other than abstinence only education.  Yet even with improved prevention education, some entire communities have failed to benefit from it.  You have to acknowledge the practice of the behaviors that transmit HIV before you can teach how to avoid infection.  Dishonesty can be deadly... regardless of the reason.  The phrase from the early years "Silence equals Death" takes on a different meaning when the topic itself cannot even be discussed.  And yes I am speaking the truth to a pseudo power that still claims that some populations cannot be open about who they are and what they do.  The consequences are still death.  Tell the truth and shame the devil!

Infection rates have slowed in many areas of our own country, not in others.  The geographic area that makes up Province IV of The Episcopal Church continues to have rising infections rates, never having had a time when they decreased.  It is the cradle of HIV infection these days.   Circumstances come together to provide the perfect storm for ongoing HIV infection: poverty, illiteracy, ignorance, racism, sexism, homophobia, apathy... need I go on with the list?  We are rapidly approaching a situation eerily similar to the mid-1980's again.  This time the fastest growing group of infected are young, gay males of color (even though some claim such a group does not exist).  Sadly however, as the problem continues to grow, the resources that were pulled together in the early days of the epidemic are not there... they have been exhausted... private resources, government resources.

Notice that I have confined my comments to the situation in The United States?   Contrary to popular myth, HIV/AIDS has NOT moved overseas.   It still lives and thrives among us.  Yet there has been a substantial change in how we see or do not see those infected.  Most are people of color.  How many of our congregations have significant numbers of people of color in them.  There are exceptions....but the norm is still pretty white.   What we no longer see, we no longer think exists... at least that's the way it seems to be for most of us... regardless of the subject.  The Episcopal Church has even bought into that myth.   Few dioceses have commissions on AIDS anymore or any ministry to those with HIV.  The various forms of the Commission/Committee on AIDS of the church, of Executive Council, of whatever have ceased to exist.  We don't fund what we do not see.  Although they have stated reasons they consider legitimate, even Episcopal Relief and Development does not address HIV/AIDS on the domestic front... only overseas.  We do not see those who do not have a face that we find familiar.

Clearly I do not find much reason to find real hope in this continuing health problem that impacts every one of us.  And obviously, my comments contain a touch of negativity if not bitterness.  I will not deny either nor will I shrink from that stance.  I see it from a perspective much different than most.  Aside from losing so many friends, I have also served on non-profit board after non-profit board for organizations struggling to address an issue that so many do not see a need to address.  I've watched as public funding gets cut for medications, treatment and prevention education.  I've served on state wide bodies whose mission was to create a comprehensive response to HIV/AIDS, only to have good ideas torpedoed by politics.  So no, I do not find much real hope.  

I made a panel for the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt for my friend Alan.  A picture of it hangs in my home.  I once made the comment in a presentation that "when" a panel was made for me... not "if" a panel was made for me.  I don't know if it was the proverbial Freudian slip or not.   I do know that I have now lived with HIV for over 30 years.  By the grace of God, prayer, good medications and good medical treatment and a streak of stubbornness I plan to fulfill my doctor's prediction that I would die from old age and not from AIDS.  

Many portions of the AIDS Quilt will be on display around the country on December 1.  Will that move us to action?  Will it make us angry instead of just sad?  Or will we just make a note that we have seen it and allow it to go back to the warehouse where it lives until this time next year... perhaps hoping someone might do something?   The Quilt really isn't like the Christmas decorations we trot out once a year... the problem exists all year long every year.   But then again, how many of us only think about the gift of the Incarnation other than once a year?

December 1 is World AIDS Day.  What will we individually do on that day?   Was it Mother Jones who said "pray for the dead but fight like hell for the living?"  I don’t know, but it sounds like a good plan to me.  But then I am reminded of a carpenter from Nazareth who told those who were burdened and heavy laden to come to Him and He would give them rest.  He also called upon each of us to do as the Samaritan did upon finding a man beaten and bloody on the roadside:  Love your neighbor as you love yourself.  What.....will.....YOU....do????


