Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A neat and tidy bundle? I hope not.

So much happening since our return to Canterbury.

Every few hours or so, I check in with all the people involved with advocacy for inclusion -- the hard working folks from our own Integrity, Claiming the Blessing and the Chicago Consultation, and the hospitable English groups, Inclusive Church and Changing Attitudes. If only you could witness the long hours and blessed devotion these people are giving, it would inspire all of you -- especially lgbt people around the world. In addition to the Americans and Brits, many lgbt people are here from Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya and other places, displaying the kind of courage you only read about in books! They are here, witnessing to the love of God in their lives, despite incredible danger to themselves for doing so. We should all keep them in our prayers when they return to their own countries which are hostile to the lives of integrity they are living. They are living proof of the lie often told that "we don't have any gay or lesbian people here."

During one of those confidential and necessarily private meetings with an African cleric yesterday, I had one of the miraculous moments that are provided when two people who disagree, sit down and discover not only one another's humanity, but brotherhood in Christ. While the details of this meeting must be kept confidential, suffice it to say that we -- of course -- discovered that we have far more in common than that which separates us, and left as friends and brothers in Christ. Oddly enough, one of the things we found we had in common was the condemnation and derision from those who want to divide our Church. He was and continues to be the target of distortion, lies and misinformation from those who see his openness to listening to those of us working for inclusion as an affront to God. He witnessed to the fact that it has given him a window into what lgbt people experience every day -- and it is not pretty. I was honored to be in his presence, and blessed by his willingness to talk. It will be one of my most cherished experiences here.

I was approached by one man, a youngish English priest whose parishes are near Canterbury. He timidly asked if I had just a minute to talk. Of course I did. It is precisely why I'm here. He described himself as an evangelical, having had a powerful conversion experience as a young adult. Upon moving to his new parishes, he discovered that he had a few gay couples in his congregations -- and this sent him back to the scriptures to study and pray, to ask if what he had always been taught about homosexuals was really what the scriptures meant, in an effort to be a better pastor. He has newly come to an accepting attitude toward those gay communicants, but was feeling guilty about leaving his old understandings behind, and wondering if he was moving in the right direction. He has come to believe that God's love is far more expansive than he first imagined, and wondered aloud if there were really two Gods being worshipped in the Church. I told him what I believe -- that no, there is only one God, but our ability to comprehend that God goes through lots of stages, becoming ever more expansive as God reveals God's self to us, directly and through others. Here was a young priest, open to change and growth, open to God's patient teaching and open to the notion that God's love might be more profoundly extravagant than he ever thought possible. Just your common, ordinary, everyday miracle.

Rumors abound here, spawned by the pervasive anxiety, especially from the higher-ups. If I were everywhere I'm reported to be, doing the subversive and destructive things I'm reported to be doing, I'd be even more exhausted than I am! Rumors of a predicted confrontation between African bishops attending a reception hosted by the Presiding Bishops and American bishops, by those Africans who oppose any association with us, caused a frenzied gathering of media, hoping to catch all the ugliness on film -- laughable and silly, given that nothing of the sort happened, with no footage to put on the evening news. I was said to be on my way, to add to the melee. Another good media story, spoiled by the facts.

There was much anxiety and dread surrounding news that the Archbishop of Canterbury would be giving a second, unscheduled "presidential address" last night after Evensong in the Big Tent. Upon reflection about his remarks, which you can find online, I think it was a really good summary about where the conference finds itself. The Archbishop, in a risky endeavor on his part (which he acknowledged), attempted to characterize the "two sides" of this debate, what each is feeling, fearing and hoping. While I might have charactized them differently, they were fairly accurate descriptions of that which counfounds us here -- how to learn to live with one another despite our substantive differences.

The only thing with which I disagree with the Archbishop over, is his conclusion: that all this points to the need for a Covenant and a means whereby some more centralized authority could and would pass judgment on developments within the communion, seeking to settle these differences once and for all, rather than let them be.

It reminded me of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, whose working group (they labored for three weeks!) on human sexuality produced a brilliant statement -- which did not seek to SOLVE the problems and differences between us on the issues of sexuality, but rather merely DESCRIBED where we are, with several different approaches held by large groups within the Communion. We now know that the 1998 Lambeth Conference swept aside this measured and fine report, and replaced it with the draconian Resolution 1.10, which has plagued us ever since, declaring homosexuality to be incompatible with Scripture. That conference gave in to the temptation to try to settle these complex issues by fiat, once and for all, rather than merely acknowledging, and offering to God, our different perceptions of the mystery of sexuality and its ramifications for Christian life. The Archbishop of Canterbury last night did a good job of once again outlining those differences, and I thank him for that. I see the call for a Covenant, no matter how worthy in its intentions, as another attempt to settle our differences rather than learning to live with them and with one another in charity and generosity of spirit. I hope that the 500 year Anglican tradition of living together under a big umbrella prevails and that the urge to settle things once and for all is resisted.

Yesterday, my spirits were once again lifted by young people. A theatre troup from Western Michigan is here to present a drama, called "Seven Passages" (about those seven dreaded verses of scripture that purport to relate to homosexuality), which will be performed tonight and tomorrow night. I met with them during one of their rehearsals. It was a magical and delightful time, meeting with these young people who have struggled with scripture and what it means for them and for their gay and lesbian friends. These are kids who love the Church and are so distressed at the harm they have endured at its hands. Yet here they are, making their own witness to the love of God in their lives. One young African-American man told me of his own coming out to his mother, after she saw the play. She and his father, just released after eleven years in prison, both expressed their undying and unswerving love for him -- much to his amazement and joy. More miracles.

