Friday, August 29, 2014

Announcement of Special Election

Dear Members:

It is my duty as Chair of the Stakeholders’ Council of Integrity to inform you that I have received notice from the Board Secretary, Mel Soriano, that the Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall has informed him that she has resigned from her duties as Board President.

Pursuant to Chapter 2, Article 4, Section 5, Paragraph C of the Bylaws, I will work with Mel and the Council Vice-Chair, the Rev. Deacon Carolyn Woodall, to prepare a call for nominations for a special election for the office of President to serve out the current term, which concludes on 1st October 2015.

Pursuant to Chapter 2, Article 1, Section 3, Paragraph A, only Integrity members whose dues are paid and current at the time of issuance of this letter are eligible to be nominated. We will share a job description for the office and instructions for nominations next week.

As described in Chapter 3, Article 1, Section 1, members of the Stakeholders’ Council with seat, voice, and vote are eligible to participate in the special election. These include:
  • Chapter Conveners (chapter must be active and up-to-date with requirements)
  • Diocesan Organizers
  • Congregational Circle Moderators (up-to-date with requirements)
  • Partner Representatives (P2 Organizational Partners & P3 Congregational Partners) (up-to-date with requirements)
  • Lifetime Members
I will work with Director of Development, Sam Peterson, to verify the pool of eligible voters. These people will be notified individually with instructions for reviewing the candidates and balloting.

Interim Leadership

While the election process is underway, the Board has agreed that the following responsibilities be in effect:
  • The Rev. Jon Richardson, VP - National Affairs will chair board meetings and be the point of contact for concerns related to the Board.
  • Matt Haines, VP - Local Affairs will support the staff and be the point of contact related to concerns related to the staff, as well as continuing to support the local network of Provincial Coordinators and Diocesan Organizers.
  • I will continue to support and be the contact for the Stakeholders not listed above, which include Chapter Conveners, Life Members, and Partner Representatives.
If you are unsure as to the best point of contact for your concern, please contact our office and they will assist you.

The Board thanks Dr. Hall for her dedication and service and respects her decision to resign. We wish her abundant blessings in the days ahead.


Christian M. Paolino
Chair, Integrity Stakeholders' Council

Kay Smith Riggle: Moved by the Spirit to Take a Stand

Kay Smith Riggle
I was reared in a Christian home and in the Baptist church. There were many influences on my faith. Some were good and some were not so good but my mother had profound influence particularly in how others were treated. If I ever made an unkind comment about someone, she would always say, "there but for the grace of God go I." She lived into those words. If a person was being treated unkindly or "less than", she was always the one to step forward to stop the injustice…..or at least make the attempt. Oh, do I have stories!! As her daughter, I find myself doing the same thing.

The time came when I saw the Baptist faith I was reared in treat others "less than" and unjustly. I walked away. My faith in the church suffered but my faith in God never wavered. After 30 years a friend invited me to the Episcopal Church and I found a home there. The Baptismal Covenant resonated deeply with me especially the statement, "Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?" I knew I had found a home.

I had always wondered what had inspired my mother to take the stands she did and why I find myself doing the same. It seemed that the urge to stand up in the face of injustice was something I could not shake. I referred to these urges as "spiritual kicks in the butt." And then I was introduced to the Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton through her blog, Telling Secrets. She introduced me to an aspect of Holy Spirit that I knew well but not by name. Her name is Shekinah, and I will let Elizabeth introduce you to her.

And that is why this letter was written to the Valdosta State University President, William McKinney.
Dear President McKinney,

For many years I have taken a great deal of pride in living in a community with a university. Valdosta State University offers our community a variety of educational opportunities, differing opinions and staff who are engaged in their community. This is a huge asset to our community and surrounding areas.

