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.

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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.
Amen



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".



http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-6DaZ-VXEmMI/UqCRLsYMJWI/AAAAAAAAAV8/AHlNpD9dO0A/s1600/mel-texting.jpg



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"
PHOTO CREDIT: James Emery
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 www.seanglenn.com.

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".

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Devils and Dandelions: Being Wheat in a World of Weeds - A sermon by Matt Haines


Proper 11, Year A- St. Andrew & All Souls' Episcopal Church, Portland
Not long ago, I was walking through my front lawn and saw a dandelion which had gone to seed. I was instantly transported to my childhood when I would take the cottony flower in my hand and blow with all my might. WHEW; it was so fun to watch those little white specks take air. I felt so powerful. One day though, my grandmother watched me do this and called me over to her. She explained that I shouldn’t do that. I argued that it was so fun. She agreed that it looked fun, but she explained that these little white specks were actually bad seeds. These seeds caused weeds which smother the good flowers and the vegetable garden, and even ruined the lawn. I felt terrible because I thought I was doing something harmless, but now I had helped to ruin things. She smiled and said "It’s ok; you didn’t know. Besides, you are a good kid."

Thirty years later I still wonder sometimes, "Am I a good kid?" We all ask that question don’t we? What does it mean to be good—what does it mean to be evil?

Jesus’ parable of the "Wheat and the Chaff" (MT 13:24-30, 36-43) uses similar imagery. There is a field and an enemy had come by night and seeded weeds therein. The followers of the "evil one" planted weeds which threatened to smother and kill the wheat. The servants in the parable wanted to help by pulling out the weeds in order to save the wheat. The master said not to for fear of destroying the good with the bad—a sort of agricultural collateral damage. Jesus warns against this method when he explains that his followers were to be the good plants and that the angels would sort through the harvest at the end. Our job is simple, be the good kid. In other words, be the good seed.

Wait a minute! Aren’t we morally obligated to pull the weeds to protect the good seeds? Jesus’ answer—‘no’! It doesn’t work that way. Pulling weeds in this context is murderous to the good plants as well, and frankly it is the work of others. It is the work of angels.



An unknown counter-protester at a Westboro Baptist
Church demonstration in February of 2008
PHOTO CREDIT: Terry Ross (flickr.com/qnr)
Used by Creative Commons License.
Some rights reserved.
I would like to offer a real world example of this—Pastor Fred Phelps. He is that Westboro Baptist preacher in the cowboy hat who would picket the funerals with graphic signs and slurs stating that "God hates___" (insert the blank with a slur here). He and his followers blamed gay people for every possible ill and misfortune. He saw his job as pulling out the weeds (gay sinners) to protect the wheat (the non-gay righteous). For the LGBTQ community, this man was perhaps the most self-righteous and singly destructive soul of the past several decades. He started by protesting the funerals of people who died of AIDS and told their grieving families that God was happy that their loved one died and that he was happy that they were now in hell. Then he focused on people who died due to antigay or transphobic violence and yelled to all in ear shot that "God hates___" (insert the blank with a slur here). He picketed churches and schools that showed mercy to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. (It became almost an honor for a while to get picketed by these fanatics. It meant that you were doing something nice.) Finally, he started picketing those soldiers who had fallen in battle. Their 'sin' was merely serving a country which tolerated certain people. "God hates___" (insert "America" here). This man and his church had decided that they saw evil weeds which needed to be plucked and they felt commanded to do so.

These misguided people felt powerful casting bad seed and pulling up the good. They claimed to possess the knowledge of good and evil. Incidentally, that was the original sin! Eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge banished Adam and Eve. The evil one tempted them to be equal to God in this way. The second sin, fratricide, happened soon thereafter. We are in danger of killing our brothers and sisters when we appoint ourselves to weed the garden. We become like old Fred Phelps.

So what are we to do in the face of sin and evil? What do we do about the weeds? First of all, we need to stop blowing the dandelions we encounter in our daily lives (no matter how fun it is). We all encounter evil such as: gossip, rumors, suspicion, violence, oppression, injustice and prejudice. We have many opportunities to spread sin—we are called to stop. Remember that bit about wailing and gnashing of teeth? We must leave the dandelions alone!

As seeds of good we are called to be fruitful. We are wheat called to nourish the world. We are not to be the seeds kept in the barn of last week’s gospel. We are called to out-number the weeds. How do we know that we are indeed good instead of evil? In the Wisdom of Solomon we are given insight into this reality.
Although you are sovereign in strength, you [God] judge with mildness,
and with great forbearance you govern us;
for you have power to act whenever you choose.
Through such works you have taught your people
that the righteous must be kind,
and you have filled your children with good hope,
because you give repentance for sins.
- WISDOM 12: 18-19  
God judges with mildness: we don’t get to judge at all. The righteous are kind. If we are not kind, it is a pretty good chance that we are not sowing the good seed. We are either spreading weeds or pulling out good seed with the bad (Remember, we are supposed to be the wheat!).  God gives us hope though repentance. When we find ourselves being unkind, we need to repent. That is our hope.