Things are both winding down and heating up here. Everyone knows that the end is near. No, not THAT end; just the end of the Conference. There is the usual wondering, that always happens towards the end of any conference: "Is this all there is?!" And the nagging question of "Shouldn't we have done more?" My sense is that it is quite enough -- to meet one's fellow bishops from across the communion, to listen intently to their realities where they are doing ministry, to deepen the bonds of affection between us, and to leave here renewed in the knowledge that God is working God's purposes out, in many different contexts, in many different ways, and on many different timelines. That should be sufficient, and participants should leave without trying to solve everything with an ill-advised Covenant which will attempt to tie everything up into a neat and tidy package. My experience tells me that the Christian life is seldom neat and tidy, and the business of loving the world that God has made, and every person in it, is messy and difficult. Attempts to clean up the "mess" may be at cross purposes with what God has in mind.

Thank you for all your prayers. You cannot imagine how much they mean to me. You are joined in them by so many of my brother and sister bishops who have sought to "keep me in the loop," despite a grueling and overly-filled schedule. Running into them on the street or in the marketplace, and having them tell me of their constant thoughts for me, has meant so much to me. Ours is a goodly fellowship, and I am honored to be counted among them, even when separated. Special thanks and appreciation go to Tom Ely, Bishop of Vermont, and his wife, Ann, both dear friends, who have gone out of their way to keep me connected to what is going on and to listen to my own feelings as I navigate these waters. In return, I introduced them last night to the best Sticky Toffee Pudding in Britain, a treat they shall not soon forget!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Odds and Ends

In the middle of my three-day "sabbatical" from Canterbury, I have time to muse over some of the curious things I'm seeing and hearing....

Every trip to a pub or restaurant is an ode to "two nations separated by a common language." I've learned that a "fool" is a creamy, mousse-like dessert. A "mess" is something similar, but, well, a mess! "Pudding" seems to be a name encompassing all desserts. If you order "cream pie," it's likely to be cake with whipped cream on top. And "spotted dick" -- let's not even go there! But a pig roast is a pig roast, no matter how you slice it. And the one pictured above was to celebrate the end of the school year in the small village where we were staying, about 9 miles from Canterbury.

My Cockney driver is a total delight to listen to. I'd rather listen to him talk than eat, and that's saying a lot. When something surprises or shocks him, he cries, "Crikey!" Britain, just like I pictured it!

Americans use the phrase, "You get what you pay for." Here, it's "If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys!"

Today, in the press, I was called a "pantechnicon." I've looked it up and it means a "moving van." I still don't get it -- but can it be good?!

I walked to St. Paul's Cathedral yesterday. A bit of a hike, but with a gem of a church awaiting me at the end of the journey. When I arrived, I discovered it cost 10 Pounds to get in (about $21). Crikey! Even if tourists have to pay in order to keep up these museum-like churches, I was still offended by the high charge and left without going in. Am I getting cranky in my old age?

Cricket is a game with impenetrable rules and played solely for the purpose of confirming that Brits are superior to the rest of the world.

Across from my hotel, hundreds and hundreds of 18-25 year olds line up on Friday and Saturday nights to get into a local club. They're queueing up at 11:00pm as I'm going to bed. At 5:30 the next morning, as I'm getting up, they're coming out of their all-night jamfest. Most of them look exhausted from their pulsing night in the mosh pit, many looking still whacked-out on drugs. They congregate around the tube station, waiting for it to open, while I get coffee across the street. The local deli opens just to feed these kids who are trying to come back to their senses in the early morning light. It makes me sad to see these kids, obviously hungering for something, something not apt to be fulfilled in the club scene.

A quotation from +Richard Harries, retired Bishop of Oxford: "Diversity is God's gift to us; division is what we've made of it."

From a chat with a British priest on a diocesan staff: "Justice sermons don't go over very well here. It offends the British sense of being courteous and nice. Toleration is about as far as people are willing to go." No wonder we're having a problem!

All in all, the Brits are a kind and generous people -- courteous to a fault and delightful to be around. To this old Anglophile, it is a joy to be with them.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Agony and the Ecstasy

What a roller coaster this continues to be -- with ecstatic moments of grace and agonizing moments of disappointment. Forgive me for not writing since our Wednesday evening gathering, but I just needed a rest.

First, one of the ecstasies. The gathering on Wednesday evening was really quite everything all of us had hoped for. I must be general in my comments, to protect the identities of those who were present. I would in no way want to compromise the risk that some took to be there. I was profoundly moved and humbled by those who chose to attend. Certainly, I was preaching to a considerable number of "the choir." But also present, at the personal invitations from some of our American bishops, were many bishops from all over the world -- from SIX continents, I might add. Our time began with refreshments in the courtyard, before moving inside for the program. Some who attended were probably only curious. Many more were deeply interested, and deeply committed to the listening process called for by the last three Lambeth Conferences. Some were cautious, anxious (it seemed) and taking quite a risk (from their peers) to be there -- a remarkable and holy risk-taking on their parts. I was deeply moved by their willingess to attend and listen. This was my first opportunity to meet my foreign counterparts, and of course like my brother and sister American bishops, found this to be a wonderful, sobering and thoughtful experience.

After a presentation by some of our bishops about the polity and practice of electing bishops in our Province, and an introduction of me (via DVD) by laity and clergy of New Hampshire, I spoke. I told them that the one goal I had was that they might recognize the God I know and witness to in my life as the same God they know in their lives. I believe that happened.

During the question and answer conversation, several wanted to express their support, and did so movingly and sincerely, some through a translator. Both bishops and spouses contributed. Others asked good questions and listened intently to my answers. I could not have asked for a more respectful hearing. Comments made during and after the presentation revealed a deep yearning to heal this current divide -- theologically, culturally and ecclesially. The longing for Communion seemed palpable to me. Those who would prematurely announce the demise of the Anglican Communion obviously haven't talked to these folks!