Bruce Garner
Provincial Coordinator for Province IV, Integrity USA
Former Board Member and Chair of the National Episcopal AIDS Coalition
Former Member of the Standing Commission on AIDS (now defunct)
Former Member of the Executive Council Committee on HIV/AIDS (now defunct)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Giving Thanks & Remembering the Lost

Stephanie Battagliano
On Sunday, November 18th, the Church of Redeemer, an Integrity Proud Parish Partner in Morristown, N.J. (Diocese of Newark) observed the Transgender Day of Remembrance at its 10:30 Eucharist service.  Stephanie Battagliano, a trans activist and longtime member of the congregation, gave a powerful sermon sharing her own journey from the "purgatory" of secretly living in gender conflict, through transition and coming out to her family and friends, and realization of a calling to speak out on behalf of other trans persons.  Stephanie transitioned while remaining at her corporate job, and being a parent to her son Andrew, who was a preteen at the time. Andrew gave his own witness at Redeemer several years ago, and parishioners still talk about it. Today Stephanie is on the board of the LGBT Center in New York as well as the Transgender Legal Defense Fund, and -- along with her partner Mari — works with GLAAD on transition issues in the workplace.

Stephanie drew strength from her faith and expressed gratitude for how much the community at Redeemer helped her not just survive, but thrive, during her transformation into the person she regards as her "true self."  She contrasted this with the isolation, poverty and violence that is reality for many trans people around the world, and charged the assembly to do everything in its power to reach out to the trans community and others that society regards as "different" to offer the sense of hope and worth that made such a difference in her life. 

The service continued with the reading of the names of the documented deaths of trans people that had occurred since last year's observance, along with the often grisly details of their deaths.  As each name was read, a member of the congregation extinguished a candle on the altar.  A startling number of the cases occurred in Brazil, which is described as the LGBT murder capital of the world, but some of the locations were distressingly familiar: Miami, Baltimore, Chicago.

Integrity continues to raise awareness of the need for trans inclusion in our churches.  The film Voices of Witness: Out of the Box, which we distributed to all the bishops and deputies before this summer's General Convention, features transgender clergy telling their own stories. It is available on YouTube and DVD, and we commend its use for parish forums and other settings for education and discussion.  Stephanie and other speakers are available to speak with congregations and groups; please contact us for details.

Stephanie Battagliano at Transgender Day of Remembrance

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Transgender Day of Remembrance 2012

by Vivian Taylor, Boston Massachusetts

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance. TDoR exists to remember those who are murdered for the simple reality of being trans. Today isn't a day where we explain being trans, or defend ourselves for being trans, or any of that. Today is simply the day to remember those who have suffered for no reason other than that the powers of the world hate us and would rather we not exist.

I look forward to the day when we won't need things like this; but until we do, I offer the following meditation for personal or corporate use at Compline.  Click here to see the names and circumstances of the murders of trans people in 2012.  You may want to read these names out loud as you remember them.

Dear Lord, tonight we come to you in memory of Rita Hester and all those who have died and have suffered on account of their being transgender or gender nonconforming.
Dear Lord, remember them.
Dear Lord, give these souls the peace that they were denied in life.
Dear Lord, remember them.
Dear Lord, help us to remember and work for all people who are seen as less than in this hard world.
Dear Lord, remember us.
Dear Lord, you who made, know, and love all of human diversity — set us free from the systems of the world, and shield us from all scorn and violence that those systems expose us to.
Dear Lord, remember us.
Dear Lord, help us to discern the path you have cut for us into the possible.
Dear Lord, remember us.
Dear Lord, give us strength to speak truly, give us courage to love wildly, and give us faith to live oddly.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Trailblazing Bishop Retires, Shares Blessings with Nation

by the Rev. Caroline J.A. Hall, president of Integrity USA

We will always need trailblazers – people who go out first and do something that has never been done before, and then live with the scars to prove it. Bishop Gene Robinson has been a trailblazer for the LGBTQ community – the one who was willing and who was chosen by the Church and the Holy Spirit to go out ahead and be the first openly gay bishop. Our lives have been changed by his ministry and leadership.

