Thursday, December 18, 2014

Transformed by the Spirit, Called to Serve

In 2013, I retired after 24 years as an Air Traffic Controller for the Federal Aviation Administration and joined the Community of the Transfiguration, an Episcopal women’s religious order, as a Postulant.

A few weeks ago on the Feast of St. Andrew, I was clothed as a Novice and took my religious name of Sister Catherine Maria. After some research, I learned that I may be the first transwoman to be a Sister in a mainline religious denomination in the world. I live in community with the Sisters, and they have welcomed me with open arms. Bishop Michael Curry, who presided over Integrity's 40th Anniversary Inaugural Eucharist, is my Community’s Bishop Visitor.

I took my first-ever retreat at the Community in February of 2013, stayed for five days and it was magical. Things just happened every day - a new thing every day - and I felt such a draw to this Community, I just knew immediately that I wanted to be a woman religious and that I wanted to be a part of this Community. I truly believe that this is part of God’s plan for me to be here, in the Community, to care for the elder sisters and to bring life and service back to the Community.  

I draw my strength from interacting with those less fortunate than I. Because of my history - I've suffered many personal losses of family and loved ones in my life - I can truly empathize and relate to a homeless man or woman, an addict or a prostitute; they are my closest friends now.  Because in many ways I myself was "kicked to the curb", I understand how they feel, and if I can bring them any solace though mercy, even by just listening, well I've done something.  

I also now gain positive energies from advocating for gay and transgender people and issues relevant to them. Early in my discernment, I struggled with where I fit in this regard, but I learned that in order to be Christ-like, I had to embrace who I was and carry my cross every day. Jesus did not deny who he was, and I cannot any longer; I've come out openly as a transgender woman pretty much this year. I don’t have to be open, I can pretty much be “stealthy”, but I made a conscious decision to be out and to bring the message that we are all God’s children and that She loves us regardless, and we are in fact made in Her image!  God loves us all, even if our families do not.

Part of my calling is to be open about my story. I never was, but through my vocation I've increasingly become an activist.  This past year I've worked with Why Marriage Matters Ohio, Marriage Equality Ohio, and the local HRC, I am on the Cincinnati PRIDE Committee, worked with numerous interfaith groups, and also with the LGBTQ Youth Homeless Initiative, one of only three in the country funded by HUD. My message that I bring to every group is simply this: we are all Children of God and He loves us all no matter what.  We are all valued regardless of our position in life, whether gay or transgender, homeless, addicted or a woman of the street - we ALL have value, we all are important, we all are loved.

I would say that of all the people I've met on my journey, Mother Paula Jackson, an Episcopal priest and Rector of the Church of Our Savior in Cincinnati has inspired me most. She works tirelessly for the needy and homeless, the gay and transgender communities, and especially for the immigrant community in Cincinnati.  If only I had half her energy!

My deep calling is to reach out to others and bring the very real message that we are all God’s children, that Jesus loves us for precisely who we are - He created us after all.  And that--regardless of what family, friends or society has tried to tell them--we all matter, we are all valued and we are all loved.  And I fully recognize this as being a transwoman myself, having dealt with the thought that God made me as a mistake… God doesn't make mistakes, and people need to hear that message. So I think that there’s some value in an avowed religious speaking out, standing up and being counted; I could remain “stealth” quite easily, but God has told me to be open for others.

Sister Catherine Maria is a novice with the Community of the Transfiguration, an Episcopal women’s religious order in Cincinnati.  Prior to answering God’s call, Sister Catherine Maria was a Severe Weather Specialist with the Federal Aviation Administration’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center, one of only 14 such Specialists in the entire country, and also the Facility Representative for the National Air Traffic Controller’s Association, a nationally recognized position. Sister Catherine Maria retired from federal service in September 2013, and in October 2013 became the first Transgender woman to enter a Convent of a mainline order in the world.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Rose By Any Other Name

Vicky Mitchell
This past weekend I was a parish delegate to the Diocese of Los Angeles annual convention where one of the matters taken up was a Resolution on the subject of Same Sex Marriage. The resolution which was passed by an overwhelming majority of the convention voters, instructs our Diocesan delegates to the Episcopal Church’s national General Convention next summer to take a "hard line" and putting into immediate action the National Church’s long-talked about and debated programs to enable full inclusion of same sex partners in the Sacramental Rites of the National Church and all of its provinces and dioceses. For LGBT folks this is a huge issue of validation, and one I supported with my vote, and which I truly believe is the Will of God as I have prayerfully discerned it to be.

While happy for my LGB friends, I did not meet any other Trans* people there at the Convention, and I am pretty sure that I was the only Trans* delegate / attendee there. I was openly and happily wearing a Trans* Pride button, which was acknowledged by some folks I knew in the LGBT ministry program whom I had met the year before, and whom I had been with in the West Hollywood "TGLB" Pride Parade and Festival last June. I saw no other person there with any symbol of Trans* alliance.

The night before the vote on the resolution took place, I had gone to a reception for the LGBT ministry people off the convention site, and felt right at home with a wonderful group of people, of which, perhaps half were wearing clerical collars. With the exception of one single person there, me, it was about 25% each, Lesbian clergy couples, Lesbian lay couples, Gay clergy couples, and lay Gay couples, there were a few there whose partners were not at the party, but partnered they were. Strong loving relations were obviously a quality that was valued as part of their Christian lives in private and public.