One telling comment, from one of those who had chosen to accept a brother bishop's invitation despite his misgivings, was moved to lament how easy it is to believe what one reads and hears about a fellow Christian, and to find in meeting him that that impression was distorted. He comes from a country torn by internal strife and with more than enough problems of its own, yet found time in his schedule to participate in this effort at reconciliation. Profoundly moving.

I can't really say much more than that, except to say that we'll be doing it again next Wednesday and that we hope that word will travel among the bishops that this could indeed be a productive and holy time for those who wish to open themselves to it. God did, as I had prayed, provide me and those present with the words we needed to communicate our common humanity and our common faith.

I began Thursday morning in prayer with the Franciscans, and continue to feel blessed by their hospitality and their witness. It's a good thing I began that way, because what next befell me was one of the agonies.

Since arriving in Canterbury, I had not yet visited the Cathedral. I went nowhere near the place on Sunday's opening service. The ever-anxious leadership had provided the Cathedral security guards with a large photo of me, posted at the security checkpoints, presumably to keep me from "crashing the gates" of the opening service. No one believed that I would be true to my promise to the Archbishop not to attend.

On Thursday, knowing that the conference attendees would leave early in the morning for London -- for the MDG walk, lunch at Lambeth Palace, and tea with the Queen -- it seemed like a good, low-profile time to make my own pilgrimage to our Mother Church. I told no one of my intentions to attend -- except I had my security person follow the properly courteous protocol of alerting the Cathedral to my visit. I had him also seek permission for a videographer to accompany me on my visit for a documentary to be released sometime in 2010. We were informed that the videographer could NOT accompany me or film me inside the Cathedral. Fair enough. We were told that he could accompany me to the gate onto the Cathedral grounds, and, standing in the public street, could at least film me walking into the Cathedral through the gate's archway.

We contacted Cathedral security to let them know of our imminent arrival, as had been requestd. When we got there, we were met by a gentleman, representing the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral, I think. He intercepted me and told me that I could not be filmed walking into the Cathedral (even from the public street outside) after all. The reason he gave took me by surprise, rendering me speechless (an uncommon experience for me!). "We can't have any photographs or film of you entering the Cathedral," he said, "because we want this to be a church for ALL people." Presumably he meant that my being seen walking into the Cathedral would cause others not to want to come.

This was one of those breathtaking moments when you just can't come up with the right thing to say. The rest of the day I thought of all the things I SHOULD have said. Like, "so you mean that I am not included in 'ALL people?!'" Or, "isn't this MY cathedral too?!" Or, "so what am I, chopped liver?!" The moment was so surprising, after having been so forthright in our notification of our visit and going through all the channels to ensure courteousness, I just couldn't come up with anything to say except, "okay," and accede to his wishes.

We were taken to the Cathedral's visitors office, where we were introduced to Theresa, a competent and warm guide who provided me with a wonderful, informative and hospitable tour of the Cathedral. But I simply couldn't shake the feelings engendered by the previous "welcome" a few minutes before.

The Cathedral, of course, has its own voice, and its towering arches, art, altars and promenades tell a wonderful story of Christian witness over the centuries. Three distinct architectural styles attest to its construction over a very long time. Its Augustine's Chair points to the first Archbishop of Canterbury's primacy at a much more precarious time than our own. The ancient nature of this building points to the Church's survivability over time, and I found this particularly moving and comforting, that even through THESE times, God promises to protect the Church such that "even the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."

As for nearly every other pilgrim, I found the altar at which Thomas a Becket was slain particularly moving. Since I had last been there, some thirty years ago, a modern sculpture had been added above the alter. It depicted the sword, used to accomplish this "murder in the cathedral," broken in the act of doing its dirty deed, flanked by two other swords. The three of them together formed a kind of three-cross Golgotha on which our Lord was slain. An already poignant place, made even more powerful by the work of an artist. I knelt to pray there and found it hard to leave. The witness of the saints, standing firm against the powers of this world, continues to inspire.

Young people, from all over the world, staffing their own version of the Stations of the Cross, implored me to come down to their witness in the crypt of the cathedral. True to my experiences with countless young people "on the Fringe" here, they shake their heads and wonder why the Church is tearing itself apart over an issue that is simply not an issue for them. Their comforting words of support mean the world to me, and in that moment, provided the REAL welcome at Canterbury Cathedral I needed.

Then, we were off to London. Many months ago, I had been contacted by the Cara Trust, a philanthropic organization who has been providing support and services to those living with HIV/AIDS since the early days of the pandemic. They invited me to have tea with them and many of their clients -- now not just limited to gay men, but including heterosexuals, women and especially women of color. What an honor to be asked, and what an honor to accept.

In one of those divinely humorous coincidences, our travel route from Canterbury and through the jam-packed traffic of London took us around Buckingham Palace, just at the precise moment that bishops and spouses were streaming off their coaches and into the Palace, for tea with the Queen. It was delightful to see most of the women wearing fabulous hats, chosen for this occasion. My gaze was caught by Donna Scarfe, wife of the Bishop of Iowa, in a stunning green hat with matching ensemble. Truly fit for a queen!

Upon my arrival at the Methodist church where we were meeting, I was greeted with open arms by those living with HIV. Italian, French, Caribbean, Indian and British human beings infected with a disease that knows no class or nationality, and whose treatment by an inhuman prejudice breaks my heart. But this was not a time to mourn. Pots of tea on tableclothed card tables and a table of delectable pastries gave it a party atmosphere. I was supposed to judge the "best cake" contest, but there were just too many to sample them all and no way to single out the best.
I don't know how tea with the Queen went, but I can attest that west of Buckingham Palace, there was a GREAT tea party going on! At the end, they presented me with a spectacular bouquet of flowers, wrapped in purple tissue that perfectly matched my bishop's shirt. It was a profoundly moving experience, and one that I would not have traded for the world. The view "from the Fringe" continues to inspire, challenge, nourish and console me.