Bishop Robinson with
parishioner Kevin Therrien
When Bishop Gene was elected and confirmed in 2003, it brought to an ugly head the deep differences that were growing in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. It was not his becoming bishop that created rifts and even schisms – his charism was to bring to the light of day the crisis that was already well underway. His willingness to talk to the media, and to keep talking, brought the country and the Communion a new understanding that people of faith can be gay and that God welcomes us. Along the way Bishop Gene suffered isolation, ostracism and death threats.

Now he is about to retire as Bishop of New Hampshire after 26 years working in the leadership of the diocese.  In February he will become a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, in Washington, DC – a think tank founded in 2003 by former Clinton chief-of-staff John Podesta.  Bishop Gene’s new role will be “to bring a moral, religious voice to the issues that face us as a nation:  immigration reform, healthcare reform, poverty in America and the world, the growing divide between rich and poor, as well as ongoing efforts to include gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the life of the nation and in the communities of the church, synagogue and mosque.” Bishop Gene says, “It will be my challenge and privilege to try to provide that moral voice.” You can read his message to his diocese here.

Integrity USA is deeply grateful for the leadership that Bishop Gene has provided in our work for full inclusion and for his willingness to embody that inclusion even at great personal cost. If you would like to make a donation in honor of Bishop Gene, the Diocese of New Hampshire is setting up an endowment fund to continue work in the chaplaincy program at The New Hampshire Prison for Women in which Bishop Robinson did ministry while Bishop of New Hampshire. You can contribute here.

Thank you, Bishop Gene, for all you have given us. We look forward to seeing the blessings that come from your new ministry.

British-born Caroline "Caro" J. Addington Hall serves as President of Integrity USA and is Priest in Charge of St. Benedict's, Los Osos, California. Her book A Thorn in the Flesh: How Gay Sexuality is Changing the Episcopal Church will be published in the late Spring of 2013.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Integrity USA Cautiously Hopeful about new Archbishop of Canterbury

Integrity welcomes the announcement today of the next Archbishop of Canterbury: Bishop Justin Welby, currently Bishop of Durham. It is a difficult position – to be the designated “instrument of unity” for a Communion which is increasingly diverse and attempts to draw together peoples and countries with competing needs. Bishop Welby comes well equipped to take on the challenge, having worked in Africa and being familiar with the Church in several different countries.

Welby comes from the evangelical wing of the relatively conservative Church of England, and is said to oppose gay marriage. Caroline Hall, President of Integrity USA, said, “Our prayers will be with Bishop Welby as he takes on this enormous challenge. I hope that he will be able to build on the experience of his predecessor, Archbishop Williams and manage not to cave to the tactics of bullies. The majority of Anglicans want to work together to further the reign of God, and it will be Bishop Welby’s task to provide leadership for this cooperation. In the reign of God there is neither male nor female, black nor white, gay nor straight. I hope that he can help us to make this vision of inclusivity a reality throughout the Anglican Communion.”

When visiting the Episcopal House of Bishops earlier this year, Bishop Welby said, “I pray and hope that we live with confidence and hope, and grow in the ability to live in complexity. That we are able to have diversity without enmity. God has made the churches full of diversity, that is the miracle of unity, praise God for diversity, when lived in love and integrity.” Integrity's hope is that the Bishop will be able so to do.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Is There Something Else?

by the Rev. Ann Fontaine, Priest Associate at St. Catherine of Alexandria Episcopal Church in Manzanita, Oregon

"Is there something else?"

This is a frequent question when I do pre-marital counseling and wedding planning with young straight couples. We have finished the counseling part of our time together and are working on what the liturgy will look like. I give them the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) and we turn to p. 423, A Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage, and they read it over. Sometimes they take the BCP home to discuss music, readings and other choices.