Marriage is and will continue to be a strong symbol of validation for the LGB members of the Church, and will equip them in ministries that will benefit the whole of Christianity be the couple clergy or laity.
Marriage has been the key point in full acceptance of the GLB members and its time is coming close if other Diocese’s follow the lead of Los Angeles. Transgender people though have another item that will stand for full inclusion in its own way, and that is the recognition of our names.

It is hard for non-Trans* people to understand the full significance of a name as Transgender people feel it. As a Trans* activist, I am part of several groups dealing with Transgender issues, and can point to one single event in a Transgender person’s life that is more significant than surgeries or even Hormone Therapy, and that is changing our “trial names” which are of the gender we do not feel part of to our more True names. On the internet forums I am part of as a contributor, anyone who posts a notice that they have legally changed their names are met with an outpouring of posts of congratulation and well wishing. On a website where I am a moderator and senior member, the most persistent question in one form or another is how to pick a name, and then approach local authorities to make that the person’s new legal name. Changes to Birth Certificates that also reflect the preferred gender and name are also a major issue for a Gender Dysphoria subject.
The why of this phenomena is pretty easy for a Trans* person to understand, but is a problem for the non-Trans* folk. Gender Dysphoria was previously known as Gender Identity Dysphoria and even before that as Gender Identity Disorder. The outdated term does give the clue to the name issue. A name is an integral part of a person’s identity and thus a name that reflects the person’s inner identity is the beginning of a transformed life with an identity that feels TRUE to the person.

My legal name change took place in July 2012 and while the court appearance was anticlimactic, it was nice to let my priest know that it had happened, and since I held a parish office that needed to be on a diocesan record officially, I know it was changed that way. It was not a big deal supposedly, especially since the General Convention had voted full acceptance of Gender Variant people in all offices of the church a few weeks before, I am OK with that, but there is something missing from the matter of fact flow of paperwork. This name change thing is huge for Trans* people, and there needs to be a way to celebrate it as fully as our initial Baptism is celebrated, and as our Confirmation is celebrated.

I am looking at two documents from 41 years ago, one is my Baptismal Certificate attested by my now deceased rector in another parish than the one I am now at, and a certificate of Confirmation, signed by a bishop now also dead. Both took place when I was 25 years old, a few months apart, and both have what I call my “Trial Name” on them. I have given away that name to become the person who now lives and serves in the church I attend, and in the wider Church as well.

There seems to be a solution to that wish to celebrate my name change and I am now working with my priest on requesting a renewal of my Confirmation and Baptismal Covenants and vows when my Bishop comes for a parish visit in January 2015. I am going to be asking for a tiny change in reciting that I was first Baptized and Confirmed as but renew and continue in my current lay ministry and membership in my True name and identity before the Bishop who represents the Whole Church and not just my tiny part of a parish. This will truly be a sign of acceptance of me as a Trans*woman.

My desire to be part of the Church is not limited to my being a Trans* person, and my future involvement will be the normal cares and joys of our experience in following the steps of Jesus, and seeking to be “Instruments Of His Peace”. I know I was not allowed to end my own life 7 years ago, and have felt the presence and caring of God and Christ at all parts of my acceptance and transition. A friend has suggested that we Trans*people have been placed in our congregations as a challenge for others to explore the diversity of God’s Creation, and to give others a taste of what it means to “do it to the least (in numbers) of My children”.

Vicky Mitchell, a member of the Church of the Transfiguration, in Arcadia, California
Reprinted with permission from Facebook

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Episcopal Church and My Transition

Raised as Roman Catholic, I converted to the Episcopal Church as an adult because the Episcopal Church is based upon three foundations:  Scripture, Tradition, and Reason... and let me not under-emphasize the importance of the last item listed... Reason. God gave us a brain, and we are meant to use it.

Not all Episcopal Parishes, nor all Episcopal Dioceses, however, are equal – but I am so completely and totally blessed to be a member of the Diocese of Southern Virginia, and of the parish of Eastern Shore Chapel (a “chapel of ease” established on the Eastern Shore of the Lynnhaven River, in Virginia Beach, VA).

For as long as I can remember, I knew that I was “different.”  It took years, however, to learn exactly what my difference was, to accept that difference, to embrace that difference, and then to live as that different person. My faith has always been of great importance to me, even during those dark nights of the soul when I was quite angry with God for making me as I am. It was only after years of study, searching, and counseling, that I came to not only accept who I am, but to actually realize that by being transgender God enhanced my life far, far above what it would have been as a hetero-normative individual.

As I came to both embrace my being, and move towards transitioning to my current gender, however, it became ever so readily apparent that not all denominations, or even congregations within a denomination were able to both talk/preach the word of Christ, but also to live and love as Christ directs and demands.

As I began to conclude that I would need to transition to survive, I had to ensure that my church would accept me. I had just read a couple of books by the liberal theologian, Bishop John Shelby Spong. Shortly thereafter I learned that Eastern Shore Chapel was bringing him to the church as part of their Chapel Speaker Series! I attended his presentations on Friday night and Saturday morning, then the regular service on Sunday morning – and my church home was set.