I must say that I was stunned to see an announcement that Dr. Ben Carson would be coming to Valdosta State University to speak to the School of Business. Ben Carson, as I am sure you know, has formed a PAC and selected a 2016 Campaign Chairperson "should he decide to run for President of the United States." One of the reasons I was so stunned is that I am a former state employee. I remember quite clearly the training that state employees had prior to every election. We were told that while on the job we could not promote a specific candidate, we could use no state monies nor could any state facility be used to support or promote a specific candidate. Those of us who traveled were advised to not put bumper stickers on our personal cars if the car was used in our official duties. We were advised that even the appearance of violating these policies could put our jobs in jeopardy. We were told that we could advocate for issues and educate politicians but supporting a candidate as part of our job or on a state time was not allowed and we could lose our jobs as a result.

I don’t understand how VSU can bring Ben Carson in in view of state policies. Have the policies changed? Is the university system different? Even if there have been changes or policies differ, supporting a candidate or party as a state university is not a wise decision.” As the old saying goes, if you haven’t "backed the right horse" you could stand to lose for the university and for the community.

The second issue that I find troubling is Ben Carson’s views on homosexuality. He compares homosexuality to pedophilia and bestiality. John Hopkins University (the university that employed him for more than 30 years) had invited him to speak at the 2013 graduation. In reaction to Ben Carson’s statements regarding homosexuality, Dr. Paul Rothman, the dean of medical faculty at Johns Hopkins University, said in a statement that Carson's words were offensive but emphasized the school's belief in free speech as well. Dr Rothman said, "We recognize that tension now exists in our community because hurtful, offensive language was used by our colleague, Dr. Ben Carson, when conveying a personal opinion. Dr. Carson’s comments are inconsistent with the culture of our institution." Carson stepped down as speaker. Emory University also withdrew an invitation for him to speak.

The mission statement of VSU proclaims that social justice is promoted. Also, VSU also has a Safe Space program that promotes a safe, secure environment so that a person of the LGBTQ community never feels harassed or unwanted at VSU. I cannot imagine that the VSU LGBTQ community feels the welcome that the words and programs of VSU seem to imply. I can tell you that -- as a member of the LGBTQ community -- I feel a little less safe in our community with a person who espouses extreme homophobic views having the red carpet rolled out for him by the local university.

As Dr. Rothman of John Hopkins so wisely stated, "It is clear that the fundamental of freedom of speech has been placed in conflict with our core values of diversity, inclusion and respect." As an individual, I most definitely support freedom of speech, but that does not free a person from the consequences of that speech. I would suggest that you follow the example of the two highly respected universities and withdraw your invitation to Ben Carson to speak at VSU.


Kay Smith Riggle

Kay Smith Riggle is the current convener of Integrity Georgia. She and her wife Sarah Smith Riggle are long-time residents of Valdosta, GA.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Success In Fayetteville

Since coming out as a priest who happens to be transgender nearly six months ago I have embarked on a great adventure that has involved a little bit of traveling. In June I had the great privilege to take my first ever road trip. I considered it a pilgrimage. I drove from Little Rock to Washington D.C. for the liturgy at the National Cathedral honoring Pride month and the LGBT community. I went to hear a good friend preach in that magnificent building. I was honored, and humbled, to have had the opportunity to attend a reception at the Dean’s residence following the liturgy.

Getting there was as much a part of my pilgrimage as the few days spent in the nation’s capital connecting with old friends and making new ones. My first night on the road was spent with an Episcopal Youth Community (EYC) friend from back in the day. We had reconnected on Facebook after years of being out of touch and quickly discovered that she had recently embarked on a journey of her own and it was really good to reconnect personally. The visit also gave me a chance to educate her significant other about what it’s like being transgender. Although I gently corrected them on things like using the hurtful “T” word and asking about “The Procedure”, there wasn't any malice in the questions. It was honest curiosity from a caring person who didn't have the knowledge. After all, I was the first transgender person that they had ever (knowingly) met and we continued the conversation late into the evening.