At our next session I can see the question coming – is there something else? From the opening prayer with its silly rationale that because Jesus went to a wedding we should have weddings; and its proclamation, the obviously untrue claim that marriage was established in creation; the whole thing is steeped in ideas that the couple don’t want said at their wedding.

It took me a while to see beyond the “we don’t want to use this” statement of couples. At first I thought it was just a desire to “do their own thing,” but as I listen I hear much more. One objection is the story line of the service, but there is another thing that had couples asking for something else.

This objection did not become clear to me until the last wedding at which I officiated. After looking over the BCP rite and their rejection, I gave them A New Zealand Prayer Book with its variety of options. They breathed a sigh of relief – it has lovely traditional language but gave them a way to express their commitment to one another publicly and receive the community’s affirmation and receive God’s blessing. This is an experience I have had with many couples.

It was not until the godmothers appeared that I tumbled to one couple’s deeper objection to the BCP. Suddenly the embedded heterosexism of the BCP was revealed when the beloved, obviously partnered, godmothers walked into the rehearsal. I had not seen this until that moment, though I have long found the service to be less than satisfactory.

This is all a part of the reason why I would lobby the church to come up with something that all couples can use. A rite that is free from silliness, free from stereotypes, free from heterosexism. I hope the church will offer one rite to affirm the love and commitment of the couple to one another and the desire for the support of the community and the assurance of the blessing of God.

The new Episcopal Church liturgy offered for same sex couples is a step in the right direction but perhaps The Episcopal Church could offer something like A New Zealand Prayer Book rite – that offers options and a better theology of marriage. [Editor’s note: Click here to see a rite that the author created to address some of her concerns.]

In memory of Louise Brooks who kept asking me to write this up. - AF

Friday, October 19, 2012

"Spirit Day 2012" -- Taking a Stand Against Bullying!

Today is "Spirit Day" -- an annual day in October when millions of Americans wear purple to speak out against bullying and to show their support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth. The brainchild of Canadian teenager Brittany McMillan, Spirit Day originated in 2010 and has grown to an international day of awareness and advocacy.

And so -- in addition to having the Integrity website "go purple" -- it seemed a good day to remind Integrity members and friends that the Episcopal Church called for a churchwide response against bullying in Indianapolis last summer with General Convention Resolution D022:
Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 77th General Convention calls for a church wide response to the epidemic of bullying, particularly of those perceived as being “different” by virtue of economic, ethnic, racial or physical characteristics, religious status, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression; bullying is defined as the recurring use of single or combined written, verbal or electronic expressions or physical acts or gestures, directed at any person that: result in physical or emotional harm to the person or damage to his/her property; places the person in reasonable fear of harm to him/herself or of damage to her/his property; creates an intimidating or hostile environment for the person; impacts the rights of the victim. Bullying shall include cyber-bullying through elctronic/social media, telephonic technology or other means; and be it further

Resolved, That the General Convention encourage new partnerships among our congregations, dioceses, campus ministries, National Association of Episcopal Schools, public schools, counseling centers, and governmental organizations in order to support and offer preventative programs addressing bullying, harassment, and other related violence, especially with higher risk populations; and be it further

Resolved, That these partnerships be encouraged to create or join with existing required programs designed to recognize and prevent abuse, neglect, and exploitation in our church settings which:
- utilize positive, inclusive, empowering and developmentally appropriate materials
- raise participant’s awareness about the issue
- focus on prevention
- seek to change bystander behavior into ally behavior
- create partnerships between youth and adults
- provide intervention and treatment for those who exhibit bullying behavior.
We encourage all Episcopalians to use "Spirit Day" as an opportunity to increase awareness throughout the church about this important issue and to commit to work throughout the coming year to turn this resolution calling for a churchwide response to bulling into a reality.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Coming Out to the Communion

by Susan Russell, Diocese of Los Angeles

When I was asked by Integrity Board member Elisabeth Jacobs to "write something for the blog" I thought Coming Out Day would be a good day to do exactly that. And while I was pondering what I might write, I remembered this piece from the summer of 2005 -- the presentation I wrote to "come out" to the Anglican Consultative Council as a member of the delegation of Episcopalians that traveled to Nottingham, England. Our charge was to present the "case for inclusion" to the wider Anglican Communion -- and I was honored to be part of that delegation.