It was important to me that, moving forward in my life, my church knew who I was, so I immediately made appointments and met with the clergy telling all of them about my situation. Over the course of the next several years, I became more and more involved in my parish life. The parish sponsored an Integrity Chapter, and I served as its first Convenor, then on the Board of Directors. I commenced the four-year Education for Ministry (EFM) course. That first year, giving my spiritual autobiography included one of the most challenging decisions I would ever make as, to this point in time, only my wife, the clergy, and my counselors were aware that I was transgender. I vacillated back-and-forth for days uncertain how to proceed. At the last minute I made the decision to make the disclosure – fearful of the consequences – and ecstatic with the compassion of my classmates.

By the second year of EFM I was attending as the person that I truly am, as Donna. By the third year I knew that I would be making the public transition and slowly began expanding the circle of parishioners who knew both of my situation and of my impending transition.

On August 7, 2014 I underwent Facial Feminization Surgery, with Sunday, August 24th to be my first time attending church as Donna. As I dressed that morning for church – the first time that I would publicly attend a church service as a woman – I was a little apprehensive. Not exactly nervous, and definitely not scared, yet – still – this was a big step. I arrived at church about 10 minutes before the service, as is my habit. I think we all know how people tend to always sit in the same general area of the church each Sunday. Almost like we all have assigned seats/pews. Well, that morning, within mere minutes I WAS SURROUNDED by people, packed in near me almost like sardines in a can. It was mostly women, but a few men as well. It was a visible sign of support to me; and it was a visible sign – to the rest of the congregation – of the parish’s support for me. Several ladies told me that they had not intended on attending church that Sunday, but they knew that it was to be my first service as Donna, and they wanted to be there for me! Another lady welcomed me to “the women’s team!” Over the past three months my full and complete acceptance as a woman member of our parish has been total and complete.

Not every aspect of my transition has gone so smoothly. While I am truly blessed at how well it has gone, the family impact has been significant. But – I simply do not know where I would be today without my faith and my parish.

I have attended more churches than the average person. I left the Catholic Church as a teenager and, during college, “deliberately wandered” checking out every mainline Christian denomination I could:  Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, you name it, I tried it. The beauty of diversity is that there is a church for anyone who searches. None is better nor worse than any other, but we all/each have our own comfort levels. During my wandering I was continually drawn to St. Paul’s Episcopal in my college town. When I commenced active duty in the Navy the basic options were Roman Catholic or “generic” Protestant. Well into my 25 years of active duty Naval service I converted to the Episcopal Church – which I by then recognized as being on the leading edge of mainline Christianity with regards to the full acceptance (no * - meaning no exception) ordination, and consecration – as Priests and Bishops – of women, gay, lesbian, and most recently, transgender individuals.

For me, for many years now, my time at church – and not just for Sunday services – are among the most fulfilling and happiest days of my life.

How nice to have a church that not just preaches, but actually practices, Christianity!

Donna Price

Monday, December 1, 2014

Sean Glenn: My Meditation for World AIDS Day

Although I have often commented on the subtle nuances of World AIDS Day's placement in close proximity to the first Sunday in Advent, this year I was confronted––perhaps more than ever––by the jarring and peculiar ways that both of these days resonate with and read each other.

PHOTO CREDIT: Christian Paolino
All rights reserved. Used with permission.
A strange and marvelous thing happened to me yesterday morning. While singing the final hymn for the Eucharist at Christ Church, Cambridge, Mass.  ("Lo! he comes with clouds descending"), these peculiarities caught me off-guard. While I always appreciate the ways a sophisticated Advent hymn will prefigure the crucifixion and resurrection, I had seldom read this kind of imagery in the context of my own status as an HIV-positive person. The incarnational reality of my life with HIV––a new life-long embodied Advent of patient waiting and longing for the redemptive release of a cure or, at the very least, the dismantling of unjust and uninformed social stigma––washed over me in waves as verse three began:

"Those dear tokens of his passion still his dazzling body bears..."

Those dear tokens––those wounds inflicted by a brutal imperial hegemony––remain a core feature of the Body of Christ, in both his resurrected visage, as well as us, his Body in the world.

Yet despite my own on-going sense of daily death and resurrection, I still find myself (as I am sure do so many others) walking the path of (im-)patient expectation. Much in the same way Jesus' own wounds reflect a certain degree of choice, so too I begin to feel the sense that the wounds we experience as HIV-positive people also reflect a degree of choice. This is, by no means, an indictment of the manner by which we become HIV-positive; the wound there is in no way something self-inflicted. Rather, at least in my own meditation on the matter, the "dear tokens" which confront me daily are a matter of my own choice around disclosure. I am wounded no matter my choice: I can hide, attempt to pass through the world untouched by this peculiar bodily companion, or I can do what I have done and give the thing a face in the world. If I hide, I am crushed by the closet of shame and fear. If I disclose, I am rendered and read as many things, none of which I truly believe I am: a victim, one inflicted, something to be pitied, a body to be feared and avoided, the manifestation of one of our epoch's great and terrible specters, dirty.

We are none of these things, though. We walk our path of living Advent, but we do so knowing that "what God has made clean, [no one can] call dirty."

To the sero-negative, ponder this during Advent. Be a light for those you know (or may not know) are sero-positive. Lay down the banner of fear.