The journey continued with my trip back to Little Rock, when I took the northern route so I could return home for my mother’s birthday. Visiting my mom is always an interesting time for me, especially these days since I haven’t come out to her. I realize it wouldn’t be fair to her at this time in her life. I brought flowers and a card to her memory support unit and as I entered through the doors of the common area, as DRAB as is possible for me these days, she turned and I saw that flicker of recognition in her eyes. Waves of emotions washed over me as my eyes welled up. She looked at me and smiled as we made our way downstairs to the Bistro for a birthday celebration, along the way, she told nearly everyone we passed, “this is my daughter.” There was the Skyline Chili, and the special rib place that the locals know about, there were all the meaningful places filled with a lifetime of memories revisited on my great solo road trip and adventure, but nothing came close to the unexpected grace that took place in the journey from the memory support floor to the Bistro.

On July 25th events beginning with a Friday evening at a National Center for Transgender Equality event, an HRC Summer of Conversations event on Saturday, and culminating in me assisting at the Eucharists at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Sunday morning. It was wonderful connecting for the first time with members and allies of the trans community in Northwest Arkansas. As it turns out the journey took an unexpected turn when I shared a meal and found a deep connection with new friends at lunch on Saturday. Amazing things can happen when people gather around a table for a common meal. Nothing, however, prepared me for what took place on Sunday morning. Many in the trans community and allies from the Fayetteville area, attended those services at St. Paul’s. They were welcomed by the gathering community at the parish. (I notice those sorts of things these days.) I suspect many knew it was a safe place because of their experience with the parish. I suspect others came in solidarity. To support me in I was back on the road, this time to Fayetteville, Arkansas. It would be a full weekend of their midst and each other in the community.

And then it happened again. More unexpected grace was experienced in the journeys from the altar to the rail and from the pews to the altar. It was a first communion for many. It was a welcoming seat at the table with room for all. It was a sacred moment. Head down. Hands outstretched to receive. Shoulders quivering with emotions as my trans friends experienced acceptance, love, and wholeness. As did this priest. The body of Christ, the bread of heaven.

The people of Fayetteville took a pretty amazing journey of their own this week. In the wee hours of Wednesday morning (“We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed...”) and after 10 hours of public comment and debate, the City Council passed an anti-discrimination ordinance by a vote of 6-2. Those friends I had made just a few weeks ago queued up and spoke out about the discrimination and violence they have endured at the hands of those who don’t believe they have a right to exist. It was not an easy journey for them. Many of the opponents in the council chamber spoke about bathrooms and pedophiles, mental illness and sin. And in the end, my brothers and sisters in the trans community and our allies, made their own pilgrimage of sorts from the back of the room to the podium to tell their stories and witness to the reality of living their lives authentically. It was a huge decision and accomplishment for many of them to overcome the fear of loss and prejudice and discrimination with their detractors in their midst. Speaking the truth in love always has costs, and we never know where it may lead before we embark on that journey. But I believe we all experience grace along the way.

My friends in the LGBT community weren't the only ones who benefited early Wednesday morning, with the passage of this anti-discrimination ordinance. The city of Fayetteville was given a gift of grace as well in the amazing example of leadership by their elected council members and area clergy. Let us never forget the risk individual members of the council took in making the decision to verbally support and vote for this expansion of equality for all the city’s residents. What it came down to is the integrity of community members like Alderman Matthew Perry who proposed this ordinance. In his final comments before the vote he said, “...I think the stories we’ve heard tonight – which have been absolutely courageous in their telling – are evidence that there are issues [of discrimination].” Alderman Mark Kinion added, “We must step forward bravely and with immediacy. We must admit that there is the possibility of an unsafe environment for individuals here. It is our responsibility as elected officials to look out for those minorities who cannot fight for themselves.”

After 10 hours of comment and debate, after all these pilgrimages and journeys, travels - and trips to the altar rail, finding empty seats at the table after so many risked everything those wee hours of Wednesday morning, Mayor Lioneld Jordan had a word of unexpected grace before the final vote was taken.

