Several people have asked me why I was weeping at the end of the Integrity Triennial Eucharist in Anaheim, when Bishop Gene gave the final blessing.
If you've seen the IntegriTV clip, I begin weeping as +Gene says, "May God bless you with foolishness . . ."
I had held it in pretty well until then.
And then, I lost it.
Or, maybe it was that I found it. You know, like that foolish woman who turned her household upside down, looking for the lost coin. I'm thinking, when she found it, she wept, too.
Well, at any rate, in order to understand why I wept, you'll have to take a wee stroll with me down memory lane.
See, it's like this . . .
Every Triennial Integrity Eucharist since Denver in 2000, as the various sacred spaces would allow, we've been asking LGBT clergy to "come out" to the altar to surround the presider. Before that, we clergy had been invited to vest and process.
Most could not. Well, not and go back home without paying some serious consequences with their bishop and/or their congregations.
There were, of course, other "Monumental Baby Steps" to the door of liberation prior to that: Announcing that there were LGBT deputies. Announcing that there were LGBT legislative floor managers. Announcing that Integrity was in the house.
You know. Putting a face on 'the issue'. Making it 'political'. Making it about the incarnation of Jesus in each one of us - yes, even LGBT people! - because, in our baptism, He is incarnate in each of us.
Even so, processing in with your queer sister and brother clergy was a huge risk for many of us.
The first General Convention Integrity Eucharist was held in 1988 in Detroit. There is a compelling story, reported by the convention coordinator of the Diocese of Detroit, Dexter Cheney, which can be found in the InteriTV clip.
Cheney reports that the local Integrity Chapter tried to find a church nearby to host the event. None could be found.
So, a hotel conference room was converted into a worship space, eucharistic vessels were borrowed from General Convention office, and word got around the way evangelism always works best: someone invited someone who invited someone until 40 brave souls celebrated what they knew to be true: Jesus was among them as he was with the Samaritan woman at the well.
Living water was available even to 'the least of these'.
Cheney says, "That celebration was considered risky.. . . it was on the periphery of the life of the convention."
Remember, the first case of AIDS was reported in June, 1981.
1988 was the height of the AIDS epidemic, which was just as the second wave of the epidemic was beginning to peak. That second epidemic was known as "AFR-AIDS."
Risky? You bet it was.
What I remember best from that Eucharist was the banner and buttons that proclaimed, "Our Church Has AIDS."
Yeah. It was like that.
At General Convention 2000, I believe, it was the idea of then President Michael Hopkins to invite LGBT clergy to vest and join him around the altar. That was preceded by a 'photo op' of LGBT clergy standing on the steps of the Cathedral.
Here's what we looked like then. There were about 30 or so of us there.
I remember thinking, "Holy Crow! Look at all of us! Wow!"
It was a brilliant move - one that demonstrated to the world that LGBT clergy will no longer hide. We will no longer be obedient victims of the closet.
Indeed, Bishop Steve Charleston, pictured in the front among us, preached that very word in his sermon: "No more victims. No more. No more."
We will be who we are, with integrity and authenticity.
Bishop Charleston also said,
Brothers and sisters, I come to proclaim to you in this announcement of the Good News that we have been chosen, liberated and healed by Jesus of Nazareth that the days of our being powerless and fearful will come to an end. That justice will be ours and that moment is coming soon for I do not believe I am alone in being tired of putting up with one act of subversion and nonsense after another of an attempt to distort the Gospel of Christ claiming ownership of Jesus over against other men and women and to subvert the Gospel by turning it into an instrument of fear and coercion.
It was a very powerful moment. I think the pictures capture the exuberance and 'holy defiance' we all felt - on those steps and around that altar.
Indeed, I believe in the deepest corners of my heart that the decision to invite all LGBT clergy to stand on the steps of The Cathedral Church of St. John in the
Wilderness gave momentum to the movement that ultimately elected our first honestly LGBT bishop.
Rosa Parks sat down in the front of the bus because she was sick and tired of standing in the back of the bus.
LGBT clergy stood up at the altar because we were tired of sitting in the closet and wanted to stand in solidarity with the One we knew to be the Risen Lord.
It is in such simple, human acts of faith that miracles arise.
Well, that's my story, anyway, and I'm sticking to it.
Then there was General Convention in Minneapolis in 2003. I don't have a picture to show you, but I remember clearly that the line of clergy went from the steps of St. Mark's Cahtedral, around the corner, and filled most of the block. I'm going to guestimate that there were easily 50 of us.