Incidentally, some of the most beautiful ways I have ever seen this happen were grace-filled responses to some of Fred Phelps’ protests. Groups of people dressed as angels often came to these picketed funerals and surrounded the messengers of hate with their wings and sang hymns to drown them out, allowing families an opportunity to grieve surrounded by holiness. Bikers on Harleys—perhaps even a few "Hell’s Angels"— escorted the hearses of fallen veterans, drowning out hateful slurs with their engines of love and support. Notice how they did not pick the weeds; they planted more good seed to surround the weeds.

You may have heard that Fred Phelps died this year. He was a complex man. It turns out he started his career as well-respected civil rights lawyer. He had also previously run for public office as a Democrat. Yet, he turned in a different direction.

Late in his life, his church family turned on him. The church which he founded actually excommunicated him. His heresy--wait for it--was attempting to bring more kindness to the way church members and leaders treated one other. Is it possible he had some hope in repentance after all? The elders were unable to see any good seeds in him as they weeded their own weird little garden. As he lay dying, one of his sons--who had left the church years ago-- remarked that the church elders had taken away the only thing that brought his father joy. They held no funeral for him. You see, pulling weeds is tricky!

"Dandelion 2"
PHOTO CREDIT: lc shinazy
Used under Creative Commons License
Some rights reserved
When old Fred Phelps died there were a lot of mixed feelings in the communities which he had hurt. In fact, I have not fully been able to address my own hurt by his brand of Christianity. Yet I was touched by a certain response of people who understood how to sow good seed. These people simply stood outside the Westboro church with a sign. It read, "We’re sorry for your loss". How profound!

"We’re sorry for your loss". Kindness and mercy was offered by the very same folks this man hurt for decades. They could have felt powerful blowing dandelions in his lawn. They could have self-righteously pulled such weeds out of their community garden. Instead, they were examples of nourishing wheat. They planted seeds of love to surround the weeds and trusted in their own kindness, God’s merciful judgment and the harvesting skills of angels.

Looking around the world we can see that a lot seems to be going to seed. Evil is afoot and the weeds seem to strangle the good seeds. We know what to do. We are to wait for Jesus and the angels to sort out the wheat from the weeds. Meanwhile, we are to grow and become righteous and nutritious for a hungry world around us.

Jesus said, "Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!"

Let us use our ears to hear! Amen.

Matt Haines is Integrity's Vice-President for Local Affairs and active in the Diocese of Oregon

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Witnessing History: Vivian Taylor Recalls Watching President Sign Anti-Discrimination Order

President Barack Obama
PHOTO CREDIT: Susan Russell
On Monday, July 21, President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order which added sexual orientation and gender identity to the Equal Employment Opportunity rules set out by several of his predecessors.  It covers federal employees and employees working for third-party organizations under federal contracts.  Integrity's Executive Director, Vivian Taylor, was in attendance because she was among a number of prominent Episcopalians working for LGBT equality who signed an open letter urging the President not to include a clause which would grant exemption from the order to those claiming their religious conscience prevented them from complying.  She was joined at the White House by the Right Rev. Gene Robinson, retired bishop of New Hampshire, and the Rev. Canon Susan Russell, associate pastor at All Saints: Pasadena and former president of Integrity.

What was the first thing that went through your head when you heard you would witness the President signing this Executive Order?

The first thing that I thought about was, "Thank God! I get to be present for this huge, important moment, which will affects 20% of the American workforce."  I was honored to be a witness to this act, which recognized the value of millions of American workers.

I'm reminded of a verse from the Epistle of St. James (Ch. 5: Vs. 11)  which has always been a favorite piece of scripture for me.  "Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful."  I'm very grateful for this order, which calls for equal treatment of all workers whose employers receive funds from the federal government.

What was it like being in the White House?

This wasn't my first visit, but I've found that time always goes by very quickly.  Justice work can often feel extremely lonely, and it is heartening to be among a crowd of people, be they secular or people of faith, who are being recognized or are there witnessing the fruits of their labor, as took place today.

Some self-described progressive Christians cautioned the President about passing this order without giving religious groups an "out".  Can you talk about why you and 99 other faith leaders feel differently?

While it is always important to respect people's beliefs, it is also crucial not to legitimize any biases they may hold toward a particular group, in this case LGBT people.  We've recently seen attempts to create legislation to do exactly that in the private sector, so we felt it was important to make sure the President's order did make room for that kind of discrimination.  Integrity's local organizers recently helped defeat such a bill in Oregon, and our bishops in Kansas spoke out against a similar effort, which was also defeated.  Even/especially at a time when we're making marked progress, we must remain vigilant to any effort to enshrine bias into the law.

