Saturday, August 9, 2008

Last thoughts of hope and thanks

It's 4:30am, and I'm sitting on the screen porch at home, back in my beloved New Hampshire, with gentle rain falling outside. Late Thursday night, after a 21 hour day of travel, I arrived at the Manchester, NH, airport (two hours late), to be greeted and surprised by 30 or so clergy and laity from New Hampshire, waving signs, holding balloons and flowers, and singing "I sing a song of the saints of God." Some came from over two hours away, and would get home long after midnight. One of my favorite signs read: "Medium rare after your grilling at Lambeth? No, WELL DONE!!" Can anyone doubt why I love my diocese so much?!

Scotland was exhausting, but a real joy! The welcome at the Cathedral in Glasgow (pictured above) was phenomenal, with a packed church, despite a few protesters outside. The Edinburgh Festival of Spirituality and Peace, beneath the castle that dominates the city, is a remarkable offering by St. John's Church and the Interfaith Council. It was my privilege to speak at its opening event, and then address a packed audience of 300+ on the first evening. Numerous other events and interviews filled up my time, but it was a wholly welcoming and warm atmosphere. Scotland was a wonderful place to once again celebrate the eucharist, something denied me in England for three weeks -- the same Church who gave America its first bishops, when the English bishops refused to do so. The Scots reminded me that, in doing so, THEY, not the English, created the Anglican Communion!

The morning we left Edinburgh, the headlines in the London Times announced the publication of letters sent by +Rowan Williams several years ago, in response to a conservative evangelical, in which he says that after many years of study and prayer, he has concluded that faithful, life-long-intentioned, monogamous love between two people of the same sex is NOT prohibited by scripture -- and that scripture simply does not address this new phenomenon. Precisely what I and others have been saying all along.

I have two reactions to this revelation: Yes, of course this is what +Rowan thinks. We knew that all along from his writing and speaking, which is why we were dancing in the streets at his appointment as Archbishop of Canterbury. But I think +Rowan is getting a bad rap for this from the conservatives, since he has steadfastly done what he has said he would do: set his own personal understandings aside and take a centrist stance "for the good of the whole Church." This is not news, folks! But it is indeed sad.

+Rowan, in my opinion, has not only taken a centrist stance, he has virtually abandoned those who would argue for a more inclusive church. While meeting often with the most extreme conservatives in the Communion (Bishop Iker of Ft. Worth writes recently in a letter to his diocese that he met with the Archbishop right before Lambeth), +Rowan has consistently refused to meet with me and others who argue for inclusion. He has consistently failed to criticize publicly those primates who say vile and hateful things about gay and lesbian Christians. He has bent over backwards to accommodate those who seem intent upon splitting this beloved Church. He has sided with those who say that our interpretation of scripture is outside the realm of reasonable and faithful interpretation -- while at the same time having come to the same conclusions himself! How does he sleep at night?!

My second thought is that, at the very least, it demonstrates that Americans and Canadians are not the only thoughtful, faithful Christians who can come to such conclusions. It puts the lie to the notion that we are revisionist , faithless crazies who simply disregard the Holy Scriptures in favor of a secularist, world-following agenda. If one of the great intellects and faithful theologians of our time can come to these same conclusions, how can we be accused of being mindless in our pandering to the culture and so over-the-edge of orthodoxy?!

As for the "results" of the Lambeth Conference, first let us give thanks for the Archbishop's sticking to his original plan to make this a conference for conversation, relationship-building, and deepening of the bonds of affection. Those who would have brought this to a "tidy" end were disappointed. No votes were taken; no conclusions were reached.

On the other hand, +Rowan did weigh in during his last address, and he might rightly be accused of short-circuiting the process with his own assessment: that the only way forward was to commit ourselves to three moratoria: no more gay, partnered bishops, no more blessing of same sex unions, and no more border crossings by bishops/primates into other jurisdictions. While the focus still seems to be on the American and Canadian churches, one has to wonder if the Archbishop intends to stop same sex unions in his OWN diocese, where they occur on a regular -- and public -- basis. One of the documents coming out of Lambeth seems to indicate that even the ordination to the priesthood of gay and lesbian people is not to be tolerated -- and one has to wonder about all the gay and lesbian clergy now serving in +Rowan's own diocese (including those he, himself, has ordained).

As for the proposed Covenant, many bishops (I am told) -- and not all of them from The Episcopal Church -- expressed their difficulty with any Covenant which would create a centralized authority for the Communion, and which had more to do with punishing any Province for "coloring outside the lines" of belief and practice, than with mission.

Clearly, the value of the Conference was the sharing of stories among the bishops about how they are trying to live out the Gospel in their contexts, and how the actions of one Province affect the life and ministry of another. My diocese and I were denied that experience, and so I can only learn from the stories of those conversations from others. But this, it seems to me, is the essence of Communion. To stay independent enough to be able to follow God's will as best we can discern it, in OUR context, while staying connected and caring deeply about how that plays out across the Communion.

