Monday, July 20, 2009

The Last Word

I am back in my beloved New Hampshire where the clean air and my own bed have banished my fever and restored my health. A nasty bug, enabled by my near exhaustion, ruined the last couple of days of a great Convention, but it does not diminish in any way the good work we did.

This General Convention accomplished, addressed and acknowledged many concerns that face the Church and the world, among them...

* put in place a mandatory lay pension plan for all lay church employees working 20 hours or more, addressing an inequity long overdue for remedy

* established a mandatory denominational health plan for all clergy, combining the buying power of our numbers of clergy in order to provide excellent health coverage (with several plans to choose from) at an estimated 10% reduction in cost

* advocated for humane treatment of undocumented immigrants, including a call for the ending of roadside checkpoints, an ending to raids on community centers, transportation centers, workplaces and houses of worship, an end to the inhumane conditions and questionable processes in detention centers, and a call for a process toward legal citizenship for those already resident in this country

* called on members of this church to work for universal health care coverage, including, in time, a single-payer system

In doing all this, The Episcopal Church faced into the economic realities of this time, passing a drastically reduced budget, which includes the painful elimination of some 30 positions at the Episcopal Church Center and cuts to worthy programs, but which seeks to continue our mission in the world.

In addition, the Church decided to move beyond the informal moratoria on gay bishops and the blessing of same sex unions. By this time, you will have read of those actions, but let me tell you about the most significant moment, for me, related to these actions.

The House of Bishops had already concurred, with some minor amendments, that this church will continue to follow our constitution and canons regarding the election of bishops. This resolution basically said, "We have canons, they have served us well in the past, and they will be sufficient for guiding our selection of bishops in the future." In other words, we will not be constrained by any extra-canonical agreements. That was a positive statement about where we mean to be in the selection of bishops.

Then, the Prayer Book and Litury legislative committee brought to the floor of the House of Bishops (where such legislation originates) a resolution that called for the development of liturgical resources for the blessing of same gender unions, along with a generous flexibility in the use of rites in those civil jurisdictions where marriage equality is already (or may become) a reality. The debate was vigorous and positive. It looked as if we were going to move forward. Then a bishop rose to propose that legislating this issue was counterproductive. It was moved to send this to a small working group to come up with a "better way." This motion passed, and I feared that this move was an attempt to get us to do nothing, or worse, to make our own statement as bishops, completely sidestepping the fact that we were meeting, not as a lone House of Bishops, but as the General Convention, which includes laity and clergy.

In an effort to forestall this move, I signed up to be a part of the small working group (Presiding Bishop Katharine had invited any who wanted to be a part of the group to volunteer). What followed was perhaps the most signficant "moment" of the Convention for me.

We met late into the night on Wednesday night. Some 25 bishops representing the entire spectrum of opinion, from the most conservative to the most liberal. On Wednesday night, using the style of the African Indaba process from the Lambeth Conference, we each simply spoke about where we were on this issue. NEVER in my six years as a bishop have I experienced the holy speaking and holy listening I experienced that night. Each bishop in turn spoke their truth -- the pain and difficulty they've experienced in their dioceses as a result of the controversy, the personal burdens they've shouldered, the pain of gay and lesbian people in their dioceses who are not sure whether they are valued as full members of this church and their pastoral needs as children of God. Each spoke of what they needed to go home with. Each was honest and vulnerable about what they could give up for the good of the whole. It is hard to describe the vulnerability and honesty with which each bishop contributed.

We took all this to our prayers and to bed, and returned at 7:00 the next morning to decide what all this meant for the resolution before us. The vulnerability and honesty continued in this working session. What resulted was a resolution to bring back to the House that represented that group's "best way forward," although there was no attempt to lock anyone into voting for it or to commit to every word.

At our afternoon session, the resolution was presented, along with a brief account of our precious time together. Then we talked about the resolution at our tables of eight, for close to half an hour. Then the debate began. There were a few amendments offered -- some passed, some failed. But the resolution we had crafted remained reasonably intact.

Just as we were nearly ready to vote, a bishop rose and proposed "discharging" the resolution (in effect, NOT voting on it and making it "go away"). This move to not deal with the issue failed by a substantial (3 to 1) margin. It seemed clear that the Bishops knew that we could not duck out of this one. A roll call was requested, so no bishop could hide behind a voice vote. The time had come to declare ourselves. When the resolution came to a vote, it passed by a whopping 3.5 to 1 margin. Interestingly, some of the bishops who had voted to make the whole issue go away, when finally having to vote, voted "yes!" There were some bishops who voted "yes" who had NEVER voted "yes" on any gay-affirmative resolution before. This vote was overwhelmingly positive. Everyone seemed stunned.

As is our practice at the end of each session, the Presiding Bishop asked the chaplains to lead us in prayer, which they did. But what happened next was a total surprise. As the chaplain spoke the final AMEN, no one moved a muscle. Normally, we would have immediately gotten up and exited the hall. But this time, there was no movement at all. The bishops sat perfectly still, and totally silent for some 10 minutes, continuing to pray. My prayers were filled with love and concern for those who had courageously voted "yes" and would face much criticism for having done so. I prayed for those conservatives who had voted "no" and whose dioceses would demand to know why they had not been able to stop this move. And I prayed for those lgbt people who now had a new, bold affirmation that indeed they ARE full and equal members of this Church, good news for the marginalized. It was a stunning moment, and for me, a moment to experience/feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. I believe others felt it too.

