Monday, April 28, 2014

Ubi caritas et amor deus ibi est

Where there is charity and love, God is there.

We were married on April 26, 2014 at All Saints Pasadena. Our procession was led by the dove, a symbol of the Holy Spirit and peace. Later, after The Rev. Susan Russell accepted our declarations of consent and our rector, The Rev. Ed Bacon, accepted our solemn vows, we were blessed.

Blessed by the church, yes. But also and as importantly, we were blessed by the cloud of witnesses who were present around us, who enfolded us in their love, support, and encouragement. We were raised high by the Holy Spirit to unite our flames and create more Light to shine around us.

I didn't read Susan's blog post This is the Day the Lord Has Made until the next day. The next day happened to also be the day we held a celebration memorial for Stephen's brother -- my brother-in-law who passed on two weeks exactly before the wedding day. I read her blog that morning and it set my wheels turning.

We celebrate God and each other when love each other, when we give of ourselves. Our church, our friends, and our families gave their blessing to us. On our knees at the altar, we felt the gift of life and strength on our shoulders, in our hands, on our head. When we celebrated Tim's life, we accepted his gift of love, sensitivity, and personal commitment to honesty.

Giving and loving. What a blessing our world is when the Holy Spirit shines bright in all God's children. It makes no sense to restrict this to the few. Grace is there for us and we can't decide who gets it and who doesn't. We can only love. And give.

To love another person is to see the face of God.

Mel Soriano
Integrity Board of Directors (Director of Communications, Secretary)
Vestry/Coventry Choir/Taizé/Labyrinth All Saints Pasadena

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Odes to Joy: An Invitation and a Blessing

I'm counting the hours. In a few months, my life odometer flips over to 50, but that's not what I'm counting. I'm ticking off the minutes to Saturday afternoon, 4pm Pacific Daylight Time, when I Mel Soriano will marry my fiance Stephen. We've been planning, researching, and shopping since the SCOTUS Windsor/DOMA decision and, frankly, I'll be glad when the practical, detailed, tedious considerations of a big church wedding are finally over.
Melvin Soriano and Stephen Mulder

Oh don't get me wrong. I'm not counting to get it over. I'm counting because in a way, despite the stress, despite the anxiety, despite the dramas of who will or will not attend, I'm flat out, overwhelmingly overjoyed. It's not a simple joy. This joy is bubbling over from a deep well, an ecstatic effervescent thrill that has almost no equal. I'm getting married and, having been raised Roman Catholic, particularly as a Filipino Roman Catholic, it never seemed possible that I would be given this blessing.

I'm counting down the hours because the joy of being blessed in holy matrimony is so intense that I don't want it to end.

Stephen and I have known each other for some time, so I doubt I'm naive about the effort needed to succeed as a couple. And we all know that, as they say, the honeymoon eventually has to end. But the blessing remains. The marriage, if nurtured and nourished, grows deeper and stronger.

One doesn't have a joy like this often. I actually remember only one other time when I felt this ecstatic. Surprisingly, this parallel eluded me until I sat beside and lunched with Victoria Ix, the Director of Communications of the Diocese of Western Massachussettes, at this year's Episcopal Communicators annual conference in Chicago. We were exchanging our life journeys, and it's from our discussion that this article arises.

The other time I was this ecstatic was my recommitment to the church. As I mentioned, I was raised Roman Catholic, but their stance on LGBT drove me away during high school. It still saddens me. I wanted to be a part of the church, but felt excluded from one of its most important blessings. I stopped going to church, though I would periodically sneak back in, wrapped in anonymity, to be closer to the God I yearned to know. I didn't want my friends to find out that I sought out religion because so many had been hurt by the Church and it seemed callous to bring up painful memories.

In essence, I was out as a gay man, but in the closet as a religious human being.

Things changed when I was invited and welcomed into the Episcopal Church. I was overjoyed and truly humbled by my inclusion at the table. From a place of hunger to a place of spiritual feasting, I found more happiness than I had ever realized possible. Oh sure, I have doubts, but actually I love those question marks. It means that I'm thinking, that I'm praying, that I'm always seeking out those thin spaces to deal with the challenges of life and spirit.

My blessing this Saturday will be the second time that I've experienced complete joy at All Saints Church Pasadena. I pray that those who are single, both by situation or by choice, will find or continue to get what feeds them, but I know from my heart that this blessing is nourishing me through and through. On both occasions, one an invitation to live as Christ asked us to live, the other to be blessed in the vocation of marriage, I marched through dark, arid deserts and walked out into holier pastures. I fully grasp the concept of the word "sacrament" when I feel this joy. So many prayers to those in states or dioceses that obstruct or delay this blessing from its people.

So today, with manna for my soul and songs of joy, I count the minutes so that I can always remember this time. And I count the hours, days, weeks, and years when all of us who struggle with how God made us vs how society treats us, when all who wait for the arc of history to bend towards justice, when all of us children of God can bathe in the light and be blessed in the body of Christ.

Mel has invited Integrity to watch the live stream of his wedding at
Saturday April 26 at 3:50pm PDT

Mel Soriano
Integrity Board of Directors (Director of Communications, Secretary)
Vestry/Coventry Choir/Taizé/Labyrinth All Saints Pasadena

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Church Task Force on Marriage Issues Progress Report

The Church Task Force on the Study of Marriage, created by Resolution A050 at the 2012 General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Indianapolis, today issued a report on the progress it has made since convening last year.