To my fellow sero-positive, resist the labels that others might want to apply to us. Wear these wounds with pride, knowing that God has transformed them––just as peculiarly as on Easter––and, as a result has transformed us by them and through them. Show your pierced hands and open sides to the world; give birth to a new reality.


Sean 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, November 20, 2014

IntegrityUSA Appoints Marie Alford-Harkey as Vice-President for Local Affairs

At a November 17th meeting, the Integrity USA Board of Directors appointed Marie Alford-Harkey as Vice President of Local Affairs, filling a vacancy created by the special election of Matt Haines as President this past October.

Marie is the Deputy Director of the Religious Institute, a national nonprofit dedicated to advocating for sexual health, education, and justice in faith communities and society. She is the lead author of the 2014 Religious Institute publication Bisexuality: Making the Invisible Visible in Faith Communities.

Marie leads workshops, writes, preaches, and teaches to promote a progressive vision of faith and sexuality. She has presented at the Wild Goose Festival and Creating Change, and is a contributor to the Believe Out Loud blog. Marie has led workshops on sexuality for future religious leaders, has preached on faith and sexuality from Episcopal, UCC, and Unitarian Universalist pulpits, and has advocated for sexual justice as a deputy to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Marie is a lay deputy to General Convention 2015 and served as an alternate in 2012.

An educator with twenty years of classroom experience, Marie holds a Master's degree in Divinity from the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and a Master's and a Bachelor's degree in French.

Marie joined the Episcopal Church in 2002.  She is the Associate for Digital Ministries at Trinity Episcopal Church in Hartford, Connecticut, where she preaches and teaches regularly.

Marie taught French and Spanish in public secondary schools for the first twenty years of her career. She was a faculty moderator for her school's Gay Straight Alliance, where she learned how important it is for queer youth to hear voices of love and welcome in their faith communities.

Please join us in congratulating and thanking Marie for agreeing to assume this responsibility.  You may reach her at or @EMarieAH on Twitter.

Transgender Day of Remembrance

"Leslie Feinberg, who identified as an anti-racist white, working-class, secular Jewish, transgender, lesbian, female, revolutionary communist, died on November 15. She succumbed to complications from multiple tick-borne co-infections, including Lyme disease, babeisiosis, and protomyxzoa rheumatica, after decades of illness."
  •  From Feinberg’s obituary, written by hir spouse, Minnie Bruce Pratt.

Leslie Feinberg’s seminal memoir Stone Butch Blues changed the lives of many of my friends. They were excited to read a book about the experiences of someone whose gender was resolutely masculine, despite the seeming conflict of their body; it was their experience.

For me, as a self-identified dyke who would eventually transition to something we all agree to call "male," the very title was too confronting. Butchness was terrifying to me because it suggested that I might be masculine, something about myself I had worked to eradicate, destroy even.

When a period of deep meditation and prayer revealed to me that I needed to change, my response was, "Really, God? Really? Because I don’t have enough on my plate!?" But as most apparent curses from our true selves turn out, transitioning has been an absolute gift. It is the best thing God has given me, after recovery from addiction; it is a remarkable journey that continues to bless me with amazing people and opportunities. Transitioning has given me a deeper connection to my spiritual being because I’m no longer afraid.

Leslie Feinberg seemed unafraid all the time. Ze (see footnote) was always the first on the front-lines, an early AIDS activist, pro-worker, racial justice pioneer, who seemed to recharge by fighting systems of oppression. The Lyme disease that slowly, painfully, took hir energy and life, went undiagnosed, and then poorly treated as doctors and nurses found hir gender-presentation confronting. Feinberg wrote often of systems that worked against hir, using hir own horrific stories of the anti-LGBTQ institutional cruelty and ignorance ze endured to educate and restore humanity for the rest of us.

On this Transgender Day of Remembrance I want to honor my sister-brothers. I want to carry the work that Leslie did, the work that our saint Pauli Murray does, for dignity and integrity for all souls, forward. I’ve been given a whole lot of grace on my own journey! My feelings have been hurt too many times to count as a transguy, but I bore more violence as a woman and a lesbian than I have as a transgender man. For this relatively easy transition I am deeply grateful. For others, the violence and neglect continues or worsens. Most of my friends agree: transitioning has made our lives exponentially better. But it does not make the world so.

To be transgender can mean being loving, lively, creative, and connected. To be transgender in situations that diminish our worth is painful, depressing, and soul-destroying. All of us know this—as gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans*gender, as intersex and as queer people we’ve all experienced some flavor of the diminishment of who and what we are. On this day of gravitas and difficult reality, I’m going to remember those who came before me, who made my new life possible through their lives and work. I renew my commitment as a transgender spiritual human—a Transgender Warrior, in the language of Feinberg--to speak up and out, and to share the love that was so generously given to me. Our strength comes from that absolute understanding: we are a part of God, and therefore magnificent and holy beyond human reckoning. As are you. God bless our trans* family. 
"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that you lay down your life for your friends…You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

This I command you, to love one another."
John 15:12-17

Sam Peterson is the Development Director at Integrity USA.