This Convention had an unexpected -- and wonderful -- effect on me. The marginalization I have felt from my own House of Bishops since Lambeth seems to have disappeared. Finally, after months of feeling "cut out of the herd" by Lambeth, I once again feel restored to the community of bishops. Perhaps it was my own doing, I don't know. But whatever distance I felt, now seems mostly healed. And for that I am very grateful.

One brother bishop noted in private that my blog was still called "Canterbury Tales from the Fringe," and wondered if that was not out of date now. While I had simply decided to continue the same blog, rather than establish a new one, I now wonder if at some level I had still felt "on the fringe." Because that is no longer the case, if I decide to blog again (I'm sure I will), it will be under a different name. I, along with my gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters, are moving into full participation in the Body of Christ. There is no sweeter result of General Convention than this one.

Thank you for reading my musings here. Your prayers and support have meant and will continue to mean the world to me. As I am fond of saying, God's love wins! And God's inclusive love certainly won the day at the Convention. Still, isn't it amazing when it happens right in front of your eyes?! Thanks be to God.

No longer on the Fringe,


Friday, July 17, 2009

Reporting in

My apologies to those of you who have been following my blog -- until it recently stopped. On Wednesday evening, after a momentous and wonderful day in the House of Bishops, I came down with a raging fever. At first, I thought it was simply exhaustion. But now, 48 hours later, I am still host to a serious fever which has sapped my strength and kept me from participating in the last two days of Convention.

When I return home (tomorrow) and am feeling better (soon, I hope), I will post one last time on this blog. There is much to rejoice about. Let's just say that my "core message," that "Now is the time for the Episcopal Church to stand up and be the Church God is calling us to be" has happened. Weak as I am, I have never been prouder of being an Episcopalian.

Watch this space for my final recap of Convention.

Thank you for all your prayers -- they have sustained and supported ALL of us here, and I am especially grateful for your prayers for me. I could have not done this important work without them.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

And move forward we did!

It was an inspiring day in the House of Bishops -- not just because of the final vote to move beyond B033 from the last Convention (declaring an unofficial moratorium on the election and consecration of bishops who happen to be gay and partnered), but because of the gentle, honest and faithful debate that preceded that vote.

As those of you reading this blog know, I've not had a good feeling about my colleagues in the House of Bishops lately. And while this vote has not entirely eased all my concerns, it was a moment (okay, three hours!) when my beloved colleagues rose to speak from their hearts and from their faith about the matters before us. Some of my brothers and sisters spoke and voted in ways that will get them in trouble with many they pastor. Courage comes in many forms, and yesterday, many who had voted FOR the moratorium listened both to the House of Deputies and, I believe, the Holy Spirit, opening their hearts to where God might be moving in the world and in the Church. No doubt, they will pay a price for opening their hearts, much as gay and lesbian people in this Church have paid a price for their exclusion. I applaud them for their courage and will stand with them in the consequences of their vote.

This is the Church I've been telling my gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters to come to, or to come back to. This is the Church that sees the face of Christ in the poor, the despised, the neglected and the marginalized. This is not the "gay Church," but the Church who values those who are gay, women, people of color, those differently abled, as well as the white, male and middle class. It is a Church for ALL of God's children -- all sinners redeemed by a loving God who gave God's self for ALL on the cross. This is a day to rejoice for the Church -- no, let me be more specific, this is a day to rejoice in The Episcopal Church, which once again has stood for the full inclusion of all.

Another difficult and moving experience for me yesterday: One of my brother bishops confronted me about something I had written here on this blog, reminding me that my words weren't just going to the people of my diocese (for whom my blog is primarily written), but to the many people who come to read my reflections. He disagreed with my perceptions of the House of Bishops (even though they were written as MY perceptions), feeling that they fueled the often-heard perception that there was a divide between the Houses of Deputies and Bishops. He felt -- and I seriously listened to and contemplated -- that I had exhibited the kind of arrogance that I had accused my brother bishops of. I have and will continue to contemplate that, searching my soul for the kind of sin I accuse others of. (Jesus had something to say about the mote in someone ELSE'S eye!) But the point I want to make in relating this personal interaction is that he SAID it. What a gift it is when people speak the truth in love to you. There was no question in my mind that he spoke those words in love -- and that is what makes the Church, and yes, the House of Bishops, a holy place. We're all doing the best we can, and being human, we don't always have the full perspective we'd like. And when we err, fellow Christians correct one another in love. As long as THAT commitment persists, we will be all right. No, we will be better than all right. We will be the community of the faithful God would have us be.

Yesterday was exhausting. At the close of the debate, instead of feeling overjoyed at the two-to-one margin of the vote, I felt strangely quiet, pensive and sober. Votes like this (yea or nay?!) always LOOK like there are winners and losers. I wish that weren't so. I was so aware of those who voted no, many of whom are beloved friends, some from my very close group of bishops in my "class" (elected also in 2003), and how they must feel. They will have experienced the Church, which they love every bit as much as I, moving away from what they perceive to be God's will and the course of action to preserve the Anglican Communion. I, on the other hand, found it hard not to take their votes, and their speeches prior to the vote, personally. It sounded as if they were denying my own humanity, and that of my brothers and sisters who have consistently found ourselves on the fringes of the Church. I know they didn't mean it that way, or think that, but still it is hard to sit and listen to such arguments. But that is what this is all about -- speaking the truth as best we can discern it, for the good of God and God's Church.