On reflection, it occurs to me that it represents not just my own "coming out" to those present in that room that afternoon in June -- it also represents the Episcopal Church "Coming Out" to its Anglican Communion family as a church that was committed to the full inclusion of LGBT people in its work and witness; in its mission and ministry.

Yes, there have been steps forward and steps back in that process. Yes, there are still some significant miles to go before we're "done" -- whatever that means. But -- and it's a big "but" -- what the Bishop of New Hampshire has said over and over and OVER again is absolutely true: the toothpaste is NOT going back in the tube. Having "come out" to the Anglican Communion the Episcopal Church is not going back into the closet -- and our job, our privilege and our opportunity -- is to continue to come out and to live out the Gospel in our own contexts as we work together to make the Good News of God's inclusive love available to absolutely everybody.

So Happy Coming Out Day, Everybody! And now a little blast from the past:

A Witness to Hope: June 21, 2005 Presentation to the Anglican Consultative Council
by the Reverend Susan Russell (Diocese of Los Angeles)

It is a deeply humbling thing to be called to speak to you today as part of this delegation charged with the historic opportunity to witness to our larger Anglican family what we in the American Episcopal Church understand to be the Holy Spirit working in our midst. I recognize that because I am the only gay member of this presentation team I am to some degree charged with speaking not only for myself but also for countless gay and lesbian brothers and sisters in Christ who have come to faith in our Lord Jesus Christ through the mission and ministry of the Episcopal Church in the United States. It is an honor and a privilege to do so.

I carry many of their stories with me today and my deepest hope is that our conversations at this meeting of the Consultative Council will be but the beginning of a genuine listening process which will make the witness to the powerful work being done on behalf of the Gospel in the lives of the gay and lesbian faithful more widely available to the church and to the world. I recognize that the very idea of “the gay and lesbian faithful” will be received as alien by many – as incomprehensible perhaps as the idea of Gentile Christians once was to Saint Peter.

Yet our conviction is that the same Holy Spirit who first brooded over the waters of creation continues to work in and through us today. We believe it is that Spirit who is the source of the vision we believe God has given us of the full inclusion of the gay and lesbian baptized into the Body of Christ – just as Peter was given the surprising vision that Cornelius and his company – those he had been taught to believe were “unclean” -- were as beloved of God and as welcome in the church as he was.

Those of us who support the actions of our General Convention – who advocate for the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people into all orders of ministry and for equity between same-gender partnerships and heterosexual marriage -- do so out of our deep conviction that these actions are our response to the Gospel as we receive it.

I have lived my whole life in this church. I am a cradle Episcopalian who was raised to think both faithfully and critically: born at our diocesan hospital, baptized at our Old Cathedral and both confirmed and ordained in the Diocese of Los Angeles. At the ripe old age of 51, I remember a church where girls couldn’t be acolytes, racial segregation was widely accepted and women were not allowed to serve as deputies to our governing conventions much less aspire to ordination. I remember well the pain and conflict – the threat of schism and the accusations that we were “abandoning the church’s tradition” -- that surrounded all of those steps forward. And yet, in retrospect, I count the turmoil engendered as the cost of discipleship.

For I believe the church I love has been immeasurably enriched by the ministries of women who in earlier generations would have had no place to live out their vocation. I recognize how multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-racial congregations have broadened our experience of God and brought us closer to experiencing the fullness of the Kingdom. Noted biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann said in a recent interview: “[American Civil Rights leader] Martin Luther King famously said that the arc of history is bent toward justice. And the parallel statement I want to make is that the arc of the Gospel is bent toward inclusiveness.” Just as I can no longer imagine a church that strives to celebrate women and people of color for all of who they are I cannot imagine a church where that same arc of history – of inclusion -- does not include gay and lesbian people.