“If you don’t depart, you don’t arrive.”

The Rev. 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.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

An Unexpected Oasis

The last few days have been a surreal crescendo in an awful week of one of the most personally difficult stretches in my life. On Sunday morning, I woke up and found I could do little but sob and ask why. I ranted (and honestly have not stopped), but honestly...felt absolutely crushed by the impotence of my rage.

I decided with little deliberation that I would visit a friend's church about an hour away in the mountains south of Charlottesville. I am not, by any estimation, a religious person, but the friends who run this little Episcopal church have cultivated one of the most open and welcoming congregations of thinkers around.

As I sat in the pew, a woman sitting in front of me (she was at least 80 if not 90 years young) gently turned and whispered to me every time the congregation took up a hymn or a reading in the Book of Common Prayer. She correctly guessed that I was totally out of my element and needed a little help with the details.

I also cried...a lot, and though I was embarrassed in this room full of strangers, I got nothing but
compassionate smiles, unsolicited hugs, and another helpful tip from the sweet woman in front of me ("there's a box of tissues at the end of each pew").

All of this would have been enough to soothe my hurts -- the frighteningly manic feeling that I just could not take anymore news about war, injustice, hatred, the deaths of children, sexual assaults, environmental devastation, disease, poverty, hunger, and more AND the knowledge that my ethical principles will now allow me to "tune out" -- but the sermon spoke PRECISELY to what I was feeling. I do not believe this is coincidence. And I think some of what I heard that morning is worth sharing with those of you who may also be struggling to reconcile what we see in our world and the belief that what is good and right will prevail.

Thank you to the folks at Grace Episcopal Church, Massies Mill and the Rev Marion Kanour, you have helped me more than you know.

An excerpt from the sermon by the Rev. Marion E. Kanour:
Perhaps the whole world has gone mad. It can surely seem that way at times. Is it folly to believe in Love’s power to redeem, to make whole, to heal? Are we fools to believe we make a difference in helping mercy, compassion and peace find places to incarnate in today’s world? What if we gave up trying? What if we turned out backs on our baptismal vows, turned a deaf ear to the cry of the poor and the oppressed? What if we folded the Nelson County Domestic Violence Task Force or stopped offering our Thankful Thursday dinners or stopped our knitting group meetings? Would it matter?

I believe whenever we celebrate the power of a loving community we increase our own awareness of the difference Love can make in our own lives and in our world.

It matters that our historic building is here. But what matters more is the community that gathers within its walls. We CAN BE and OFTEN ARE an oasis of joy and love and a catalyst for social justice and compassion. There’s only one requirement: never give up on the transforming power of Love in own lives and in the world. All we can impact is our own small part of the vineyard. May we continue to strive together for mercy, compassion, peace and justice here and now that we might be an outward and visible sign of the inward and spiritual grace that abides.

J. Nikol Beckham, Ph.D. is the Assisant Professor of Communication Studies & Service Learning Coordinator at Piedmont Virginia Community College in Charlottesville VA

Thursday, August 14, 2014

We Must Keep the Feast Day of Jonathan Daniels in Ferguson

In the Episcopal Church, today is the Feast of Jonathan Myrick Daniels. On this date in 1965, Daniels, a young Episcopal seminarian from Keene, N.H. joined a civil rights protest in Fort Deposit, Alabama. He and 28 other protesters were arrested. Daniels was released six days later. While waiting for a ride with three other released protesters, Daniels and another protestor, Ruby Sales, walked over to the Verner's Cash Store to buy a cold drink. Waiting for them there was unpaid special deputy Tom L Coleman. Coleman threatened the group with his shot gun, aiming specifically at Ruby Sales. Daniels pushed Sales out of the way. Coleman shot Daniels, who died instantly. Coleman then shot the fleeing Sales in the back.
Coleman was later acquitted by an all-white jury and faced no penalty for the killing.