So, for me, while I find profound joy in the vote for inclusion, I also continue to feel quiet and humble in the face of it, knowing the distress it also causes in other faithful people, in the Episcopal Church and in the Anglican Communion, who are my brothers and sisters in Christ. Today, we move forward, together. Together -- that's the important thing. As long as we hang in there together, with all our flaws and shortcomings, speaking the truth in love and trusting in God's grace, all will be well. If not today, then tomorrow. Thanks be, not to the House of Deputies nor the House of Bishops, but TO GOD.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Moving Forward

At last! We are moving forward!

Saturday, like every other day at General Convention, was filled with legislative work, worship and much conversation. Anyone who came to Southern California to play and lie beside the pool were again sadly disappointed. The commitment and hard work of all the deputies, and yes, our very own deputation, are a marvel to behold. Meetings that begin as early as 6:30am, and activities that last into the night, make for a demanding time, drive-thru lunches, and not much sleep. But through it all, spirits are high, determined and committed.

Sunday began with a colorful and wonderful festive eucharist, with all the bishops dressed in our red and white rochets and chimeres, liturgical dancers, and rousing music. Every eucharist here is a reminder that we find our unity in the divine liturgy, not in our agreement on certain issues.

I received communication from the official Youth Presence at General Convention. They have invited me to lunch with them on Tuesday -- a special honor, since the other two guests invited to address them have been the Presiding Bishop and the Archbishop of Canterbury. The youth at this Convention -- both the official Youth Presence as well as countless young people who have simply come to be a part of things -- have made a powerful impact on this Convention, speaking articulately and powerfully of their faith in the Lord Jesus and their commitment to The Episcopal Church.

But of course, the issues surface in the legislation. At the beginning of our legislative session, the Bishops were read a communication for Program, Budget and Finance, which sobered the tone of our gathering. As they had begun their work, PB&F faced a $28 million gap between anticipated revenue and anticipated needs. In their letter, they announced that they had cut that gap to $14 million, still a sobering figure. Caution was urged in passing legislation that called for additional funding for anything. In our own diocese, we are of course familiar with this painful dilemma, and it is encouraging to see The Episcopal Church struggling to make the same difficult choices at this level of our common life.

That warning had a real effect on the HOB voting. Measures which called for worthy actions often went down because of their funding implications. Even the funding of missionaries -- we have nearly 80 of them, working at a cost to the church of only $24,000/year! -- was held up, pending further information. Their cost amounts to nearly five-and-a-half million dollars. The good news is that The Episcopal Church is committed to this mission of evangelism; the bad news is that their funding demands the cuts in other important areas. Stay tuned.

The big news, of course, is that the House of Deputies considered D025 -- a beautifully crafted resolution which did not expressly repeal the ban on gay partnered people from being called, elected and consecrated bishops, but simply and elegantly stated that we have canonical processes for the selection and "vetting" of nominees and bishops-elect, and this Church means to follow those processes. They have served us well, the resolution implied, and we intend to follow them WITHOUT extra-canonical promises or restrictions. All attempts to alter the proposed resolution failed. In effect, this resolution ends the informal ban on such bishops-elect. Its power is that it returns us to the canons of the Church, which have always served us well and which allow the Holy Spirit to call those whom the Spirit calls.

I was in the gallery when this vote (which was overwhelming, with a 2/3 majority in EACH of the orders of laity and clergy!) was announced. Rules of the House prevented any display of emotion, support or non-support. But the exuberance of the Deputies could be felt in the air. We had finally moved beyond that dark cloud of last Convention's B033 and into the Church of the future.

Our deputation immediately called my cell phone to share the good news, unaware that I was in the back of the House, waiting to congratulate and thank them personally. It was like a family reunion and celebration when they made their way to the exit, where I awaited them. Hugs, tears and joy filled our faces and hearts as we greeted one another.

Many people, including our own deputies, said: "We've done OUR part. Now you bishops do YOURS!" That is the task we will set our minds and hearts to today (although we are not sure whether this deputies' action will make it to our House today (Monday) or tomorrow. Pray for us, my friends, and pray especially for the Bishops as we determine whether we will remain the church of yesterday, or whether, by God's grace, we will embrace the future of a fully-inclusive church.

As they say, "film at eleven!"


Saturday, July 11, 2009

"All will be well" in the Anglican Communion

Another amazing day yesterday. At noon, I had lunch with three primates, thanks to the Chicago Consultation. Along with Bishop Tom Ely, of Vermont, I broke bread with the Primates of Korea (and his translator), Scotland and Australia. It was a delightful and meaningful exchange between those of us who minister in radically different contexts. After my inquiries about his ministry in Korea, relations with North Korea and the nuclear threat posed there, Bishop Solomon of Korea spoke of a young gay man who came to him, wanting to know if he was going to hell, and his attempts to minister to him. He talked about the fact that 25% of Koreans are Christian -- and among those, the Anglican Church of Korea is a progressive and liberal alternative to the mostly conservative Churches available to Koreans. He expressed his disappointment that I had not come to Korea in my sabbatical journey around the Pacific rim. Perhaps that will happen some day, and I would be honored to do so.