Scripture tells us that what is of the Spirit will flourish -- and what is not will wither away. The witness and wisdom of the women of the church have flourished since our General Convention acted courageously and faithfully--- with fear and trembling -- by opening to them all orders of ministry. We believe the same will prove true with the inclusion of gay and lesbian people more fully into the Body of Christ – in fact, for many of us, that is already our lived experience. I have the privilege to serve a parish – All Saints Church in Pasadena California – that has grown by leaps and bounds in not only numbers but in mission and ministry in the fourteen years since it began the blessing of same sex unions. We are not withering – we are flourishing.

The Gospel tells us that in our Father’s house there are many mansions. St. Paul tells us that essential to the Body of Christ are its many members. And our historic tradition as Anglicans tells us that when we live into the true via media we CAN hold in tension perspectives that others find “mutually exclusive” (catholic and protestant come to mind!) To set our hope on Christ is to hope for a better way … our deepest hope is that the differences that presently challenge us will not result in divisions that will hamper our ability to address together the clarion call of our Lord to minister to “the least of these” among us on His behalf.

You have heard and will hear stories of those who understand themselves to be “healed of their homosexuality” – those who tell moving and compelling stories of God healing them of an unhealthy lifestyle – freeing them to become fully and wholly the person God created them to be. I do not doubt the sincerity of their witness and I praise God if they have found place of healing and health. I do not question their healing – I question what it is that has been healed. It is not possible to be healed of something that is not an illness -- and we are convinced that sexual orientation itself is morally neutral – that what matters to God is not our sexual orientation but our theological orientation – that when we turn to God and ask to be healed of patterns of behavior that are destructive to ourselves or others God in God’s grace will heal us … whether we are homosexual or heterosexual.

Those who have left behind lives of sexual abuse, addiction and exploitation through God’s healing grace have every reason to rejoice and witness to that healing. They do not have, however, have any right to project their experience on to the lives of committed, same-gender couples who are striving to live lives faithful to each other and to the Gospel. As a point in fact, God’s love changes all of us – but what changes is not our sexual orientation: it is our ability to give and receive love as Christ loved us – to our partners, our families and the world.

One question I often hear is “What kind of values are we teaching our children?” We are teaching our children that no matter what their sexual orientation we expect a high standard of relationship that includes fidelity, monogamy, mutual respect and life-long commitment. We are challenging all couples – gay and straight – to live their lives in relationship within the context of Christian community: both supported by and accountable to their brothers and sisters in Christ. And we are modeling to gay and lesbian young people – those so tragically at risk for self-loathing and suicide in our communities – that there is a place where they can be loved by God, embraced by a community of faith and where Jesus loves them just as they are as they grow up to be all that they can be.

Our deepest hope is that the differences that challenge us might be overcome by the power of the Gospel that unites us – that the bonds of affection that have historically linked us as members of this worldwide Anglican family will prove stronger than the temptation to say “I have no need of you” when faced with the very real challenges in front of us.

Classic Anglicanism has historically focused not on having a detailed and certain knowledge of the mind of God, but on maintaining life and conversation in the faithful community. We believe that no one will ever know it all, but that the Spirit will work with us to achieve a unity that transcends uniformity and to bring us toward truth.

Verna Dozier, one of the great Biblical scholars of American Anglicanism wrote this: “The Christian church succumbs to the temptation to know absolutely when it calls doubt the opposite of faith. Doubt is not the opposite of faith. Fear is. Fear will not risk that even if I am wrong, I will trust that if I move by the light that is given me, knowing it is only finite and partial, I will know more and different things tomorrow than I know today, and I can be open to the new possibility I cannot even imagine today.”