Integrity USA stands in solidarity with the peaceful protestors in Ferguson, Missouri. We condemn the outrageous and needless killing of Michael Brown. Just as the ACT UP protesters needed to be heard, just as the voices in gay Africa need to be heard, we must stand for those who fear to speak their mind in their own American suburban community. We condemn police killing of unarmed teenagers in all cases, locations, and situations.

We pray that protestors in Ferguson remember the power of nonviolent resistance.

Integrity USA calls on LGBT Christians to recognize that institutional violence against people of color is violence against our community as well. All too often, LGBT people of color face the brunt of the homophobic and transphobic violence in our country.

As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial 'outside agitator' idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds."

The violence in Ferguson affects all of us. We also condemn the militaristic tactics used against protestors in Ferguson. Rubber bullets and tear gas are weapons of war. Police have no right to carry out these sorts of attacks on American citizens, on the beloved Children of God.

Remember that our Lord Christ too was a victim of institutional violence, was killed in an official manner by the law enforcement of his day. We call on all law enforcement in Ferguson to take extreme care to respect the life, well being, and civil rights of all people in the city, for an immediate end to violence in Ferguson, an immediate demilitarization of the city's police force.

Please join us in praying a collect for peace from the Book of Common Prayer:
Almighty God, kindle, we beseech thee, in every heart the  true love of peace, and guide with thy wisdom those who take counsel for the nations of the earth, that in tranquility thy dominion may increase till the earth is filled with the knowledge of thy love; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Almighty God, who hast created us in thine own image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Sarah Vivian Gathright Taylor is the Executive Director of Integrity USA

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Comedy and Tragedy Unmasked - Reflections on Robin Williams' Passing

Integrity Board member Mel Soriano posted a reflection on his personal blog about the passing of fellow Episcopalian and marriage equality supporter Robin Williams. An excerpt is shared below. The full blog posting reflecting on depression, suicide, and pastoral care can be found at "Let All Who Are Thirsty Come".

I was a teenager when Robin Williams first appeared on Happy Days. The role was a cooky one but for some inexplicable reason they spun it into a show. Oh, and what a show. I loved Mork and Mindy, but not just because of the humor. His characterization of Mork as a child-like space alien touched because he wore his heart on his sleeve. Mork was honest, sharing, and curious.

Since then, Robin Williams' movie legacy has been not only extensive but surprisingly deep and particularly broad. His range was tremendous. From manic to sensitive, from restrained to loving, he carried it all. I was flat out stunned at his and John Lithgow's grasp of the characters in World According to Garp. Later on, he impressed in Good Morning Vietnam and brought me to tears in Dead Poets Society. Even in the over the top The Birdcage, he brought an amazing restraint to Armand Coleman/Coldman/Goldman that made his love for his partner more tangible. This was in the day when marriage equality was treated as a novelty, rather than something with truly emotional and loving underpinnings.

Oh, and I nearly fell off the Golden Gate bridge one time as we passed each other on bicycles and I froze in awe - not a smart thing to do on a bicycle over the San Francisco Bay.

Why am I reflecting on my fellow Episcopalian's passing? Because underneath this outward genius was apparently a pained and hurt individual. We can't diagnose from afar, but his substance abuse was likely linked to the underlying emotional burden. He carried his demons with him into his marriages, and we didn't have access to his tears off-screen.

To read the entire blog posting, visit "Let All Who Are Thirsty Come".

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

Monday, August 11, 2014

HIV and Corporate Profit: Recognizing the needs of a Community

Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves." Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." And he said, "Bring them here to me." Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
––Matthew 14:13–21, Lection for Proper 13A [August 3, 2014]

When I first moved to Boston in September of 2011 (some nine months after my diagnosis with HIV), I was not yet on an anti-retroviral medication. To be quite candid, I was afraid to start treatment. Despite the incredible reduction of side-effects caused by anti-retroviral treatment, I was weary of the cost. Starting an HIV medication can be something of a life-long commitment; in order for it to work the most effectively, total (or near total) adherence (that is, taking the medication every day, as prescribed) is requisite. Ceasing treatment often runs the risk of viral mutation and, therefore, resistance to medications. This was a proverbial plunge for which I was not ready.