I am now in an undisclosed location, taking the weekend to rest and relax. I'm going to not think about the Church for a few days. I might even take in the latest Batman movie, just to turn my brain off and escape for a little while. A little sabbath time is what I need. I've scouted out a place to worship on Sunday and will meet friends for dinner.

I am well and content. God still seems palpably close. Life is ALWAYS filled with both agonies and ecstasies, and each teaches us something different. One can never be absolutely sure one is doing the Lord's work instead of one's own agenda, but it sure feels like God is here, directing my attempts to witness to God's goodness and love. Praise to God when I get it right, and God help me when I get it wrong.

Thank you for your continuing prayers. I could not be doing this without them.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

God is good. All the time.

The busyness and tension of the last couple of days have kept me from blogging. Now there seems so much to catch up on, it is daunting. Some highlights....

Early morning prayers with the Franciscans continue to feed and nourish me. Approaching via the narrow and empty streets of Canterbury, arriving at the gate, left open for me by the brothers, proceeding across the quiet and narrow river, into the meadow of wildflowers glistening in the morning sun, and into the chapel where Christians have been praying for 700+ years. As I sit quietly in prayer with the brothers, doves are cooing overhead, and the babbling river over which the chapel is built makes its own peaceful rhythm.

In reciting the psalms, the brothers employ a practice that has never really worked for me -- until now. The long and pregnant pause between lines of the psalms has always seemed to me, observed in large groups, to be artificial and distracting (more worried that I'm going to start too soon and stick out like a sore thumb). But here, it is an entirely different spiritual practice. It's as if the brothers and I have become one breathing organism, finding a breathing and speaking rhythm that brings us intimately together. Rather than a distraction, it is an embodiment of the oneness life in Christ promises with one another.

As an American, I suppose, I want to voice meaning in each word, but the flatness with which the brothers recite the psalms make a strange sense to me. The reciting of the psalms becomes less about what the words mean, and more about the unity with which we are reciting them. Sounds strange, even for me to be saying. But it works. Powerfully, prayerfully and intimately.

In the intercessions rota, we happen to pray for the Francisans in the Solomon Islands, where I visited last November. A holy and unexpected coincidence (although since being here, I heard someone say that "coincidences are God's way of keeping a low profile!"). Those brothers, halfway around the world, are collected into our presence, and the world seems unexpectedly one.

Emerging from the Greyfriars, after a morning cup of tea, into the now-busy streets of Canterbury is a prelude to the tension and drama that awaits me "up on the hill" at the University of Kent campus and the Lambeth Conference. I try to take some of the peace I've found at Greyfriars with me.

The day is littered with chance meetings with brother and sister bishops from the Episcopal Church -- always helpful and comforting to me. There are the chance meetings with others from around the Communion -- some warm and friendly and supportive, some averting their eyes when they see me coming, choosing to withhold returning even a smile in passing.

Almost invariably, though, I am stopped by each of the conference stewards -- mostly college-aged young people from England and around the Communion, who want to shake my hand and tell me of their support. These young people are so interested in the Church, so committed to being here and helping in any way, yet mystified by some of the words and behaviors they witness, all in the name of the Church. They want me to know how much they are praying for me. The fellow behind the cafe counter in the Marketplace insists that I accept a cappuchino he has made for me, a free gift he insists. Many want their pictures taken with the Bishop of New Hampshire, as if it will be a reminder of something important and hopeful for them. I am awed and honored by their interest and their kindness, and am reminded that "my congregation" right now is anyone who will listen and engage. Being "on the Fringe" is a blessing indeed.

Yesterday (Tuesday), I was scheduled to make an address at the University of Kent's Law School's Centre for the Study of the Law, Gender and Sexuality. It was an oversubscribed event, with a queue of people on a waiting list, hoping for a seat. Young and old, churched and unchurched, faithful and skeptical. It is an amazing gathering, and our conversation is robust, thoughtful and challenging.

Just before entering the hall, I receive news that the Archbishop of Sudan, claiming many in the Global South supporting him, has called for my resignation as Bishop of New Hampshire. The Bishop of Fort Worth adds that those who consecrated me ought to recognize how unwelcome THEY are at Lambeth and should leave.

I have decided not to make any official kind of response. It seems to me that the challenge is not so much to me as it is to the Episcopal Church, and specifically to its House of Bishops, our polity as a Church, and the canons which were followed to the letter in my election and consecration.

But I will reflect on a few questions raised and thoughts I've had since.

First, this is also about the faithful people of New Hampshire who called me to be their bishop. Everyone seems to forget that I am not here representing myself, but rather all the people of the Diocese of New Hampshire, with whom it is my privilege to minister in Christ's name. They have called me to minister with them as their Bishop, and suggestions that I resign ignore the vows that I have taken to serve my flock in New Hampshire. I would no more let them down or reneg on my commitments to them than fly to the moon. We may be the one diocese in the entire Communion who is, for the most part, beyond all this obsession with sex and are getting on with the Gospel. They would be infuriated, as well they should be, if I entertained any notion of resigning. And it is not just Gene Robinson who is being denied representation at the Lambeth Conference, it is the people of New Hampshire who have been deprived of a seat at the table.