My sense is that the place of the Episcopal Church in the Anglican Communion is not in danger. Strained and tense, sometimes, yes. But actually threatened, no. Are we in the same place regarding the issue of homosexuality -- of course not. But the bonds of affection are strong and deep, and God will see us through this difficult time. This is a strong belief exhibited by all the primates and bishops visiting this Convention from across the Anglican Communion. It confirms my own belief that it is time for us to stand up and be the Church God is calling us to be, and trust that the Anglican Communion will not only survive, but be a blessing to all.

It was a long and tedious legislative day in the House of Bishops, dealing with mission funding, additions to the saints calendar of Lesser Feasts and Fasts (including the need for everything we do to be published also in Spanish and French, the other two languages of The Episcopal Church), the ethical treatment of animals and endangered species, a possible capital campaign for The Episcopal Church, and our methods of organizing and funding for a 21st century church. Our time was lightened by the settling of bets between the provisional Bishop of Pittsburgh and the Bishops of Arizona and Michigan: Pittsburgh won both the Super Bowl and the Stanley Cup, and the Bishops of Arizona and Michigan were sentenced to wearing Pittsburgh team hats for the rest of the day.

Speaking of Pittsburgh, one of the most inspiring things about this Convention is the presence of new deputies from the continuing dioceses of Pittsburgh, Ft. Worth, San Joaquin and Quincy. After years of being purposely distanced from the Episcopal Church by their Bishops, they are visibly joyful in being back in the church. They are fully present, testifying at hearings and making themselves heard on the floor of Convention. Everyone is offering a welcoming word to them, and they are so grateful for our prayers.

Last night was the Integrity eucharist, always a highlight of General Convention. It was my honor to be the celebrant at this amazing and lively service. If the energy in that room could be harnassed (who says it isn't?!), the world and the Church would be a different place. Over 1600 people, many standing along the walls, did what Christians always do -- gather to express our love of God and thanksgiving for God's love for all of God's children. This is what liberation and freedom in Christ looks like! As I followed the Gospel procession, asperging (throwing sprinkles of holy water) the crowd, people extending their arms to be bathed in the water of their baptism, the joy on their faces, buoyed my spirits and lightened my heart. Then, as is the tradition at this service, all gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender clergy were invited to the altar, to share in the final blessing. What was once a small and brave group is now a joyous throng -- both those who have been doing this work for oh so long, and those who have recently joined the ranks. It was a stunning visual image of the gifts brought to this church by its gay clergy. Tears streamed down the faces of these clergy who are serving God in God's Church despite the slings and arrows of discrimination and hatred -- and tears of joy and appreciation filled the eyes of the congregants who honored them with sustained applause. A joyous moment of celebration that will carry us through these next days.

Today, in the House of Bishops, we will have a private conversation around the sexuality issues that face us, followed by the always-public discussion of legislation. Today, we are scheduled to deal with the legislation proposed by those bishops serving in states where marriage equality is already a reality -- asking for pastoral generosity and flexibility for responding to the pastoral needs of gay and lesbian members of our congregations. That discussion will be an early signal of how all this might go. Pray for us!!

I'm off to a 6:30 AM meeting (who said we're only here to play?!), with joy and resolve in my heart to be the Church God is calling us to be.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Here We Are! Send US!

The T-shirts worn by these two beautiful models were worn by many supporters of full inclusion at yesterday's eucharist, with the Archbishop of Canterbury preaching. They say, "Here I am, Send Me! I am a witness to God's inclusive love." As usual, the worship was spirited and lively -- reminding us all that it is in the worship of the God who made us, the saviour who redeemed us, and the Spirit who leads and guides us, that we find our true unity.

In his sermon, the Archbishop said that God longs for a humanity broken open for intimacy. Indeed! ALL of God's people are to be broken open for intimacy. In my testimony last night on moving past B033 (last convention's moratorium on any more gay bishops and blessing of unions), I suggested that God's longing applies to ALL of God's children, and that God's gay and lesbian children, called to the episcopate, deserve the opportunity for intimacy as well -- noting that I simply could not do the ministry of being Bishop of New Hampshire without the love and support of my partner, Mark. To exclude partnered people from the episcopate is cruel, and not in the Church's interest.

Last night's hearing on moving beyond B033 was inspiring and uplifting. It helped me remember why we do this work. Story after story of how gay and lesbian people have found hope in The Episcopal Church and its proclamation of God's inclusive love, after years of abuse and exclusion by other churches. Most profound of all were the testimonies of numerous young people, who spoke eloquently and movingly about the kind of church THEY want to be a part of, in which there truly are NO outcasts. One young man told of being a counselor at a church camp, who was confronted in the middle of the night, by an 8 year old camper, in tears, saying that he didn't want to BE in a church who would not love his older, gay brother. Another spoke the truth to power: we are not moving forward -- not because it's not right, but because of fear. Our beloved Church will be in good hands with these young stewards of God's message of love. Maybe it's time for us old foggies to just get out of the way!

One alarming thing about last night's hearing was the fact that there were almost NO bishops present. Other than those on the committee (who HAD to be there), there were only five bishops present: Andrus (California), Beckwith (Newark) and myself, arguing for moving forward; Love (Albany) and Lawrence (South Carolina) arguing for continuing B033. Other than these, NO bishop was present to hear the two hours of voices from the Church appealing for progress.