Once established with a local HIV specialist, however, a medication was prescribed to me. My previous doctor in New York City had leaned on an older model of care. His stance was to wait to begin an anti-retroviral regimen until a patient's CD4 (or T-cell) count had dropped below about 300 (a count of 200 or fewer usually indicates the on-set of AIDS). This meant that, in theory, I could have gone many, many years without beginning medication, depending on my body's ability to handle the virus. My provider in Boston, however, introduced me to the notion of "Treatment as Prevention," a now standard approach to HIV care.

Treatment as Prevention relies on the now clinically verifiable notion that, in order to slow or even prevent the spread of HIV, a patient who is sero-positive should adhere to a medication so that the patient's viral load is suppressed to undetectable levels (or, what is called "undetectable viral load"). Studies have shown that HIV-positive patients who adhere to medication and maintain an undetectable viral load are exponentially less likely to transmit the virus (one researcher has even been quoted saying that the chances are reduced to near zero percent).

With this knowledge in hand, I accepted my provider's orders and began treatment. The results were almost instantaneous: within a month my viral load was reduced from 20,000 copies per unit to completely undetectable levels. As a result, my CD4 count rose, and my last blood panel showed them hovering just over 850––a high, healthy CD4 count for anyone, positive or negative. I, like so many others, now live with the reassurance that it is almost impossible for me to transmit the virus, especially when other precautions are taken. My adherence to anti-retroviral treatment is a safe-guard to the community, as well as myself.

This was the good news. The bad news, however, revealed itself when I needed to find away to pay for treatment. When I started taking medication in October of 2011, I had to rely on student insurance. While I am now fortunate enough to have coverage through MassHealth, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts public insurance, I did not qualify for it in 2011 because the university had enrolled me with Aetna. This presented a major problem. Not only did Aetna not adequately cover my doctor visits or blood work, they maintained a $2,000 yearly cap for medications. That might sound like a reasonable cap, but a 30-day supply of Atripla (the anti-retroviral medication prescribed to me) costs just over $2,000.

I'll repeat that: a 30-day supply of Atripla costs just over $2,000. I was (and continue to be) fortunate enough to live in an area of the U.S. where there are many resources for someone living with HIV. Although it was, by no means, an easy feat to get my medication covered during the first year, thanks to the incredible medical social workers in Boston I now have full coverage. This, however, is not the case universally, both at home and abroad. Treatment can be hard to come by, and this often prevents those living with HIV from receiving adequate access to medicine--medicine which not only allows patient to live longer, but also prevents the spread of HIV.

We will never live in a post-HIV/AIDS epoch unless this changes. Until there is a vaccine or a cure, Treatment as Prevention is the only sustainable model that benefits both the HIV-positive and HIV-negative communities. At a certain point, we have to ask ourselves (especially as communities of faith) how much longer we can allow the corporate profit made off of those living with HIV to outweigh the imperative that anti-retroviral therapy be made readily and affordably available to all, for the sake of all. Medications do not simply save individual lives; they save communities.

"Loaves and Fishes Mosaic"
Used under Creative Commons License.
Some rights reserved
The Gospel pericope cited above serves as a cornerstone of this imperative. In this enacted parable (the historicity of which is not my purpose here), Jesus gives his disciples a command –– he gives us a command: "You go and feed them." The responsibility here is not Jesus’; it is ours. The necessary resources are already abundant by God's good grace, and we simply have to recognize that. But, in recognizing this abundance, we are also forced to ask where this abundance frequently ends up. Does it end up serving the good of the community, or does it end up in the hands of a few? The responsibility is ours.

Let's take Jesus at his word in this parable: "You go and feed them."