Second, those calling for my resignation seem to be under the impression that if Gene Robinson went away, that all would go back to being "like it was," whatever that was! Does ANYONE think that if I resigned, this issue would go away?! I could be hit by a big, British, doubledecker bus today, and it would not change the fact that there are faithful, able and gifted gay and lesbian priests of this Episcopal Church who are known and loved for what they bring to ordained ministry, who will before long be recognized with a nomination for the episcopate (as has already happened in dioceses other than New Hampshire), and one of them will be elected. Not because they are gay or lesbian, but because the people who elect them recognize their gifts for ministry in that particular diocese. We are not going away, as much as some would like us to. That toothpaste isn't going to go back into the tube! Not if the Bishop of New Hampshire resigns. Not if the "offending" bishops leave the Lambeth Conference. Not ever.

I especially need your prayers tonight. It is the first of two Wednesday evenings in which some American bishops will sponsor a Fringe Event (officially sanctioned, not as part of the conference, but as a Fringe Event), for bishops and spouses of the Communion to come and meet their brother bishop Gene. After four bishops describe the process that led to my election and consent, and testimony, one from a bishop who voted for my consent and one who voted against consent, about my warm welcome into our House of Bishops by virtually all members of our House, even and especially those who voted "no." They will bear witness, I hope, to how the Episcopal Church is forging a model for ministry together, despite our differences. Something the Anglican Communion might want to learn from.

Then I will be introduced -- not by a bishop, but by the people of New Hampshire who elected me. A DVD presentation will include voices of clergy and laity from New Hampshire introducing me and reflecting on our ministry together. I am so proud of that.

I will then attempt to share my own witness to the love of Christ in my own life. It will not be a "sell job," although I'm sure some will judge it to be that. Rather, my one goal is to talk about my own life and journey in Christ in such a way that those who are listening will perceive that the God I know in my own life is the same God they know in THEIR lives. Then we can wrestle with the faithful differences we have in interpreting that God's will for us and for God's church. I feel an enormous weight on my shoulders as this evening approaches, and hence ask for your prayers. I assume that God will, as God has always done, supply me with the words I need. Not MY words, but GOD'S words, as best I can open myself to being a channel for those words. Those who have ears to hear, by the grace of God, will hear.

This has gone on much too long, and I apologize. But as I write these words, my faith in God is strengthened and my spirit is calmed. As a friend of mine is fond of saying, "God is good. All the time." I trust that this evening will be no different.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Mind the Gap

Sunday's "inclusive opening service" was a boost to my spirits. Gathered in a beautiful, open, grassy park, a couple of hundred folks gathered to give God thanks in the way that Christians have been doing for centuries. Susan Russell "knocked one out of the park" with her sermon. Her theme, a phrase heard at every Tube station in London: Mind the Gap! She talked about all the gaps that separate us -- especially the gap between what we say and how we act. (At the official opening service in the morning, I understand that the sermon by a Sri Lankan bishop was extraordinary, though I've still not caught up with it online. The irony of singing the hymn "All are welcome" apparently was not lost on anyone!) But the gaps, said Susan, need not become chasms that divide us -- it is the greatest of Anglican traditions.

Some 20-30 American bishops joined us for the inclusive service. Many of them gathered with me in the parish hall next door, to walk with me over to the eucharist site. They are sharing the pain of all this with me, and their pain is real too. We're all caught in this institutional web of which we are a part. Their being there, their words of comfort and pain, and their walking with me meant so much.

I learned more about today's planned meeting of the House of Bishops and the official thinking behind my not being able to attend. I don't "get" their reasoning, but here it is: (And the fact is, most of our House of Bishops is probably totally unaware of the "negotiations" going on behind the scenes.) The Lambeth planners do NOT consider this a meeting of our House of Bishops. Rather, they say, this is a part of the Lambeth Conference, and therefore, as a non-invitee, I will not be allowed on the premises where the meeting is taking place. It seems a flimsy distinction to me, but I have decided not to pursue it. It really puts all of us in a lose-lose position: if I abide by their ruling, I am excluded; if I fight it or simply show up, then I'm the troublemaker and rebel. If the House of Bishops takes some action on this, necessitating a vote, then it divides our House -- a further and unnecessary division that I refuse to encourage. So no matter how you slice it, someone loses. I have decided, on my own, to let it go, sad as it is. This is not a ditch I feel called to die in. I will just mourn the sadness of it, and move on. (There's something about shaking the dust off your sandals and moving on that I've read somewhere!)

What I want all of you to know is that there are some amazing people in our House of Bishops who are working constantly behind the scenes to support me. Their support means the world to me. They are as dismayed, discouraged and frustrated as the rest of us. They need to play THEIR roles INSIDE the Big Top (the large tent where they are meeting -- the circus reference has been duly noted by everyone!), and I need to play MINE, OUTSIDE, as our beloved ++Katharine told me back in March. So that's what we'll do.

I'm off early this morning to pray with the Franciscans. Sitting in their 13th century chapel and offering prayers to God, I will be giving thanks for all your prayers and support. I am surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses -- some here, some far away, and some gathered around the throne of God (+Jim Kelsey comes to mind). Because of your love, some of the bounce is back in my step, and I welcome this new day and whatever it will bring. The Marketplace opens today, and I will be there to talk with whomever wants to talk. And as we know from the Road to Emmaus story, "as they walked and talked, Jesus drew near." I'll be looking for him!

Pray for me

Never have I felt more in need of your prayers. As I write this, the opening service of the Lambeth Conference is going on at Canterbury Cathedral. I am a few miles away -- but it feels like a much further difference. I am not appearing at the opening service, as I promised the Archbishop.

Yesterday was a painful day. I am feeling frustrated and angry. I dare not write too much, because I don't want to sound like I'm whining, nor do I want to say anthing intemperate. But making my first trip into Canterbury and the campus on which the Conference is occurring was difficult.

