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.