Sean R. Glenn is Integrity's Diocesan Organizer for Massachusetts. He is a composer and conductor of sacred choral music, and holds a Masters in Theological Studies from Boston University and a Master of Arts in Music from the Aaron Copland School at Queens College. His home on the web is

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Taking Their Authority: Marie Alford-Harkey Reflects on the Philadelphia 11

Sermon Proper 13A
August 3, 2014
Trinity Episcopal Church, Hartford, CT
Marie Alford-Harkey, M.Div.
Matthew 14:13-21

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 

When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves." Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, "Bring them here to me." 

Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

In the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand there’s an inside story between Jesus and his disciples, and that’s where I want to focus today.

Jesus is training the disciples to take up their own ministries. It starts when he refuses to allow them to send the people away to find food, but instead tells them "You give them something to eat." When they protest, he says, "Bring me what you have." And so they bring him the five loaves and two fish that they have.

After he said the blessing, Jesus didn’t hand the disciples baskets and baskets of bread and fish. He handed back to them exactly what they had given him. He sent them out into that crowd of 5,000 men and countless women and children with five loaves of bread and two fish.

That’s what ministry looks like. Bring me what you have, says Jesus, and I’ll bless you and send you back into the world. But I’m going to make you do the work. You feed the people.

It’s an appropriate message on this weekend after the celebration of the anniversary of women’s ordination in the Episcopal Church. On July 29, 1974, eleven women were "irregularly" ordained to the Episcopal priesthood at the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia. They came to be known as the
Philadelphia 11.

The Rev. Suzanne Hiatt, one of the Philadelphia 11, said in a speech some 9 years after the fact, "In the prayerbook ordination service according to which I was ordained a priest in July 1974 (remember, this was before the 'new' 1979 prayerbook), the bishop in laying hands on the head of the ordinand recites this formula: 'Take thou authority to execute the office of a Priest in the Church of God, now committed to thee by the imposition of our hands.' ... The bishop does not confer priestly authority but simply tells the ordinand to assume it. The story of the ordination of women priests in the Episcopal Church is a case study of women 'taking' authority..."

Those women got tired of waiting for the church to act, and so they took what they had, it was blessed, and they went about doing the work they had been called to do.

Perhaps you are like me. By the time I showed up at an Episcopal Church, the ordination of women was a given. Or perhaps you’ve been an Episcopalian for a long time, and you remember the ordination of the Philadelphia 11. Perhaps you are young enough that women have been priests in the Episcopal
Church all your life. Perhaps you’re still a little uncomfortable with the idea of a soprano-pitched chanting voice, or painted fingernails around a chalice, or a curvy female body under a cassock or alb.

But all of us, no matter where we are situated in respect to the events July 29, 1974, all of us have been affected by the ordination of women in this church. Thank God.

Earlier this year, when I was at my parents’ house down in Georgia, I came across an essay I wrote when I was a 9th  grader. The date on this yellowing sheet of paper is 9-9-80. The title is "What I Want to Do With My Life."

In it, I wrote, "I want to find new ways to reach people for Christ and develop my own teaching ministry." My 14 year old self went on to say that "I want to study Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic," and that I "want to get into theology a little later on, after my beliefs and convictions become stronger." (I wonder who had warned me already about the crisis of faith that is a nearly universal experience for those who study theology.) Finally, I concluded that, "I want to be a really good teacher in some sort of outreach ministry teaching conferences and seminars."

Do you notice what I notice in that old paper? At 14, as a part of a conservative Christian tradition, it did not even cross my mind that I could study theology and become a minister. But I knew that I was called. And I went on to fulfill the call to teach. And by the time that I eventually heeded the call to study theology, because of the Philadelphia 11, I knew that it was possible for a woman, even a lesbian woman, to be a priest in my chosen faith tradition.

Last weekend, April and I went to the celebration that marked this historic anniversary at the Church of the Advocate. While April and I both love a good church party, I am usually the one who wants to go to diocesan convention, or General Convention, or a mission conference, or a listening session. But this was April’s idea. She was the one who reminded me that we stand on the shoulders of the Philadelphia 11, who took their authority as priests 40 years ago.