The level of fear and anxiety, especially among the Conference powers-that-be, is out the roof. No matter what I say, no matter what assurances I give, I seem to be regarded as a threat, something to be walled off and kept at a distance. Greeting a few American bishops in passing, and then at a dinner for General Seminary alumni last night, has been pleasant and supportive. But even though I thought I was properly prepared for the feeling of being shut out, I am stunned by the depth of that feeling.

I am not participating in any kind of official way at the "inclusive opening service" being held this afternoon on a green off campus. I will sit in the congregation with those American bishops who choose to show up in support of this service of inclusion. I know that a number of them will be present, even though they'll have just finished a long service at the Cathedral. This means so much to me that they would do so, especially at this time.

The most infuriating blow came this morning with news that when the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops meets on Tuesday afternoon (each of the 38 "national" provinces of the Communion will have its own gathering), I will not be allowed to participate, because this would look like I had become a "participant," and the organizers seem intent on enforcing my status as a non-invitee. If nothing can be done to change this decision, it will be a particularly painful blow. At our House of Bishops meeting in March, I pleaded with the House not to let Lambeth separate us. For me to be excluded from my own House of Bishops seems especially cruel and unnecessary.

All is not bad, of course. I had a wonderful time with organizers from Integrity, Claiming the Blessing and the Chicago Consultation. They are making a powerful and effective witness to the presence of gay and lesbian people in the Church, and I am honored to be with them.

In the afternoon, I made my own little pilgrimage -- not yet to the Cathedral, but rather to the Greyfriars, the community of Franciscans here in Canterbury. Franciscan friars made their way to England and arrived in Canterbury in A.D. 1224. They've been here ever since. I had been invited to join them for prayer, eucharist and quiet, so I wanted to touch base. I was welcomed by every single one of the community, getting a personal tour of the place (which includes a heavenly "pasture" of wildflowers tucked between two passages of the river that runs through town) by one of the brothers, and then tea with the whole community. (See photo above, which includes some of them.) I believe I have found a spiritual home here in the midst of exile. I am thankful for their hospitality and welcome.

I don't know how all this is going to play out over the next two weeks. At the moment, I am feeling like the ancient Hebrews, wandering in the desert looking for God's daily manna, just to get through. With all the exclusion and meanness that has come my way over the years, you'd think this would come as less of a surprise. But surprise me it did! And it hurts, especially at the hands of my brothers and sisters in Christ.
So please, pray for me. Pray that God will reveal to me what I am to do and how I am to do it, best reflecting God's love and spirit of reconciliation. Pray that when given an opportunity to speak to one or to many, God might replace my words with His words, my heart with His heart. In the end, I keep reminding myself, I'm going to heaven.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

We arrive at St. Rumwold's parish, about thirty miles from Canterbury, set among "amber waves of grain." Surrounded by nearly ripe wheat fields, on the edge of what used to be the coast (before the area was drained, Henry VIII's warships were built here, and the soldiers who would murder Thomas a Becket landed here from France), St. Rumwold's has hosted Christian worshippers since A.D. 786. The present building "only" dates back 1,000 years!

Let me save you some time looking up St. Rumwold. It seems that Rumwold was born, and when he was three days old (yes, that's three DAYS old), he delivered a sermon on the Trinity and promptly died. Sermons on the Trinity are generally tough, but this one takes the cake! No wonder we don't have a St. Rumwold's in New Hampshire!

In the middle of nowhere, amid this beautiful farm country, I was greeted by twenty or so photographers, did a live interview on BBC TV, and taped another interview with Sky TV.
St. Rumwold's has a curious ministry of "absence." That is, its special ministry seems to be of offering an empty (except for God) church for people to stop in and pray, anytime, 24/7. It is a haven of peace and quiet in a busy world, offering its beauty and simplicity to all who might find it welcome. Offering little in the way of potential stolen property, it worries not about losing anything.

Every Friday evening in the summers, St. Rumwold's offers a lecture to the community. Last night, I was it. The place was packed to the gills, and the organizers seemed quite happy at the turnout -- the largest in thirty years, they said. The audience was diverse in age and theological stance. Billed as a "conversation with Bishop Robinson," I mostly answered people's questions. They were thoughtful and interesting.

There were a couple of quite conservative questioners who voiced their concerns about my regard for the Scriptures and what, it seemed to them, was my playing fast and loose with the Word of God. They were respectful, thoughtful and sincere. One of them, a lovely woman who appeared to be in her eighties, read to me from her Bible. To her credit, she not only read the familiar part of Leviticus, but went on to read Levitcus' instruction that "a man who lies with a man as with a woman" should be put to death. I asked her if she thought that Mark and I should be put to death. She responded, "I didn't say it. God did." I went on to answer her question as best I could. At the end of the evening, she thanked me and patted me on the arm as only a matron and matriarch of the church can do. She reminded me of the matriarchs I had grown up with in my church in Kentucky. She and I may not agree, but she was there! At eighty-something, she was still opening her heart to learn what God would have her learn. You can't ask for more than that.

One man approached me after the service, nearly sobbing. All he could get out was that he had left the Church twelve years ago, having been treated and hurt so badly. For the first time in a long time, he said, he was feeling some hope of being able to return. I pray so.
Numerous people, including the vicar, shared that they had a son or daughter who was gay, and I was reminded of my own parents who were so isolated from their friends when I came out to them, afraid that their friends would judge THEM and punish them for my being gay. These are parents -- and there are so many, everywhere -- who love their child and who can't square what they think the Bible says, with the wonderful child they know and love. Of all the people in the audience, they seemed the most appreciative.
After refreshments, we made our way back through the waving wheat fields to our lodging outside of Canterbury. An evening well spent.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

If I am to do nothing...