Leslie Feinberg adopted the gender-neutral pronouns ze (instead of he or she) and hir (instead of his or her) during much of her journey, reverting to she/her in her last years. I've used ze/hir to emphasis the elasticity and expansiveness of our journey.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Integrity's 40th Anniversary Inaugural Reception

After a stirring sermon and Eucharist to inaugurate Integrity's 40th Anniversary year, a reception was held at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Raleigh, North Carolina. The sermon was given by the Rt. Rev. Michael B. Curry and the video is available online.

The guests of honor for the evening were Dr. Louie Clay and his husband Ernest Clay. Dr. Clay started Integrity 40 years ago and this Eucharist and reception was to begin celebrating all that has been accomplished in that time and to remind ourselves of all that remains to be done.

Our speakers were Matt Haines, recently-elected president of Integrity's board. Matt spoke about our excitement around our Carolina efforts, and our future collaboration with the Pauli Murray Project. He urged people to sign up as both members and volunteers for our Carolina campaign. Integrity Executive Director Vivian Taylor spoke next, thanking everyone, and asking NC to think about how we might be of service to our members and friends, reminding all of us that much more must be done.

Indhira Udofia from the Pauli Murray Project talked about Pauli Murray's ongoing creation of community, and the mobile exhibition they hope to create to generate ideas and relationships locally. Pauli inhabited a generosity and fluidity in her gender, race, and class, that the Pauli Murray Project and Integrity want to share collaboratively.

Integrity member Sissi Loftin and her partner Janet Brocklehurst make beautiful handmade crucifixes for their business Sweet Harmony Crosses, donating a portion to Integrity on a regular basis. They sent us a gorgeous rainbow mosaic crucifix! Sissi and Janet asked that it be donated in the name of their friend The Rev. Dr. Carter Heyward,  one of the original 11 women ordained forty years ago, who lives in NC and who was recently recognized by Bishop Curry. We presented the gift to Bishop Curry to thank him for all that he's done for Integrity.

We wish to thank the good people of Church of the Good Shepherd who helped us in our celebration. Parish Administrator Darylene Netzer was our liaison to everyone to the church, sexton Tony Wilson, oversaw the event and stayed til the end to close the church. Vestry Treasurer and Altar Guild leader Caryl Fuller helped set things up for the Eucharist. The Rev. Robert Sawyer, Rector of CGS, helped Bishop Curry during the Eucharist, and David Roten was our Verger.

Integrity wishes to thank the Diocese of North Carolina for their hospitality. Moreover, we wish to thank the Haas, Jr. Foundation and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force for helping us work with the local community to work towards full inclusion. We ask all Integrity members and allies to help bring full inclusion, equality, and safety for LGBTQ in all churches and communities throughout our land.

Monday, November 17, 2014

We Remember with Integrity

 © Mel Soriano, 2013
This time of year calls us all to remember what is important — who is important. These remembrances enliven our souls in hope as we attempt to grasp the greatness of God’s love and compassion.  As we remember, let us be mindful of our responsibility.

We began November recalling the brave sainthood of believers whom the church lifts up on All Saints' Day (Nov. 1).  The next day, on All Souls' Day, we remembered those in our own lives whom we trust, resting in God’s mercy, join those red-letter saints above.

As we remember our veterans this month (Nov. 11), it is worth remembering that after serving on our behalf many vets still suffer the pains of war and face uneasiness trying to find peace at home.  Many are still without work, suffer homelessness and come home to isolation.  Though "don’t ask, don’t tell" is no longer the law of the land, we have to make sure that prejudice is dealt with and we need to remember that transgender service members are still are not able to openly serve.  As Christians we must seek ways to serve these selfless servants.

Trans Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20 speaks to a different sort of remembering.  Here we recall those in our community who have died to violence; who are still enduring violence.  This is happening in real time! Violence and murder are rampant on streets of America and transgender people — particularly women of color — are frequently the ones most at risk.  In some cases the violence inflicted on transgender folk can be traced to a general backlash in light of the recent successes enjoyed by the gay and lesbian parts of our community. This is a tough reality which calls cisgender people to remember our common call to work together in true solidarity.

As World AIDS Day on Dec. 1 approaches, we remember the many people we have lost to the disease. Those of us who have lost loved ones may still be grasping to understand how to deal with that loss and to realize what it means to be the one left behind. We know that many people are HIV-positive today and living full lives with the virus through hard work and medical science. We must always remember the responsibilities we have to stop the spread of the virus and to be there for those who are positive.

This month on Nov. 6 we also launched Integrity's 40th Anniversary celebration.  This year we remember and lift up all who have served the church with Integrity on behalf LGBTQ people.  There have been great strides made throughout these decades.  We should spend this year remembering all those who have helped to make the Episcopal Church more open and welcoming.  This is not about nostalgia; rather we seek to gain strength from those who have done such extraordinary things.  Their service should convict us to work even harder to help the church realize its call of service to every one of God’s beloved children.

Remember the mission and ministry of Integrity USA in your prayers, your imagination and in your charitable giving. God might be calling you to join in on this work! Our work is NOT done.  Pray that our hearts will then be filled with the restlessness of the Holy Spirit; ready to honor memory with ministry.

Matt Haines is the President of the Board of Directors at Integrity USA

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Louie and Ernest Clay - Our Guests of Honor for the 40th Anniversary Inaugural Eucharist

As we gather resources to bring LGBT issues and marriages to General Convention in Salt Lake City next year, we also remember our heroes who have gotten us to this point.