General Convention 2009 will be significant for the Episcopal Church. Here's what I hope for: When the Church gathers -- and remember, our Church gathers ONLY when laity, clergy AND bishops meet together -- I hope we will declare ourselves, claiming a piece of Gospel ground and standing on it.

Through the actions of our General Convention, I hope we will say to the Communion, "You know, we have listened carefully to what you have had to say to us. We deeply regret that our actions cause you distress, even a diminishment of your ability to evangelize in your context. But we must minister in and to our OWN context, as best we can discern God's will for us. We will no longer observe (or pretend to observe) the moratoria on consecrations and blessings. We will abide by our own canons which (in two different places) bar discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and if and when a partnered gay or lesbian person is elected by the clergy and laity of a diocese, we will consider them for consent as we would any other. And we will proceed to ask the Standing Liturgical Commission, over the next triennium, to develop authorized rites for the blessing of same sex unions, to be brought back to the 2012 General Convention. This will necessarily involve our articulation of the theology of blessing which underlies this action, which you have asked for. We will no longer sacrifice the faithful gay and lesbian members of this Church for the sake of a unity we seem unable to define." That is my hope, and that is the work we have to do in preparation for the 2009 General Convention.

I went to Lambeth to do two things: to witness to the joy and Light of Christ in me, by virtue of my redemption at the hands of a loving God, and to be a gentle reminder to all those present that they have gay and lesbian members sitting in the pews of every church in every province of the Communion, and that bishops have taken vows to serve ALL (not just some) given to their care. I feel that I (and the many lgbt people present from all over the world) were able to do just that. The ways in which we failed are our responsibility; the ways in which we succeeded can only be attributed to God, who sustained and nourished us in our witness.

I cannot begin to find the words adequate to thanking all of you for your constant prayers. Your messages and good wishes have all been read by me, on a daily basis, and they have been like manna in the desert. I simply could not have done this without you. I wish that I could write to each one of you, expressing my deep appreciation, but time and energy simply will not permit it. After all, I have a "day job," and I now gladly give up being the "gay bishop," and return to simply being "the bishop" of this wonderful diocese.

I am profoundly tired, as I'm sure all the bishops are. But I return to my work in the diocese, knowing that God is working in and through us to bring about God's reign. I do not know what the future will bring for the Episcopal Church or for the Anglican Communion. What I DO know is that we are told repeatedly in scripture, including this coming Sunday's gospel, "Be not afraid." If we could but do that one thing, we would be in good shape to receive whatever God has in mind for us.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Watch this space

It's been a thoroughly wonderful, but exhausting, time in Scotland. I leave for home this morning. Watch this space for one last posting -- my overall thoughts about this experience. I wanted to give it a little time and distance before writing a concluding piece. It will be all that I can do to resist kissing the tarmac when I first set foot on my beloved New Hampshire tonight.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Goodbye, Canterbury; Hello, Scotland!

We left Canterbury yesterday afternoon as the Bishops struggled with the notion of an Anglican Covenant.

Wednesday evening's session with other bishops again went very well. Good attendance, and rich discussion. One particular Indian bishop especially moved me with his own testimony. He rose to speak, dressed in his long white garments. Without any rancor, anger or blame in his voice or on his face, he described the difficulty my election and consecration presented for his life and ministry. It was a beautiful moment of truth telling. He spoke of our very different contexts which made my election seem all right in America and terribly wrong in India. I apologized to him for whatever harm had been done to his ministry by our actions. I told him that I really didn't have the answer to this problem. I longed to talk further with him, and it made me realize again what I was missing by not being included in the conference. I told him that what I DID know was that he must continue being the Church in his context and that we must continue being the Church in ours. And how that plays itself out must be left in God's hands. In the meantime, we must hold onto one another as best we can.

I also told him that my own life and ministry would be profoundly changed by listening to him. I will carry his pain and life-made-more-difficult with me in my own ministry. Surely this kind of honest exchange is at the heart of whatever Communion means. Not that we have all the answers, but that we bear each other's pain. I have heard things like this before, but the miracle of his words were that they were said with love, absent of rancor and blame. Just a description of what is. Afterwards, he came up and thanked me, patted me on the arm, and assured me of his prayers. Surely, if Communion means anything, it includes this.

The kids from Western Michigan put on a stunning performance of "Seven Passages" on Thursday night. Every word spoken came either from the Bible or from interviews held with countless people who have struggled with those seven passages which seem to condemn homosexuality and struggled with a Church that uses them to denounce and degrade gay people. The passion and commitment of these kids to a new vision of the Church came through both in their performances and in the Q & A afterwards. I had sent them a "break a leg" bouquet of flowers for their opening. One last round of group photos ended a sublime evening. Another holy moment.