Today (Friday), we leave for Canterbury, where the bishops have been gathered in retreat since Wednesday. After all the planning and praying, I still don't know what to expect. What I do know is that praying for the Archbishop of Canterbury and all the bishops, on retreat, has been painful. I still don't fathom why my presence in their midst would be such an affront. It is especially hard being separated from my own brother and sister bishops, who have been so generous and welcoming in our own House, even those who voted "no" on my consent. I miss them terribly.

I have a friend in the midwest, someone I have never met, but who has been a companion on the way since emailing me right after my election. In her wisdom, this morning she forwarded to me one of my own favorite prayers. Though it comes from the section of the Prayer Book for use by someone who is sick, it is a great prayer for anyone, anytime. It seems especially appropriate for right now, as she obviously discerned.

This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.

With Lambeth Palace seeming so paranoid and suspicious of my presence at the conference, and with my desire to HELP the Archbishop, not undermine him, it seems to offer the best guidance for me right now. Perhaps it is not anything I will say, but rather my quiet presence alone, which will be my witness. Pray, my friends, that I will have patience and that my witness will be gallant. And above all, pray that I take with me the Spirit of Jesus.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

An Evening with Gandalf

Monday evening was such a wonderful celebration! After a long needed and much appreciated afternoon nap following a hectic weekend, we headed for Queen Elizabeth Hall, on the Thames at the South Bank Centre for the Arts, a kind of British version of New York's Lincoln Center, only more expansive in its buildings and cutting edge in its programming.

Earlier, I had contacted Sir Ian McKellen, arguably the greatest living Shakespearean actor (and Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings series), to see if he wanted to help introduce the documentary "For the Bible Tells Me So" in its British premiere on Monday evening. He enthusiastically said yes, and he and I spent a wonderful evening at his home planning the event. It turned out better than either of us anticipated.

After welcoming the audience of some 700-800, and viewing the film, he introduced me, and we sat and had a conversation about the issues raised in the movie. We then opened it up to questions from the audience, which were thoughtful and substantive. No hecklers! It was a wildly diverse audience, keenly interested in the Church and its impact on those marginalized for one reason or another.

Sir Ian had told me about a rarely-heard speech written by Shakespeare (the ONLY composition preserved in his own handwriting, and under glass at the British Museum), and included as part of a play written by a group of playwrights. In the play, the people of London have rioted, demanding that all foreigners be expelled from London and from England. Sir Thomas More comes out on a balcony to address the angry mob, and delivers a speech urging the welcoming of strangers, and cautioning them that they too, someday, in some other context, might be considered "the other." They too might someday pray for compassionate treatment of "the other." I had asked Sir Ian to deliver this soliloquy as a way to end the evening. (He had recited it for me when we had dinner, and I was stunned by its relevance to our current situation.)

As we closed the evening, I asked Ian to share this recitation with us. He stepped forward to the edge of the stage, away from the microphones, and proceeded to fill the theatre with his distinctive and thrilling voice, becoming Sir Thomas More as we watched and listened. It was a breathtaking moment none will soon forget.

After the hectic and tense nature of the day before, this was a relaxed, joyful and celebrative evening of good will and hope. With God and Gandalf on my side, how can I fail?!

For the past couple of days, Mark and I have been secluded with friends in an undisclosed location, delighting in the English countryside, taking long walks and getting much needed rest. Our friends have cooked us gourmet meals, taken us for a wonderful visit to Kings College, Cambridge, and pampered us in every way. They are among the many supporters who have been so generous, welcoming and supportive. We are grateful to them and to God for this time of rest and rejuvenation, before heading to Canterbury tomorrow (Friday).

As we said grace over dinner last evening, we prayed for the Archbishop of Canterbury and all the bishops beginning their retreat in Canterbury. It feels VERY strange to be cut off from them, for the first time since my consecration. I look forward to connecting with my brothers and sisters of my own House of Bishops, and to whatever lies ahead.

Keep those prayers coming, especially as we head to Canterbury, as both pilgrims and missionaries.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Anger, Love and Emily in Putney

By now, you will have probably read about the service last night at St. Mary's, Putney. The church was filled to capacity, the music was glorious, the crowd was warm, welcoming and supportive. It was clear that everyone wanted to be there. Except that one person wanted to be there for different reasons.

As I began to preach, this youngish man with long hair and long sideburns, carrying a motorcycle helmet, stood and began to point his finger at me and scream, "Heretic! Repent!"

It was a surreal moment. Of course we knew that something like this might happen. But you can't really adequately prepare for the reality of it.

My first, fleeting thought was, "What's going to happen next? Is he carrying something in that helmet? Is this going to be more than angry words?" But almost immediately, I found myself profoundly sorry for this young man. After he had been removed, and the hymn ended (the congregation had sung a hymn to drown out his shouting), when I asked the congregation to "pray for that man," I was nearly overwhelmed with sadness. All I could think about was that place in his heart which must be filled with such darkness, a place that was meant to be filled with loved, but because of whatever had happened in his life, whoever he has been associating with, it was filled with hate. Someone had to TEACH him to hate like that. He didn't learn it on his own. For a moment or two, I was nearly overwhelmed by my sense of sadness for him. The tears in my eyes and the crack in my voice were for this child of God who, I suspect, has experienced so much pain and unhappiness in his life.

And then, on with the sermon. Though everyone seemed to appreciate it, it was not my best, and my timing felt off. I meant what I was saying, and it was all true, but I was distracted -- wondering if there were plans for further interruptions by possible collaborators in the heckling, still feeling the sadness, and absorbing the trauma of what had just happened. The communion proceeded, and I sat and watched the faces as they came forward to receive. (I was not distributing the bread, to make it absolutely clear that I was not presiding at the service, having not been given permission to do so.)

I noticed Nick in the congregation. He was the young waiter from the cafe that is built right into the entrance to the church. He had served me lunch the day before, and then later told me that he was gay and Christian. He said his mother was Catholic and had told him that although it made her sad, he was going to hell. Nick was there to receive the Body and Blood of Christ with a large congregation who did NOT think he was hellbound.