I fear (and I hope I'm not being overly dramatic here) that we are moving toward a train wreck between the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops. I sense an unwillingness among the bishops to listen to these voices of the laity and clergy. I hope I'm terribly wrong, but it seems that bishops feel they have some special access to God's will and nothing will persuade them otherwise. I shutter to think of a church where the Bishops are so disconnected from the will of the people they serve. Please God, let me be terribly wrong about this perception, and may the scales fall from my pessimistic eyes and reveal an episcopate who has listened to the Spirit's movement in the people of this Church. Nothing would make me happier than to be wrong about this. Only time will tell.

One last note: In the table conversations using the "public narrative" model for communication, and seated at tables with our own deputations, I listened to our own deputies tell their own stories of conversion and how they came to faith and The Episcopal Church. I was moved almost to tears at the faithfulness expressed by our (your!) deputies to General Convention. I know each of them well, and yet through this process, I learned so much more about our colleagues whom you chose to represent them at Convention. All I can tell you is that you should be oh so proud of your deputation, the deep and abiding faith with which they are representing you, and their experience of the Living God which guides them. I could not be more proud of being from New Hampshire and serving with these exemplary Christians.

Please continue to pray for us. For our stamina and energy, for our witness, for our learning from others gathered here, and for our beloved Church. I keep reminding myself that, in the end, all will be well. It seems a long way between here and there, but in God's time, all WILL be well. Thanks be to God!


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Sublime, ridiculous and glorious!

The hectic pace of Convention continues. But amidst all the busyness, joys abound. Perhaps the most memorable of all experiences of General Convention are the innumberable images of our great diversity.

Yesterday, just in the worship service alone, I saw...spirited drumming from one of our overseas dioceses...a eucharistic minister with her seeing-eye-dog-in-training by her side...three tables of deaf men and women, signing the singing of hymns, looking like a beautiful and syncronized ballet troupe...Native Americans, Asians, Africans and African-Americans, more Hispanics than I ever remember, European-Americans, all worshipping the God who made the time of the Lord's Prayer, the words given to us by Jesus being recited in countless tongues, sounding like the Day of Pentecost, when each heard the Gospel in his/her own language, a glorious cacaphony of sound...and then, at the moment I was taking communion, the opening notes of my favorite hymn, "I want to walk as a child of the Light." Indeed!

Legislation goes from the sublime to the ridiculous. One minute testifying before one hearing asking for pastoral generosity in those dioceses where marriage equality is now or soon will be a reality, to respond to the pastoral needs of our gay and lesbian couples. The next minute slogging through the legislation of my Structure Committee, tending to the tedious, but necessary, issues raised by our canons and the groups doing ministry in the Church -- where and how does it fit into the structures of the church. One exciting, the other mundane -- and all to the glory of God.

We also had a disturbing private (no one in the gallery) conversation in the House of Bishops that led me to feel discouraged about what lies ahead. That conversation is private, so I can't detail it, but there seems to be a kind of belligerent attitude toward the House of Deputies by some of our bishops. Their vision of the episcopate is way too "high and mighty" for my taste, or my theology, and I am not happy about it. The last thing we bishops need is a larger measure of arrogance. Didn't Jesus save his most serious criticism for the religious powers-that-be of his day who lorded their power and position over others?

Mark is now here -- thank God! -- along with my camera. So perhaps tomorrow I will have some pics to go along with these musings.

Off we go into another long day. Hearings on same sex blessings and moving forward from the two moratoria (on blessings and gay bishops) of B033 from the last Convention. And of course, the conversation and worship which remind us of our community in Christ. Pray for us!


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

We're off!!

The first couple of days have been at lightspeed! I've been to many General Conventions, but never one so ready to roll!! There is a sense of urgency here that is new. Perhaps there are many perceptions about why that is so, but my sense is that there is an urgency to move on beyond the divisions that have plagued us in the last few years.

What a joy to see the deputies from the new "continuing" dioceses of Pittsburgh, Ft. Worth, San Joaquin and Quincy -- rejoicing in their newfound voices within the Episcopal Church. Young people -- tons of them -- here as deputies and volunteers, eager to BE the Church God is calling us to be, a fully inclusive and open church, one focused on mission to the world, instead of dwelling on internal struggles.

Legislation is being front-loaded in a way I've never seen. Having experienced recent conventions where legislation gets bogged down, sometimes never reaching the floor for action, I sense an urgency in our legislative committees to get the important things discussed, heard in open hearings, perfected, and to the floor for action. Meetings of Committees are beginning at 7am; strategizing meetings often as early as 6:00! People are here to WORK, not play. To quote a favorite president of mine, "the urgency of NOW!"

For me, the time has already been exhausting. No time to rest, or even eat. It's hard for me to move from one place to another because of being stopped by countless numbers of people who want to say hello, tell me they have been praying for me, and to wish me well. More humbling still are the many people (surprisingly many, and usually young people) who want to tell me that my election is the reason they're in The Episcopal Church, or more usually, why they've returned to the Church, after year of being disillusioned with the institutional church. Wonderful, but exhausting too. Many seem so very grateful for the witness of New Hampshire to the wider Church. It is often easy to forget what our life and ministry and witness mean to the greater Body of Christ -- and it is a humbling expression of support for all of us in New Hampshire.