In 1973, Ernest Clay was training as a sales associate at Rich's, Atlanta's largest department store, and living at the Lucky Street YMCA.  On Labor Day weekend, he met Louie Crew, at the elevator on the 6th floor. At that time Louie was teaching at Fort Valley State University. They courted for five months, and married in Fort Valley, GA on February 2, 1974. At the time their marriage had no legal standing. They married legally on August 22, 2013 and Crew took on his husband's last name.

Integrity was founded by Dr. Louie Crew in Georgia in 1974 and since that time it has been a leading grassroots voice for the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in The Episcopal Church and for equal access to its rites.

On Thursday, November 6, 2014, Integrity kicked off its 40th anniversary celebration in Raleigh, North Carolina with a Eucharist celebrated by the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, bishop of North Carolina. According to Louie, Bishop Curry is one of the best preachers in the Anglican Communion; I am inclined to agree.

Let’s go back a few steps for those of you too young to realize the impact of those statements above. Louie Crew was born in Anniston, Alabama in 1936, Ernest Clay was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina in 1948. Louie is a white man, Ernest is a black man. They met in Georgia, courted in Georgia, married in Georgia forty years ago. The fact that they both survived the aforementioned events in the south forty years ago is nothing short of a miracle. Who am I kidding, the fact that they survived those events in America forty years ago is a miracle. Then Louie decided he needed to prod The Episcopal Church.

Forty years have passed and -- with Louie's guidance and inspiration -- Integrity has gone from a discreetly-mailed newsletter to a catalyst for change in the church. Louie has received honorary doctorates from the Episcopal Divinity School, General Theological Seminary, and Church Divinity School of The Pacific. These are in addition to the one he earned from the University of Alabama. I’m waiting for the bishop of his diocese to name him a Canon. Louie and Ernest Clay now live in New Jersey but they got on a plane and flew to Raleigh, North Carolina to kick off the first of many 40th anniversary celebrations Integrity members will hold over the next year. Louie participated in the Eucharist and he and Ernest joined the celebration at the reception.

The ultimate celebration of Integrity’s 40th anniversary will be the Integrity Eucharist at General Convention 2015, to be held in June in Salt Lake City. If you are able, you should make your reservations to be there. General Convention and Integrity will be a part of history you don’t want to miss.

Elisabeth Jacobs is the Treasurer and Board Member of Integrity USA

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Bishop Michael Curry Preaches at the 40th Anniversary Inaugural Eucharist

The Right Reverend Michael B. Curry preaching to Integrity at Church of the Good Shepherd, Raleigh, NC

On Thursday, November 6, 2014, Integrity USA inaugurated its 40th Anniversary year with a Eucharist and celebration. The Right Reverend Michael B. Curry, Bishop of North Carolina, celebrated and preached at the Church of the Good Shepherd, in Raleigh, North Carolina. His sermon can be watched here and our transcription follows below.

Thank you. Thank you for helping the church reclaim her call.  Thank you for helping us become more and more of who we have been called to be.  Thank you for helping us maybe hear anew again, for the first time, the siren call of the Savior who says, "Follow me."

This 40th anniversary is significant because Integrity from your very beginning (I see my friend [Louie Clay] sitting here) was a call to hear the deep call of God, and for the church to be who Jesus calls us to be, and for what God dreams for this world to be. So thank you.

So let me talk to the text from the Gospel that was read a few moments ago.  John 21; the crucifixion has happened, Jesus has died, then that great gettin' up moment happens.  And he was raised from the dead.  I'm somewhat relieved the brother got up, 'cause if he didn't get up, I'm gettin' out. (laughter) I can make more money than I can with this gig, so get it real.

So he's raised from the dead. I don't know how it all happened, I don't explain it, I just accept it.  He was raised from the dead, and he appeared on different occasions, and the Gospel writers tried to put their hands around it, and finally in one of them, in John's Gospel, in one of the appearances after the disciples have been eating breakfast on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus pulls Peter aside, and he says, "Simon bar Jonah, do you love me more than these?"

And Peter says, "Yes, of course I do, Brother!"

"Feed my sheep."


"Yes Lord?"

"Do you love me?"

"Lord, you just asked me that question!"  He's looking back. (laughter) I'm reading between the lines.  "You just asked me that question. Of course I do!"

"Tend my sheep."

And then again he says to him, "Simon, son of John! Do you love me?"

And Peter at that point is beginning to get exasperated: "You may be the Lord, but you're gettin' on my last nerve! Yes, you know that I love you!"

Then he says to him, "Well when you were young, you used to go where you wanted to go. You used to do what you wanted to do." I'm getting older now, and I can't do what I used to be able to do. But when you were young, you did what you wanted to do, you went where you wanted to go, you kinda felt your own power and your own energy, and did your own thing. Like the Isley Brothers (sings) It's your thing, do what you wanna do  Right? Someone here remembers that song! (laughter)

"When you were young, that's what you could do, but when you're old, when you mature in this relationship with me, when you mature in your relationship to God, when you mature in your relationship with the Spirit, another will take you by the hands, and lead you where you do not want to go.  Now follow me!" John said Jesus said this to indicate the manner by which Peter would sacrifice his life for the cause of that love that Jesus was talking about.