We set our hope on the One who is the light of world – and we move forward by the light He has given us we do so in the hope that those new possibilities include many more opportunities to share with you – our Anglican family – our witness to the hope that is in us through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Spirit Day is October 19th

A message shared by the Right Rev. Chet Talton, Bishop of San Joaquin.

Dear Friends,

Carolyn Woodall, who was recently ordained to the diaconate and is assigned to St. Mary in the Mountain Church in Jamestown, sent me an email last week which I would like to share with you.
Dear Bishop Chet,

October 19th is Spirit Day. If you're not familiar with it, here is part of the Wikipedia entry about it:

In early October 2010, Canadian teenager Brittany McMillan promulgated the observance of a new commemoration called Spirit Day, the first observance of which took place on October 20, 2010, in which people wear the color purple to show support for LGBT young people who are victims of bullying. Promoted by GLAAD, many Hollywood celebrities wore purple on this day to show their support of this cause, and many websites added a prominent purple shade to their design.

The name, Spirit Day comes from the purple stripe of the Rainbow Flag, defined by Gilbert Baker, creator of that flag, as 'representing "spirit"'. The observance was inaugurated in response to a rash of
widely-publicized bullying-related suicides of gay school students in 2010, including that of Tyler Clementi.

At our convention in 2010 we started our forum on blessing of same sex relationships with a memorial to Tyler and the others we know of who had taken their lives because of bullying.

I personally observe this day by wearing purple and not being shy about why. I believe that we, the Church, should also observe it. It is not on Sunday, but on a Friday. That keeps it on a school day. However, for those congregations who wish to commemorate those youth and to express an anti bullying message (which would be all of them, I would hope), I would ask leave to wear purple stoles and use purple paraments on October 21st. I would also ask it be put in the Friday Reflection for a few weeks beforehand - maybe starting this Friday.

Given our commitment to inclusion, especially considering GC2012's resolutions against bullying, for transinclusion and the blessing of same sex relationships I believe this is a perfectly appropriate message which should be observed by all, and which should be voiced far and wide. It is, simply put, that our prayers are with those who have been, and currently are, victims of bullying and we condemn it as being a violent act not in keeping with Christianity.


I think that Carolyn is performing diaconal ministry by bringing Spirit Day to our attention. I do believe in the proposal that we as a Church observe this day. I do commend it to you and ask Sunday October 21 be designated as Spirit Day Sunday and that the color purple be used, and that there be some comment as to the meaning of Spirit Day in your bulletin and or announcements. This is not a Direction, but a request entirely in keeping with our baptismal vows "to recognize the dignity of every human being". SUNDAY OCTOBER 21, SPIRIT DAY SUNDAY.


+Chet Talton

Monday, September 24, 2012

Acknowledging the VOID by Christine Mackey-Mason

Walking With Integrity will be featuring guest Bloggers for several weeks, special thanks to today’s blogger, Christine Mackey-Mason. Would you like to be a guest also? Just check out the Blog Faerie Commandments On the right hand side of this page. 

We had our first Integrity Board call a few nights ago and Louise Brooks was not a part of that call. I felt a huge hole during the entire call. Louise was not afraid to speak her mind on those board calls. I think that many of us hold back our thoughts and opinions because we are afraid that we might offend someone or we’ll alienate a boss or co-worker. Louise had the rare courage and chutzpa to say her truth as she felt and knew it. If it was something that she felt strongly about, she let you know. Louise was Director of Communications on the board of Integrity. Being on the board of Integrity is a volunteer position. Integrity would never have been able to afford the caliber of work that Louise produced for Integrity. Her knowledge of the spoken and written word was a major contribution to Integrity’s work over the last 8 years. The Voices of Witness films are a credit to her ability to put a vision on film.