It was hard to say goodbye to the Franciscan brothers, after one last cup of tea following Friday morning prayers. These kind and gentle souls had provided me with a spiritual home during my stay in Canterbury. Their peace contrasted so dramatically with the anxiety of the conference. These too, I will carry in my heart: Austin, the burly linebacker-looking head of the Household, with a voice and manner so gentle it defies description; Colin, a walking-talking hospitality machine, always eager to welcome any traveler; Reg, whom we had feted the day before on the occasion of his 55th anniversary of becoming a brother, who is still writing music in his late 80's; and Max, the novice from Berkeley, California, young and fresh and soaking up the wisdom of his older brothers. I shall miss them all terribly, and will be forever grateful to them for making a space in their chapel, their home and their hearts for me.

Lots of people, including journalists, were asking what I thought the Lambeth Conference had accomplished. Most of them, I suspect, thought the answer is "nothing!" But I disagree. I have said all along, publicly and privately, that this is the part that the Archbishop of Canterbury got exactly right. That while the Conference would produce no legislation, no definitive statements and no decisions, its real "product" would be the deepening of the bonds of affection that MAKE us the Anglican Communion. That won't be enough for those who want to bring all this difficulty to a rapid conclusion, declaring winners on one side and losers on the other. That won't satisfy those who seek a way to punish those who are pushing the boundaries of God's inclusive love. But it's enough for me.

I have frequently recalled Desmond Tutu's simple and wise description of the Anglican Communion. "We meet," he said. Full stop. That's what we do. We hold a common belief and hope in the Risen Christ, and because we care for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, we meet. We meet, and let God's Holy Spirit work among us, to allow us to see our common humanity, and to discover the Christ in "the other." While that might not look like much to the rest of the world, it is an amazing "product." It is precisely what we need during this difficult time. We don't need -- perhaps cannot possibly discern -- the answers right now. What we DO need and CAN discern, is that we are all in this together. That God IS working God's purposes out, even if we can't always see it. Even if we are in the midst of conflict and pain.

I am not an optimist -- because being an optimist seems to me to be putting our faith in the works of humankind. The evidence is that we're not doing a very good job of it. But being a person of HOPE, means we put our faith in the love of God, and GOD'S ability to bring this to its rightful conclusion, in God's own time. I leave this Lambeth Conference as a person of hope.

I was also asked by several people whether or not my own witness, and that of other gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, had been "worth it," and "effective." If I've learned anything over the last five years, it is that I am not responsible for how my words and actions are received and whether or not they make a difference. I can only be responsible for (and judge myself by) the faithfulness with which I make my witness to the love of God working in my own life. I am proud to have stood with the people of Integrity, Claiming the Blessing, the Chicago Consultation, Inclusive Church and Changing Attitudes, as we all have made that witness, loud and clear. It was VERY interesting to me to look at the faces of those at the conference -- many, many of which were somber, sad and tense. In contrast, the faces of lgbt people and our allies, looked joyful, happy, even radiant. I wondered, which vision of the church are people drawn to? That which produces a solemn and morose countenance, or one which produces joy and radiance? Gay and lesbian Christians KNOW what it is like to be rescued from shame and guilt, and to walk in the light of God's redeeming love, and seem to show it in every moment. That's the church I want to be in, don't you?

Upon our arrival back in London, our happy little band of travellers (pictured above) had to say goodbye to our driver. We've dubbed ourselves the "Fab Four," and I must say we have become a real community. Richard, our driver, is one of the perkiest, happiest cherubs ever to walk the planet. With his Cockney accent and effervescent sense of humor, he added so much to our little band of men. He (and we) were nearly in tears as we said goodbye yesterday. Terry, my security person, is a big, football-lineman looking sort of guy, but a big teddy bear of a guy inside. This, I think, has been a real eye-opening experience for him. He's new to this "gay thing." He's had a crash course in this side of culture and the oppression we experience from the world and the Church, and he shakes his head and says, "I just don't understand all the hatred toward you guys." He has taken such good care of me, and I am indebted to him for putting himself at risk for me. Mike, my press person, has been the purveyor of good news interviews and media connections. He has helped get our story out to the world. His cell phone is nearly permanently glued to his ear, and he has worked tirelessly to field, screen and help me choose the best venues for getting the word about God's love out to the world. What a funny little band of men we are. Even here, God's love has worked to change each of us. None of us is worthy of such a community of love, and yet, there it is. We will be brothers for life.

Now, we're off to Scotland. I will be preaching and celebrating at the Cathedral in Glasgow on Sunday morning. Scotland, the Dean/Provost is eager to tell me, is NOT England! If I didn't believe that already, it was confirmed when he said he would not be able to meet us at the train station, because he was doing a same-sex blessing in the Cathedral at the time of our arrival. Dorothy, I guess we're not in Kansas anymore!

I leave Canterbury and journey to Scotland believing that our witness in Canterbury was worthwhile and holy. I came to do two things: to witness to the joy that is in me because of God in my life, and to be a quiet reminder to those gathered that every bishop worldwide has gay and lesbian people in their pews and they dare not forget that they have taken vows to serve ALL their people, not just some. I think we accomplished both of those things. We'll leave the results up to God.