Today I will be testifying in favor of resolution B012, put forward by those bishops who live in dioceses where marriage equality is already a reality, asking the General Convention for a certain generosity and flexibility with the marriage rites in our pastoral care of gay or lesbian couples who want their unions legalized and sanctified by their Church. Some will argue that this is an end run around Prayer Book revision, but actually it is seeking an open and honest way of offering pastoral care to ALL our members. With the introduction of marriage equality, our priests are being forced to discriminate against certain people in their congregations, offering the sacrament of marriage to some, but not to all. This resolution would permit us, for the next three years, to experience the equal treatment of all our parishioners, and then report on that experience to the next General Convention, in preparation for the marriage equality that is destined for all of us. You'd have to be crazy to think this is a slam dunk -- but it may be possible.

More than usual, there are not enough dollars available to do all that we would like to do, for ourselves and for the world. Our own Judith Esmay serves on Program, Budget and Finance, who is charged with presenting a balanced budget, choosing among many worthy priorities and funding those that seem essential for the life and ministry of The Episcopal Church -- a daunting task indeed.

Our deputation is doing well. Somehow, seeing a familiar and trusted face among the thousands of people is an unexpected and delightful oasis of joy. We have a terrific deputation, and we should all feel grateful to them for this sacrifice of time and energy on our behalf.

Please keep all of us in your prayers as we seek to do God's will in this place. It is inspiring to see so many gathered, commmitted to God and to our beloved Church. Know that we keep YOU in our minds as we deliberate and vote, always with great affection and love. Oh, and did I mention, PRAY FOR US!!


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Coming Soon to a Church Near You

Watch this space for my blog from General Convention! I'll try to let you in on the "feel" of Convention, as well as its events and high points. Please pray for all of us. My message will be: "NOW is the time for The Episcopal Church to be the Church God is calling us to be!" We'll see if we have the courage to do that.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Here are the pics

One last posting -- pictures to prove I wasn't making it all up!

Ella and Gene with The Man (compliments of Mark).

Ella and Michelle.

Ella, Mark and Gene with the Tom Hanks family.

Hug fest with Bono.

Thanks to all of you for accompanying us on this amazing three day journey. Give thanks to God for a new day in America!


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A New Day

Wasn't yesterday amazing?! A new day -- for all of us. Here's what it was like from my perspective.

Mark and I arrived at St. John's Episcopal Church early in the morning. Waiting in the security line, I greeted Pastor Rick Warren, who couldn't have been more gracious. Once inside, we were seated in the fifth row, with a perfect view of the service participants, and eventually, the President-Elect himself. This is not a man who fakes a faith, but one who is clearly motivated by it.

Dr. T. D. Jakes gave a magnificent sermon, based on the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, being thrown into the fiery furnace. Some of his points, on which he elaborated brilliantly: "there is no light without heat"; the three Hebrew boys were saved because they stood up! it's time we ALL stood up for what is right and good; King Nebuchnezzar (sp?) turns the furnace up to seven times its normal heat, more than the furnace or its contents can bear -- pointing out the ways in which the economy, war, health care, etc. have deteriorated beyond what we can bear; and finally, when the King looks into the furnace to see the boys' destruction, instead, they are intact, and there is a FOURTH figure -- the Spirit of God which has seen them through and preserved them. You can imagine the rest. It was SO powerful.

I met some wonderful people. Sat next to the new Securities and Commodities appointee, who later introduced me to the new Treasury Secretary and his wife. Oprah was there (sitting BEHIND us, I might add!). Most of the cabinet. Other denominational leaders.

Then, we were bused to the Capitol. Mark and I split up, because I had been invited to sit on the Presidential Platform. Through several security checkpoints in the bowels of the Capitol. Al and Tipper Gore left their entourage specifically to greet me -- a real honor, given the magnificent contributions he's making to our common good. Then, we walked down the series of hallways/steps that the new president would walk down in a few minutes. I entered into the light of day and the Presidential Platform, just behind Newt Gingrich and Rick Warren. I told Pastor Warren that I would be praying for him. Again, he was most gracious.

Coming out onto the platform was overwhelming. Not only would I be mere feet away from Barack Obama when he took the oath of office, but the view from the platform of the millions of people on the Mall was awe inspiring. It was a solid mass of humanity for as far as the eye could see, all the way to the Washington Monument, and then all the way to the Lincoln Memorial, where this weekend's journey had begun for us. The air was electric, the joy palpable, and the momentousness of the occasion solemn. I was seated in the sixth row behind the president, beside Federico Pena (who was delightful), directly behind Gov. Warren Dean (chairman of the Democratic National Committee). General Colin Powell was also in the next row in front of me -- we greeted each other with the secret Episcopal handshake. In front of him was Aretha Franklin (you gotta love that hat, eh? it takes a substantial black woman to wear a hat like that!). Senator Judd Gregg (Republican from NH) came over to chat. I also spoke for a while with Senator Joe Lieberman. Pretty heady stuff for a Kentucky country boy, who grew up in poverty and never thought he'd live to SEE a real president, much less be invited to sit where I was invited to sit.

And then, as you all saw on TV, each of the principals entered. To see the military personnel salute their about-to-be Commander in Chief made me cry. As always, Obama seemed natural, calm, confident-but-not-cocky and present to the moment. I've said it before, but it was never more evident than yesterday -- I've never seen someone so comfortable in his own skin. And then the oath of office, the moment when America changed.

Leaving the swearing in, and still separated from Mark and Ella, I had some alone time to try to absorb what I had just been a witness to. It is still hard to find words to describe it. But you know what we were all feeling. Waking up this morning felt different somehow, didn't it?