See, that love was the key. It was the key to Peter's discipleship. Without that love, it doesn't work.  Without that love, it becomes a mechanical, rote formula.  Without that love, there is no reason for doing it. It's love that is the key to the following of Jesus in good times and in bad. It is love that is key to living a life (here, I'm coming to it now!) of Integrity (silence) I worked on that for an hour! (laughter, applause) It is that love that is the key to life itself! It is love that is the key to the life of the world. It is the love that is the key to saving this planet. It is love that will be the key to abolishing war.  It is love that will be the key to making poverty history!  Love!

"Now," Jesus says, "Integrity, do you love me?"

"Now," Jesus says, "Episcopal Church in North Carolina, do you love me? Bishop, do you love me? Christians, do you love me? Then follow me. Not where you want to go.  Follow me where the spirit of God has already gone. Love."

See, I've noticed something.  When you read the Bible -- parents do this with their kids all the time; when parents repeat stuff, they really mean for you to pay attention. When the Bible repeats something, it's probably worth paying attention. When you see a theme that keeps getting repeated in church. Or when Jesus keeps saying the something over and over again, it's probably worth paying attention, like that little gospel song "God is Trying to Tell You Something".

When Jesus asks Peter three times, "Do you love me? Do you love me? DO YOU LOVE ME???" He was telling him something so profound that one time was not enough to get it. "Do you love me? Do you love me? DO YOU LOVE ME???" Peter, you denied me three times! But love can heal. Love is a balm in Gilead, and it can heal you in your denial, Peter. "Do you love me? Do you love me? DO YOU LOVE ME???" Love is power that can conquer evil and that can vanquish death.

If you go back and look at John's Gospel, it's interesting that Jesus's conversations about love cluster at the Last Supper.  John 3:16: "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him should not perish...." Everybody knows that; at least if they're Rite I Episcopalians, they know that one! And these present of his body, they know that.

That's probably the one exception to the love theme in John that is early in the Gospel.  The rest of the passages about Love in John's Gospel cluster in chapters 13-17 which is John's Last Supper.  It is at the Last Supper that Jesus says, "I give you a new commandment that you love one another." It is at the Last Supper that he takes a towel and a basin of water and washes their feet. "I'm giving you an example of what love looks like."

This is not easy stuff.  This is not a Hallmark greeting card. This is tough stuff I'm talking about. At the Last Supper he says, "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love."

At the Last Supper he says -- as Judas is about to slither out of the room to betray him -- Love. 

Peter will deny that he even knows him -- love.  And most of them who would abandon him, save a few faithful ones -- Love.

As he's tried on trumped-up charges in the middle of the night -- Love.

As human tribunals dare to try the Lord -- Love.

As soldiers take him and mock him and spit on him and torture him -- Love.

As they nailed those hands that only healed to a blood-stained cross - Love.

When he cried his last, and looked in his mama's eyes, and then said, "it is finished" -- Love.

Sunday morning. The Earth is starting to shake.  (Like the song "Shake, Rattle and Roll!") Nobody's quite sure what, but something's going on: something seismic.  Something deep within the hall of reality is being disturbed and shaken and rent asunder, it's LOVE! Cracking open the tomb!  LOVE! Giving life anew again!  LOVE! Simon, do you love me? LOVE has the power that can set you free!  LOVE can heal you! LOVE can reconcile you! LOVE can liberate you! Love can show you the way with integrity... (to Louie) I got it again! (laughter) Life with dignity, and life saturated with eternity.

Phew! Thank you.  You have reminded the church again -- and we must continually be be reminded -- that that love is our calling.

I was the brand-new rector of St. James: Baltimore back in 1988. The first Sunday that I was there, I was in the sacristy and people were coming up to me and introducing themselves: the head of the altar guild, the ladies' choir... I was just greeting people, and finally got to this one gentlemen, who became a dear friend... he put out his hand and said his name, and said, "I'm I'm the treasurer." I said "Very glad to meet you," and he said "... and I'm in the 'B Group'"

I remember thinking I know about the St. Francis Guild, the Altar Guild... we had a lot of guilds, but I said "I'm interested; I don't know what the B Group is."

And he said, "Well, Father, I've been here before you got here, I'll be here while you're here, and I'll be here when you're gone." (laughter)

And when I was made the bishop here, it was in the chapel down the road, and there he was in the last pew, in the last seat.  He looked at me coming out of the procession, and he said, "Well, Father, I'm still in the 'B Group' and you're gone!"  (laughter)

I want to suggest that God is the ultimate 'B Group'.  The Bible says God is the Alpha and the Omega, God is the beginning and the end. God is the one who was, and is, and is to come.  God  is God. God is ALL THAT! God is all that God needs to be whole and complete and fulfilled. God and God! Paul Tillich once said when you're think you've got God learnt, God is the god behind that god.  We're talking about GOD.

Which is another way of saying God has all the company that God needs within God's self.  You think you're more important than the Trinity? Which is another way of saying God doesn't need us.  God doesn't need the world.  God didn't make the world... and he didn't make us... because God needed it. God did it because 1 John 4:7  "Beloved let us love one another, because love is of God and those who love are born of God and know God because God is Love."  The reason this world is here, the reason that we are here is because God is love.