Marie Alford-Harkey with the Rev. Carter Heyward
PHOTO CREDIT April Alford-Harkey
It was a joyous weekend, filled with the fun of greeting friends old and new, honoring how far women have come in the church, and recognizing how far we have to go in reaching the goal of equality for all people in the institutional structures of the Episcopal Church.

I got to meet and talk to one of my sheroes, the Rev. Carter Heyward, Ph.D., who was one of the Philadelphia 11 and a professor at Episcopal Divinity School (where April and I both went to seminary) from 1975 until her retirement in 2006. My smile (and Carter’s) in the picture that April took of us testifies to my excitement, and I’m sure, to my place as a true church nerd.

Dr. Fredrica Harris Thompsett, another EDS professor and a noted Anglican church historian and theologian gave the keynote address at the symposium. She challenged us to live truly into the "embodied nature of Anglican theology" that emphasizes the goodness of all creation and the dwelling of the incarnate Christ in us and us in him. All people, she said, must claim their bodies "as sacred vehicles of spiritual authority."

And this is one reason why I say that all of us here have been affected by the ordination of women in the Episcopal Church. Every Sunday, we gather as diverse people who make up the whole body of Christ, and celebrate the Eucharist together. Just here in this community, we are old and young and in
between, we have light brown, dark brown, or rosy pink skin, we are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, we are born in this country and not born in this country. Our bodies vary by size, shape, and ability. The fact that those who preside at our celebration of the Eucharist, our priests, can also represent that beautiful diversity is of great theological significance, and it would not be true had not those 11 women "taken their authority."

The women who took their priestly authority, like Carter Heyward and Suzanne Hiatt, were unabashed feminists. They made no apologies for their hope that rather than the institution changing women to serve its ends, women could help the institution continue to renew itself by becoming less clergy-centered and less hierarchical. Our "new" prayer book of 1979 was meant to further this aim by reminding us that baptism is our first ordination.

Our catechism, which is much older, teaches us that "The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons." All Christians are ordained by God in Christ through baptism to carry out God’s mission in the world. We are all called to take what we have to Jesus, have it blessed, and
then go out into the world to do our ministry.

So today, I invite you to reflect on your own ordination as a minister of the gospel of Christ. What do you have that you can bring to Jesus to be blessed? How will you claim your authority as an ordained person?

Marie Alford-Harkey earned her M. Div from the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., and is a aspirant for Holy Orders in the Diocese of Connecticut.  When not busy at her "day job" as Deputy Director of the Religious Institute, she serves Integrity as Province I Coordinator and on the board of Integrity Connecticut.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Parable of Hope - Reflections on the Philadelphia 11

The Rev. Dr. Cameron Partridge has written a beautiful sermon celebrating both the anniversary of the ordinations of the Philadelphia 11 and the forward looking spirit of the Episcopal Church. One of the first openly transgender priests in the Church, Partridge describes how the history of the Philadelphia 11 allowed him to come to a fuller understanding our radical radical faith and ability to find the Kingdom of God in this world.

"...after years of effort – organizing, education, conversation – there came a time when a number of those working on this impasse decided that these ordinations simply needed to move forward.  And so in Philadelphia on July 29, 1974 – forty years ago – a group of women that came to be called the “Philadelphia Eleven” was ordained to the priesthood by three retired bishops.  In many ways this event changed everything for our church.  And in many ways this story (now told afresh in a new book by Darlene O’Dell) changed everything for me.  It spoke to me so deeply that I began to experience The Episcopal Church in which I had grown up in a completely new way. This Church revealed itself as willing to struggle, to move forward, to stake its life on being and becoming a new creation.  This story became for me a source of profound hope."

We encourage you to read the entire blog article on Partridge's blog, Peculiar Honors. You can find it at "Parable of Hope".