A video presentation was sent to both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies (clergy and laity elected to represent their dioceses), with written reflection questions. The Chair and Vice-Chair of the Task Force gave a presentation at the meeting of the House of Bishops at Camp Allen in Texas last month, at which the responses were presented.

"It became clear from the input we received that there is a profound level of support and concern for the work we have been asked to do," said the Rev. Brian C. Taylor, Chair of the Task Force. "Episcopalians care deeply about marriage and its potential for bringing joy and grace and for helping people become more fully alive and faithful as God’s agents of love and reconciliation in this world."

One of the key charges of the task force is to address the pastoral involvement of clergy in places where civil same-gender marriage is permitted. The response thus far has been piecemeal as dioceses choose to (or choose not to) craft their own policies, some using the provisional rite created to bless such relationships and also adopted by the Convention. The Task force "“feels that it is part of our responsibility to propose something for the church’s consideration that could offer consistency to what is currently taking place," Taylor explained.

In June, the Task Force will release a portfolio of resources for individuals and groups to use to discuss the issue.

The group also created its own Facebook page and Youtube channel encourages Episcopalians to interact with them via social media.  One-minute videos reflecting on "how you see God in relationships" may be emailed to

Integrity's Communications Director, Mel Soriano, Created this video
for the Task Force on Marriage  

The Task Force was created as a directive of Resolution A050 at the 2012 Convention of the Episcopal Church in Indianapolis.   The Rev. Canon Susan Russell, former President of Integrity, and the Rev. Cameron Partridge, Co-Convener of TransEpiscopal, are among the members.

To learn more about the report, visit Episcopal News Service.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Alan Gates Elected as Next Bishop of Massachusetts

On the fourth ballot, the Convention of the Diocese of Massachusetts elected the Rev. Alan M. Gates as its 16th bishop.  Pending the consent of the House of Bishops, Gates will succeed the Right Rev. M. Thomas Shaw, SSJE, when he retires later this year.

The Rev. Alan M. Gates

Diocese of Massachusetts
Gates is currently the Rector of St. Paul's: Cleveland Heights in the Diocese of Ohio, where he also served as Chair of the Commission on Ministry and the Standing Committee.  He worked previously in the Diocese at St. John the Evangelist: Hingham, as well as in Western Massachusetts and Chicago.  He attended Middlebury College and the Episcopal Divinity School, and is married with two grown sons.

"I am thrilled to welcome Alan Gates back to Boston," said Integrity's Executive Director, Vivian Taylor.  "He has been wonderfully supportive of Integrity's work in Ohio, and we are thrilled to have our new national office a few train stops from the Cathedral where he will be serving as Bishop."

The Diocese of Massachusetts, which includes the nine counties of the Commonwealth east and southeast of Worcester and has 77,000 members, is one of the oldest in the church.

Bishop Shaw has been a strong advocate for our work, and has been struggling with illness in recent days. Integrity asks its members to continue to pray for his recovery and comfort.  We look forward to deepening our relationship with Bishop-Elect Gates in the days ahead.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Archbishop of Canterbury Links Attacks on African Christians to Pro-LGBT Churches

The Most Rev. Justin Welby
Archbishop of Canterbury

PHOTO CREDIT:  Catholic Church
in England & Wales (
Used under Creative Commons License

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby,  today claimed on LBC radio in England that he had stood by the grave of more than three hundred Christians in Africa who had been killed as a result of "something that had happened in America." One is likely to conclude, as the interview continues, that "something" referred to the growing acceptance of LGBT people and our relationships by American churches, with the Episcopal Church the largest among them.

This is a very serious claim. Clearly Christians are being killed in religious and ethnic violence in many parts of the world, but this is for many complex reasons. To claim that these people died specifically because of same-gender marriage in America requires significant documentation. Who said that this was the motive? Was it the murderers? Or was this an interpretation offered by the relatives of those who died?

During the Middle Ages, half the population of Europe was wiped out by the Black Death. Jews were accused of poisoning the wells. A moral panic took hold amongst the remaining Christian population and Jews were massacred.

The Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall preaches at
Memorial Church of the Good Shepherd
in Philadelphia in 2013.

PHOTO CREDIT: Christian Paolino
Used with permission
Is it possible that the Archbishop is being caught up in a moral panic? Accusations that Muslim believers will kill Christians who are associated with a "gay church" have been with us for many years, but we have yet to see clear evidence that this is so. To blame deaths in South Sudan, or Nigeria or the Congo solely on our weddings is to ignore the many other reasons that hatred and civil war exists in those places.

By promulgating the view that it’s all "the gays" fault, the Archbishop is actually feeding the wave of homophobia that is sweeping other African nations which have strong Anglican presences – Uganda, Nigeria and Kenya.

Welby said that he was told when he was visiting South Sudan, "Please don’t change what you’re doing [not marrying gay or lesbian couples] because if you did, we couldn’t accept your help and we need your help desperately." Yet, the Church of South Sudan IS accepting help from the Episcopal Church, despite our very public progress on LGBT inclusion, including the blessing of same-gender relationships.

If the Archbishop is as keen on listening to the experience of gay and lesbian people in his own country and throughout the Anglican Communion as he says, then he needs to reconsider the effect of such remarks, both on those who leave the church and turn their backs on God because they are not fully welcome, and on those in Africa and other countries who have no doubt that their sexual orientation or gender identity is the reason they are meeting with violence and death, while the church looks on.

The Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall, President of Integrity, is a native of Great Britain. She serves as Rector of St. Benedict's: Los Osos in the Diocese of El Camino Real and is the author of A Thorn in the Flesh: How Gay Sexuality is Changing the Episcopal Church.