And then, after the service, there was Emily. I had been told about her by her vicar. She's about twenty years old and has muscular dystrophy. Her mobility is impaired, and her speech is labored. And she has recently announced to her family and friends that she is lesbian. She told her mother and her vicar that she wanted to be there to meet Bishop Robinson. I made sure she was brought up to the private space where we all gathered after the service.

She walked onto the terrace tentatively. I greeted her, noticing that her hands were very weak. With great difficulty, and needing time to shape each word as carefully as she could, she told me what my words and my ministry have meant to her. I asked her if I could hug her, and she melted into my arms for a long embrace. In that moment, I remembered why I was here in London, why I was talking about God's love for all of God's children. I remembered how MANY of God's lgbt children have never heard those words about themselves, or believed them. I was here for Emily, and Nick, and countless others I will never know. God loves them so much, and it must break God's heart that they doubt it. My job is to help rid them of that doubt.

I told Emily that if she could get her mother to bring her to Queen Elizabeth Hall the next night, I'd see she had a good seat for "For the Bible Tells Me So." She looked at her Mom in a way that both begged and demanded, and told me she'd be there. Something tells me that when Emily puts her mind to something, there'll be no stopping her.

What a day! With lots of people and potential danger outside, we decided to order Chinese food into the "upper room" of the Church. There we feasted on the most disgustingly unhealthy array of sweet-and-sour who-knows-what, and had a wonderful celebration of God's goodness to us all. What an honor, what a holy honor, to be on this pilgrimage to Canterbury.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

A most important day

Later today, I will be preaching at St. Mary's, Putney -- an invitation extended by the Vicar, Giles Fraser, and approved by his bishop. It is an extraordinary act of hospitality, for which I am deeply grateful. This remarkable parish at the foot of the Putney Bridge has an amazing history, being the site of the historic Putney debates that led to the participation of the "common people" in the civic life of Britain.

I must admit to feeling the awesome weight of this day. Security people are busy making sure the venue will be safe for all, despite threats of some sort of protest. The media will be out in full force, and the sidewalks will be littered with satellite dish trucks. They're all looking for a "good" story, of course, because they're in the business of selling papers and TV shows. By "good," they mean that I will slip and say something I shouldn't, or at least say something negative about the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Anglican Communion that will make a juicy headline. Everyone else is telling me how much they are looking forward to what I have to say.

I, on the other hand, am feeling very small. How appropriate it is for the lesson to be from Jeremiah in which God calls Jeremiah to speak on His behalf, and Jeremiah, feeling very small and not up to the task, responds, "I'm only a boy!" I know how that feels. While everyone and everything is swirling all around me, I am trying to hear God's voice, to discern what it is I'm to say: NOT what I want to say, but what GOD wants me to say. To Jeremiah, and to me, God says (as God always says), "Be not afraid." I'm trying.

God also says "I will put my words in your mouth." I'm holding God to His promise about that one, because everything I think of saying sounds short of the mark, so inconsequential to the awesome task. I worry less about the people who will quarrel with whatever I say, than about those whose hopes and dreams and view of God (and God's church) seem to be at stake. They are beginning to believe that God loves them, after years of being told otherwise, and they are looking for a word of hope from me. I so want to deliver that word of hope -- that the God they've had the courage to believe really loves them, really does.

The anxiety for me comes between now and when I start to speak. I'm not worried about all the eyes which will be on me. I worry about doing God proud. I worry about getting it right. I worry about both expressing the joy I have come to know in my life at the hands of a gracious and loving God, in such a way that those who hear my words will believe that that same joy awaits them.

I know that when I begin to preach, God will take away my anxiety and bring me to that calm place from which I can dare to speak words on God's behalf, as best as I can discern them. In the meantime, I just feel like a boy.

Pray for me.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A good start

Just finishing a three day conference of the Modern Churchpersons Union, north of London. This is a 110-year-old, left of center Liberal group, and proud of it. They have been a most welcoming and warm group. A VERY nice way to begin my trek in England.

The setting is an old manor house that's been turned into a lovely conference center. The gardens/lawn out back are beautiful, and in the early morning, it has a Watership Down look, with dozens of rabbits all over the lawn, and a few pheasants pecking away. A tranquil setting in which to discuss the roiling boil going on in the English Church (ordination of women bishops) and the Lambeth Conference.

Other speakers included our own former Presiding Bishop and sometime New Hampshire resident Frank Griswold, Oxford professor Marilyn McCord Adams, Bishop of Botswana Trevor Mwamba, and chaired by the Primate of Wales, Barry Morgan. Each has given a fine lecture on "Saving the Soul of the Anglican Communion." Last night, I gave my talk. I think it went well, receiving a standing ovation at the end. Later, one of the participants asked me if I knew how seldom the Brits offered such a gesture, wanting me to know that they rarely get out of their seats to offer such frank and straightforward praise to a speaker (noting that "you Americans" do it at the drop of a hat" -- but not us!).

In this setting, people are generally of one mind about the ordination of women to the episcopate (for it), the Archbishop of Canterbury (disappointed at his perceived lack of leadership), the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the Church (it's about time!), and commitment to the Anglican Communion (universal). It has been good to be among these new friends and to gather up good energy for the coming days, knowing that their prayers will be added to all of yours.

God seems very close. As I tried to point to God and not to myself in this presentation, I was once again reminded of the need we all have to remember that we can do none of this well without the Living God. I have gotten clearer and clearer about why I'm here: as Psalm 27 puts it, I seek one thing only -- to sing God's song in this place, and to let the light of Christ in me and through me shine for all the world to see.