After the parade, home for a nap. Then off to the lgbt ball at the Mayflower Hotel. When I walked in, Rufus Wainwright was dedicating a song to me. (He's one of my faves!) He was then joined for a couple of songs onstage by Cyndi Lauper. Then I was introduced to the crowd of several thousand. I got to introduce Mark and Ella to them, and say a few words. The crowd was overwhelming in their kind and generous response. Then I posed for pictures with, oh, six or seven hundred of them. Nearly exhausted, we left for the live Daily Show broadcast, with Jon Stewart.

It's always difficult to do such a show from a remote location. I can only hear what is going on in my earpiece, and am talking into a black camera screen. But it went well, I think. He started in with a joke (this IS Comedy Central, after all), and miraculously, I was able to respond with a joke in return. I don't think he was expecting it, and he nearly fell off his chair laughing. Later, after the show, he told me it was the best line of the show. Amazing praise from a brilliant comedian who is SO good at what he does.

The best part of that was, he had done a joke, and so had I, and then the rest of the interview was serious. I was moved that HE had seen the connection between the inauguration of an African-American and the hopes of the gay community, and asked if it had raised my hopes that one day, perhaps a gay or lesbian person might become president. He had read my thoughts -- and I suspect, the hopes of so many of us.

It is a new day in America, thanks be to God! I was overwhelmed all day by the sense that God is still alive and well and working overtime in our great nation, bringing about things that could have never even been dreamt of a few years ago. Join me in giving thanks to our great God for loving us as we are, and loving us too much to make us content with staying as we are.

I have been carrying all of you in my heart these few days. So often during this time, I have reflected on the many, many blessings that are mine. To serve the people of the Diocese of New Hampshire is a holy and awesome gift to me. To feel your love and support during these momentous days calmed my heart and brought me great joy.

In a day or two, once we "break into" Ella's camera, I will post on this blog a few pictures that you've just GOT to see. But thank you for traveling this path with me, and know that I give thanks to God for you every day.

Today, I return to New Hampshire, back to my "day job" which I love. Tonight, life resumes with the ordination of Madelyn Betz at St. Thomas, Hanover. Ordination of someone to the priesthood is one of the most awesome and wonderful tasks assigned to Bishops -- and I can't think of a better way to re-enter the "real world" of my life in the Diocese of New Hampshire. I look forward to seeing you soon!


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Last minute update

One addendum to yesterday's posting: I have been invited to be on the President's Platform for the inauguration/swearing in. An astounding honor!


Monday, January 19, 2009

i thank you God for most this amazing day

These words from one of my favorite e. e. cummings' poem, describe yesterday. It goes on, in part

"and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of all nothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?"

Monday was a VERY long day (hence, my not writing until this morning; and because I had trouble getting this posted, it is now Tuesday night before I'm getting it online. With apologies!] Here are a few of the day's amazing moments:

Arriving, getting through security (which was, as you can imagine, thorough!). Being shown to my "dressing room," a trailer with heat (thank God), and the announcement that I would be sharing a dressing room with Tiger Woods. Not a problem, I say. There was a sound check and walk through on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial -- but I couldn't keep from looking over my shoulder at the marble figure of Lincoln from inside the Memorial, watching over this gathering, with the kind of calm presence I experience in the new president.

Then lots of time to gather with others in the "Green Room." It was hard not to be a bit starstruck and bedazzled by those gathered, each and every one feeling overwhelmed at the honor of being asked to speak or perform. NO ONE was a "star" today, just fellow Americans, exuberant and joyful to be asked to participate at this historic moment. Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, director Ron Howard, Jamie Foxx, Queen Latifah, Bono, Bruce Springsteen, a ninety-year-old Pete Seeger, Samuel L. Jackson, Steve Correll, Forest Whitaker, Bon Jovi, Josh Groban, Stevie Wonder. I spent a lot of time chatting with Tom Hanks, his wife and kids.

I learned fairly early on that the live broadcast of the event would begin just AFTER I concluded my invocation. A decision made by HBO? Who knows? But I couldn't help but wonder if the HBO-powers-that-be could not imagine that the nation would be interested in a religious prayer. For whatever reason, it was not to be broadcast. I learned a long time ago not to worry about those things over which I have no control! I was honored to be invited to give the invocation, and that's what I intended to do.

Then it came time for me to be taken to the special "Green Room," set up in the bowels of the Lincoln Memorial, in preparation for going onstage. Denzel Washington and I were both there, rehearsing our lines. It was nice to see that he was as nervous as I was! All around us there were photos of the civil rights movement of the '60's, and a lone video monitor played excerpts of the "I have a dream" speech, Marian Anderson singing, and other great events that have taken place at the Memorial. As if I needed any reminders that this memorial is holy ground!

Then my introduction, and walking onto the steps of that magnificent shrine to freedom, and looking out at a crowd of around a million people, which flowed all the way back to and beyond the Washington monument. A teeming crowd of people, gathered to hail this new day in our common life as a nation.

You can see some pictures on Susan Russell's Inch at a Time blog:

When I got to the second petition of my invocation, the one where I ask God to "bless us with anger," those million people got very quiet. It's an unnerving experience to have a million people go silent as a result of what you are saying. It was then that the import of the moment hit me. I wanted it to be a moment for God, and of course, I will never know who or how many were touched by what was said. What I do know is that it was an indescribable honor to be asked to address God at this amazing occasion.

