Sunday, July 20, 2008

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.