The last vision Louise brought to fruition was a film about Transgendered people called Out of the Box. The video was released on June 1, 2012 and screened at the Episcopal General Convention in Indianapolis July 2012. It was a tremendous success. It was my personal favorite. When I finished watching the film for the first time, I didn’t want it to end. I had become so vested in these people’s lives, I wanted to know more. The film changed people’s hearts and minds. All of our legislation for Transgendered people was passed through both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops. So different from just 3 years ago.
I think that it’s ironic that while the Transgendered people in OOTB talked about being “re-born” into the authentic persons they are today, Louise felt her sickest. The publicity picture taken of Louise during the last days of filming was the best picture I had ever seen of her. I commented on it when she sent it to me. She said “I felt so lousy and nauseous on that day”. You would have never known it. Her face was soft, calm and with a beautiful smile.

Unfortunately, due to the ravages of chemo therapy, she was not able to see the film screened in Indianapolis. Louise put her heart and soul into this film. Perhaps she felt that it would be her last. She was passionate about people understanding who Transgendered people are. Her passion showed in every frame of the film from the opening of baby photos to the very last piece of music during the film credits.

Louise was a courageous woman. She fought her cancer with everything she had in her. I believe that her faith, love, courage, sense of purpose in life and her sense of responsibility for her fellow human beings carried her through to seeing the film Out of the Box realized. If you haven’t seen the film you should click on the link below. Thank you Louise for making such a wonderful faith filled humanistic film about a group of people who have been sadly neglected in both the hetero and homosexual worlds. You will be remembered for your courage of person and truth of word and film.

(As Susan Russell stated in an earlier blog, Louise very much wanted to see a Spanish language version of this film made. It would be a tremendous insight for the Spanish language culture to see. If you would like to help make this a reality go to IntegrityUSA and click on donate and make an offering.)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Memorial Service Plans for Louise Emerson Brooks

A Message from Rev. Susan Russell, Louise's wife:
"There are no words to express the depths of our gratitude for your words of support and love for us and in tribute to Louise's extraordinary life. We will celebrate her life with a service at All Saints Church in Pasadena on Saturday, September 8th at 11am with a reception to follow. 

"Please come prepared to grieve her loss, celebrate her life -- and to tell stories about the part of Louise Emerson Brooks that touched your life. That is quite literally what she said she wanted -- and the producer in her was very clear that she wanted a "production credit" for the celebration of her life. For more details call All Saints at (626) 796-1172."

Donations may be made in Louise's memory to:
Integrity USA
838 East High St. #291
Lexington, KY 40502
     donate now

Husky Camp -- Siberian Husky Rescue
    donate now

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Remembering Louise Emerson Brooks

A Remembrance by Integrity President Caro Hall

It was 2006, the first time I was a volunteer at General Convention, that I met Louise. I was the main writer that year, and she was head of the communications team, as she was in 2009 and 2012. Over the years we became close friends. It was Louise who called me to ask if I would step in when David Norgard had to resign before completing his full term as President; it was Louise who kept me abreast of things I should know about in the national and international church; it was Louise who kept pushing ahead and keeping us on track.

Caro Hall and Louise Brooks in 2012
Her passion for LGBT rights and LGBT inclusion in the Church has been an inspiration to me. I can’t imagine that she ever thought about much else – she always had an idea of where Integrity should be going, how we should be presenting our message, how we could do a better job. It will be impossible to fill the huge space she leaves; Integrity will need to find two or three people to pick up the work that she has done so faithfully, even when discouraged and even when extremely ill.

Louise has left us a tangible legacy in the Voices of Witness video series. The first one tells the story of same-gender couples whose relationships are blessed by God and the Church; the second, filmed by Cynthia Black and Katie Sherrod, gave voice to LGBT Christians in Africa; and the third, released just a few months ago, Out of the Box, tells the experience of transgender Episcopalians – in their own voices. We are so grateful that she completed these projects in her competent and painstaking way – producing material which has helped to move the Church towards greater and greater levels of inclusion.

My heart goes out to her spouse Susan Russell, her brother Fred, and the whole family as well as their church family at All Saints Pasadena.

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Louise. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive her into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.