Some federal employees say the executive order passed in 1998, which added sexual orientation to their non-discrimination protection, aren't consistently enforced.  Do you think things will be different now?

Absolutely.  Not only is the issue something that is much better understood by Americans than even a few years ago, It also clarifies the previous regulations and refocuses our attention on  them, so I have reason to feel confident.

Describe your favorite moment from today.

Vivian Taylor & Mia Macy
My favorite moment was meeting and befriending Mia Macy, a transwoman and a fellow veteran, who saw firsthand that the existing statutes did not actually protect us.  After she left active duty, she began her gender transition while working as a federal contractor.  In 2013, the Department of Justice ruled that the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms acted illegally by passing her over for a position for which she was qualified, after learning she was transgender. The unemployment rate for trans people is about twice that of the general population, so it was a privilege to spend time with the woman whose case helped the President realize we couldn't wait for Congress to pass legislation to protect them.

Do you think most Episcopalians would agree with Integrity's presence today, as a church group?  What could those of us who see this as a strong step forward do to help those Christians who are concerned about what they describe as the government restricting their ability to act on their own beliefs.

I think the majority of the Episcopalians I have met in my travels this past year would celebrate today's ruling.  It's worth noting that at least 2/3 of our dioceses have elected to bless same-gender relationships in some form. There are still areas of the country, however, where we are "not there yet" particularly in our efforts to bridge the urban-rural divide.  We are in talks with a number of our partner organizations about a concentrated effort to equip more local organizers to witness our mission goals in these areas.  More on that soon!

The Right Rev. Gene Robinson, Vivian Taylor, the Rev. Canon Susan Russell


Saturday, July 19, 2014

PRESS RELEASE: Integrity Executive Director to Attend Signing of President's Anti-Discrimination Executive Order

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - PLEASE DISTRIBUTE WIDELY!


Integrity is pleased to announce that Executive Director, Vivian Taylor, will be among those present when President Barack Obama signs an Executive Order on Monday banning employment discrimination by Federal contractors on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The directive will not include an exemption for faith-based groups beyond that already afforded by a previous Order, signed by President George W. Bush, which grants exceptions for those directly involved in ministry.  On July 8, Taylor joined prominent Episcopalians and progressive faith leaders in signing an open letter to the President which asked that a broader exemption, allowing further discrimination by faith-based employers on the basis of "religious freedom," not be included.

Other Episcopalians who signed the letter include:

  • The Very Rev. Gary Hall - Dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Peter & St. Paul (“the National Cathedral”) in Washington, D.C.
  • The Right Rev. Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire (retired) and Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress
  • The Rev. Canon Susan Russell - Associate Pastor, All Saints: Pasadena, past president of Integrity
  • The Very Rev. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale - President and Dean, Episcopal Divinity School, Cambridge, Mass.
  • The Rev. Ed Bacon - Rector, All Saints: Pasadena
  • The Rev. Dr. Cameron Partridge - Chaplain at Boston University, Lecturer at Harvard University, Co-Convener of TransEpiscopal

The National Equality March passing the White House
in March of 2009
PHOTO CREDIT: Kyle Rush  (flickr.com/kylerush)
Used by Creative Commons License Some rights reserved
"I am deeply honored to represent Integrity at this historic event. Employment discrimination against our people is still a near-constant threat and burden," Taylor said.  

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force reported in May that 18 states and the District of Columbia afford employment protections to LGBT people.  Three additional states offer protection on the basis of sexual orientation only.  The President’s order will affect nearly one-fifth of the nation’s workforce.

Integrity has been working with the Task Force and other faith-based advocates to combat discrimination in several states.  Integrity is working in Ohio to build support for the Equal Housing and Employment Act, an LGBT-inclusive piece of non-discrimination legislation. In May, an attempt to pass a "religious freedom" law intended to give businesses in Oregon the right to discriminate was defeated due in part to Integrity's efforts.

Taylor, who served in the United States Army in the Iraq war from 2009 to 2010, recently wrote about her personal experience with employment discrimination for the progressive faith blog Believe Out Loud.

Integrity is a member-supported nonprofit organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender [LGBT] Episcopalians and our straight friends. Since its founding by Dr. Louie Crew in 1974, Integrity has been the leading grassroots voice for the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the
Episcopal Church and our equal access to its rites. Integrity activities include advocacy, worship, fellowship, education, communication, outreach, and service to the church. Through Integrity's evangelism, thousands of LGBT people, estranged from the Episcopal Church and other denominations, have returned to parish life.

Contact:
Melvin Soriano, Secretary & Director of Communications
mel@integrityusa.org
770 Mass Ave #390170
Cambridge MA 02139
United States of America
Ph: +1-626-600-2030

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