I then got to join Mark and Ella in our seventh row center seats. Two seats over was Toni Morrison. In the next row was Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, new Attorney General Holder, and most of the new cabinet. Sitting within our full view was the new First Family, behind bullet proof glass (a constant reminder of the risk they are taking on behalf of all of us). I cannot imagine how, but they seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves -- a brief respite from the overwhelming roles that await them.

Since all of the presenters/performers were asked to come back out on stage for the finale singing of America the Beautiful, I left Mark and Ella to go backstage again. There, I encountered Bono, who wanted to talk about my invocation. I was amazed that after hearing it once, he was quoting back to me things I had said. We chatted, and then he asked if I would pray with him and his band (U2) before they went onstage to perform. We gathered in a close huddle, I prayed, and off they went to play to a screaming, cheering, joyful crowd. (We saw him later that night at a private party -- and he picked up our conversation right where we had left off.)

After the closing song, the Obamas and Bidens moved down the line of presenters/performers, greeting each of us. Each of them spoke of their appreciation for the words of my prayer, and their families seemed to appreciate especially my prayers for their safety. After the event, Mark, Ella and I were invited, along with the other performers, to a small reception with Barack and Michelle Obama in a small tent just behind the Lincoln Memorial. We got a chance to chat with Michelle, and then later with the Man himself. He was unbelievably gracious, posing with me and Ella for a picture (Mark sacrificially offered to take the picture) -- which I will post once we retrieve it from Ella's camera. As he left us, he said, "Thanks, Gene. We'll be in touch." I have no idea what he meant, or IF he meant it, but it sure sounded nice!

A day filled with the nearness of God, the joy of hope and expectation, and the most remarkable sense of community I've ever experienced on such a large scale. As e. e. cummings said, "how should any human merely being doubt unimaginable You?" Indeed.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

Washington Tales from Closer to the Center

It's very early on Sunday morning. The quiet outside belies the exuberance that promises to explode today here in Washington.

This new "chapter" in my "Canterbury Tales from the Fringe" blog needs to be renamed, of course. It could be "Mr. Robinson goes to Washington," or "Oh my God! How did I ever get to this moment?" Instead, I'm calling it "Washington Tales from Closer to the Center." After the experience of being on the fringe in Canterbury this summer, I am struck that the new President of the United States is including me in a way the Anglican Communion was not able to this summer. Funny, isn't it, and sad, that the culture is modeling for the Church the inclusion meant for all of God's children.

One of the great bishops of the Episcopal Church, Stephen Bayne, once said, "MISSION is looking around and seeing where God is already at work, and joining God there." God, and God's mission, will go on, with or without the Church. My prayer is that all of us in the Church will "see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up," (from the opening collect for ordinations, which I prayed at an ordination yesterday morning). In his invitation to me to offer the invocation for the opening inaugural event, I hope that gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender people everywhere will feel "raised up" by the events here in Washington. I know I carry all of you in my heart.

Arriving at National Airport yesterday was like coming into a recently-stirred-up anthill. But there were no angry, impatient voices (okay, I did hear one!), no one in a bad humor. Faces filled with anticipation and sheer joy at being here. Was it my imagination, or were all the African-Americans walking just a little bit taller? I think so. I hope so. And so was everyone else.

I am, to say the least, overwhelmed by the possibilities of this day. Not just offering a prayer for the nation and the new president, but helping to kick off the beginning of a new era of hope in this nation. The hope that then-candidate Barack Obama talked about -- and which was often decried by others as hopelessly (literally) labeled as unrealistic and maudlin -- is about to become reality. The future won't be perfect, of course, and the new president won't be either. But what a new beginning!

I am also overwhelmed and humbled by the task ahead of me. This prayer has weighed on my heart for several weeks now. My words will be the first heard by the crowds who will have been standing, waiting, for six hours to witness this event. I figure they'll be ready to listen, and grateful that the event has finally begun, or maybe they'll start chanting "Springsteen" or "Bono" and wishing the clergy guy would just get out of the way. Either way, I will attempt to get the crowd to pause for a moment before the fun begins, and join me in a prayer that we can all pray together.

I have received a lot of critical email since announcing that my prayer would not be overtly or aggressively Christian, as most of the inaugural prayers of the last 30 years have been. My plan is to address this prayer to the "God of our many understandings," acknowledging that no one Christian denomination nor no one faith tradition knows all there is to know about God. Each of us is privy to a piece of God, as experienced in our faith tradition. My hope is to pray a prayer that ALL people of faith can join me in.

In the end, in addition to doing all this for God, I will be thinking of three kids in the teeming crowd of people today. One of the priests in my diocese, Teresa Gocha, and her husband Jim, adopted three children, Martin and Malcolm, African-American boys, and their mixed-race sister, Margaret. They'll be here in Washington to witness the inauguration of someone who looks like them! They will never forget it, of course. But what they'll REALLY remember is that someone just like them can be president, can be acknowledged for who he is and not just the color of his skin. Everything changes this week for Martin, Malcom and Margaret. It changes for all of us. This is not something that the American people alone have done. This is God's doing.

Pray for me today. Pray that I can point to a God who loves us all, who yearns for the best we can be and do, and who is constantly raising up those of us who have been cast down. Thanks be to God!