+Gayle Harris, Bishop Suffragan of Massachusetts, talked about self-loathing gay folk who accept whatever the modern-day Pharisees say about them.
She called it the C.T. Syndrome—the Clarence Thomas Syndrome, to a congregation that heard that as yet another call out of victim status and into the fullness of our God-given identity.
Convention had not yet consented to the election of +Gene Robinson, which it did, ultimately, but just before the vote to consent was to be held in the House of Bishops, a Vermont man alleged that Robinson had “put his hands on me inappropriately every time I engaged him in conversation.” A committee, chaired by the Rt. Rev. Gordon P. Scruton of Western Massachusetts, was appointed, rapidly investigated the allegation, and the next day reported that the allegation was without merit.
In the House of Deputies, 60% of bishops consented to Robinson’s election. During a vote by orders in the House of Deputies, 60% of clerical deputations and 58% of lay deputations consented.
It was an incredible moment - one that could not have happened, I believe, without the momentum of other, much smaller, less historically significant yet nonetheless revolutionary events which, to paraphrase Dexter Cheney, were "considered risky.. . . on the periphery of the life of the convention," and the church.
2006 found General Convention in Columbus and, again, I don't have a picture to show you, but I have a very clear memory of the church being packed to over-flowing - people lined the walls, the choir loft, the narthex, and there was a spill-over crowd in the undercroft.
Still, people stood outside the church, sitting on the steps. Here's a picture I snagged of people outside the church.
It was the first time +Gene Robinson preached to us since his election in 2003. To say that it was an emotional event is to make a gross understatement.
There really wasn't space in that sanctuary to have LGBT clergy gather round the altar, but when we processed in, there had to have been close to 80 of us there. Easy.
I remember - indeed, I'll never forget - processing out of the church and people cheering and weeping as we passed. Again, it was an overwhelming, emotional experience.
Are you keeping track of the progression, here?
Forty people at the very first 1988 Integrity Eucharist at General Convention in Detroit.
Thirty Clergy in Denver in 2000.
Fifty Clergy in Minneapolis in 2003.
Eighty Clergy in Columbus in 2006.
Which brings us to Integrity Eucharist 2009. I hear that Integrity is working on producing a DVD of the event. You can see and hear Bishop Barbara's sermon here. Just type in "July 10 Integrity Eucharist" in the search box and it will lead you directly there.
The quote which will be remembered for all time, of course, is "How can you initiate someone and then treat them as half-assed baptized?"
Way to go, Bishop Barbara!
When the DVD is produced, I hope you are able to see the well over 150 clergy who took their place around the altar with Bishop Gene.
Did you hear that? One hundred fifty LGBT clergy. Bishop, Priest and deacon. Male and Female. Black, White . . . and Asian, Native American and Hispanic. Old and young. Rich and poor. Physically able and not.
Isn't that just amazing?
Well, at least, it is to me, but then again, you've got to consider where I started.
Oh, to be sure, some made a bee line for the way, way back of the crowd - far beyond the telling lens of the camera.
Unfortunately, it is still not 'safe' to be 'out' in some places.
Unfortunately, we still have a few among us who have what Bishop Gayle Harris described as the "Clarence Thomas Syndrome". How 'out' they are depends on who they're with and whether or not they've got 'higher aspirations'.
They are less and less these days, and getting to be more and more the exception to the rule. We are getting healthier as a community of queers, thanks be to God.
As the saying goes, "You are only as sick as your secrets."
In the words of Bishop Gene's blessing, may God bless them (or the bishops who continue to oppress them) with discomfort, discomfort at easy answers, half truths and superficial relationships, so that they might live deep within their hearts.
The part of Bishop Gene's blessing that found a place deep in my heart was this:
"May God bless you with foolishness . . . enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world and in this church, so that we may do what others claim cannot be done."
In 1974, Louie Crew founded an organization of Episcopalians known as Integrity.
In 1988 in the Windy City of Detroit, forty people who had been fully initiated into the Body of Christ but had been treated by the church had been 'half-assed baptized' gathered in a hotel conference room to celebrate the presence of the Risen Lord.
They had taken a risk for the sake of the gospel, the risk of their faith, the risk of their belief in the promise that, when two or more are gathered together in the Name of Jesus, there will He be, in the midst of them.
Foolish people from a long line of foolish people who were foolish enough to follow The One who was foolish enough to have died on a cross of shame so that He could rise again in glory.
They were foolish enough to believe that we can make a difference in this world and in this church, so that we may do what others claim cannot be done.
See what I mean?
That's enough to make even a grown woman weep.