And in the words of St. Paul... you gotta get him on a good day... 1 Corinthians 13:1: "If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" If you read into the middle of Chapter 13, you'll discover that Paul says, "love is not jealous; love is not rude, love is not boastful; love does not does not insist on its own way," which is a way of saying that real love looks out for the good and the welfare of the other.  Real love is willing to move over and space for the other to be.  Real love!  God moved over, and made space for the world.  Moved over and made room for you... and you... and me.  God said, "let there be, because God is love, and that is what love does.  And that is the most titanic power in all of history. "Simon, son of John.  Do you love me?"

See, the truth is that battles have been won, but the war is not over. The struggle with day-to-day inequality is not over.  We have a long-distance race yet to run.  Jesus understood that, and understood that we don't have the strength in ourselves alone to run it.  You don't have the strength in yourself alone to run it.  There will be setbacks yet to come:  don't be fooled! In any struggle, there will be setbacks yet to come.  I mean, I thought the kingdom of God was gonna come when Barack Obama became president; we saw what happened with that! The brother can't get a break no matter what he does.  I mean, the President of the United States has to convince people that he's an American!  Let's get real, right? But that's the reaction. That's the reality.

And you need a power greater than your own to run this race. We need a power that is generated by the love that is between us.  We need a power that is generated by the God who created us, and Jesus understood that.  You can't follow him without living in his love.  That's the power that can lift you up!  That's the power that does not say no. St. Paul said it this way: "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

I'm going to sit down, 'cause we've got more church to do. Thank you.

Have you seen that movie 42?  Jackie Robinson, Branch Rickey.... it's worth it; in fact, there ought to be a catechismal requirement! (laughter)  It's the story of the desegregation and integration of Major League Baseball.  In the 1940s and 1950s and before that, baseball was America's game, and -- like America -- it was completely segregated.  You had the old Negro Leagues and incredible ball players there, and the American League and the National League, and everybody was white there.  And never the twain shall meet.  There was no All-Star Game where they played together; that didn't happen.  This was total, complete segregation: America's game.

Branch Rickey, God love him, was a baseball man who loved that game.  He loved it enough to challenge it.  See that's what you've been doing, Integrity.  You love the church enough to challenge us to claim a higher calling. Branch Rickey, like you, realized he could not just sit back and play the game, that he had to challenge Major League Baseball to be better, to find its higher and noble self. He was convinced it was necessary to desegregate the ball game and eventually integrate baseball, and that the way to do it was to find one ball player; I gotta start with him.  God knew that too.  "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." Yea! You all know what that refers to; that's the first one, that's the beginning.

So Rickey said If I could find one of the best ball players, both in terms of his statistics on the field, but also in terms of his character....  There were lots of recommendations, and some better, more physical ball players than Jackie Robinson.  But Rickey said, "No, no; I want Jackie Robinson."  And they kind of insisted and said, "Robinson's good but there are some other people who are better!"  But Rickey said "He's good, but he's got a temper; and he messes around too much; and he likes money too much.  I need somebody who is so clean that they can't touch him, and such a character that they won't get inside him."

Branch Rickey, as it turned out, was a devout Christian. He was a cigar-chewin', cussin', whisky-drinkin' ... he wasn't even an Episcopalian (laughter) Christian... my book is called Crazy Christians but I think the next one is going to be called We Need Some Cussin' Christians.  We need cussin' Christians like Branch Rickey who are not going to sit still for the world as it is, but won't waver until the world becomes what God dreams that it can.

So he said, "I want Jackie Robinson!" And they asked "Why" and he said " 'cause Robinson's a Methodist."  And they asked, "What's that got to do with baseball stats?"  And he said, "Because Robinson's a Methodist, I'm a Methodist, and God's a Methodist! I want Jackie Robinson!"

So they they bring Jackie Robinson into the room (and this is history accurate, it's both in the film and Rickey's biography's) and Rickey gives the proposal in front of Robinson and says, "I know you're a ball player, you wanna play ball, and I know that, but you have to do more than play ball.  There are going to be people who spit at you , and you can't spit back.  They're going  to curse you, and you can't curse back.  They're going to call you every name but a child of God, and you can't call them any names back.  And God forbid, they may try to kill you, and you can't strike back."

At that point Robinson kind of arched his back.  He could feel the anger of repressed feeling bubbling up... the anger.  He said "Rickey, you want a negro who's afraid to fight back."  And Rickey said, "No, I want a ballplayer who's got the courage not to fight back."  Rickey took a book out of his drawer... this is in his biography... it was titled The Life of Christ.  And he read to Jackie Robinson, "Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who persecute you, and so you will be children of your Father in heaven." 

Robinson at that point put out his hand, and he and Branch Rickey shook.  Those two guys through the power of love, changed baseball.  Baseball helped to change America.  And America at its best can help to make a better world.

Don't you underestimate the power of love.  Don't you give up on the power of love. Because the source of all love is God. And if God be for us, who can be against us?

My grandmother used to sing:

I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore.
Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more;
But the Master of the sea heard my despairing cry,
From the waters lifted me, now safe am I. 

Love lifted me, love lifted me
When nothing else would help
Love lifted me.

God love you. God bless you. And God hold us all in those almighty hands of love.