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Friday, June 15, 2012

Parades, Processions and Progress

Don't get me wrong - I love a good parade. 

To be honest, I have sat out Gay Pride Parades for the past ten years or so, having put in my time for almost two decades in the Grandaddy of them all: NYC Pride. I mean, enough is sometimes more than enough, if you know what I mean.

I think I felt we had "made it" and I could stay home when it became unthinkable not to start off the NYC Pride with Dykes on Bikes. "Ladies first" not only made sense to me, it healed an ancient rift in the Queer community between gay men and lesbian women that existed long before it was acceptable to call ourselves 'queer' and much longer than when we started adding letters to the alphabet soup of LGBT. Although, it must be said that some - a few, a thanks-be-to-God diminishing few - are still squabbling over "ladies first" - insisting that it is GLBT.

Le sigh. These days, the only way I'd agree to "march" in a Pride Parade is if I were allowed to ride in the back - on the back of a float, in the back of a top-down convertible, or even on the back of a motorcycle with the Dykes on Bikes contingent. I'd be scared to death to ride on a motorcycle but I have a feeling the woman I'm riding with wouldn't mind if I held on tight.

Church processions are different. The order of importance is reversed. The "little people" go first - the thurifer, the cross bearer, the torches. Then come the important people - the lay readers, the deacon, the preacher, the priest and (if present) the bishop. 

The thing is, everyone knows that, even though the order is reversed, the VIPs go last. Sort of defeats the purpose of humility, but, there it is.

This being Pride Month, I've been thinking about parades and processions and the highlight event - for me and for a lot of people - at General Convention: The Integrity Eucharist.

"In the old days"..... it used to be that every person who was ordained and gay (and then, lesbian), would be in attendance. Many came sans collar or clergy shirt. It was too dangerous to be seen and, therefore, "suspect".

I remember one Integrity Eucharist - in Philadelphia in 1997 after the "main event" at Christ Church - when we suffered a particularly stinging defeat. We hastily gathered in a hotel room to console ourselves. Everyone who was there heard about it by word of mouth. Bishops, priests, deacons, laity - all together. It was a modern-day "catacomb" experience.

No one said it, but I think everyone in that room knew that, if we were going to come into full inclusion, we had to have full disclosure. We had to come out. We had to be out. 

Integrity Eucharist, Denver, 2000
And so it was that, in 2000, at the General Convention Integrity Eucharist, then President Michael Hopkins invited every lesbian, gay and bisexual (we had not yet added the "T") cleric to vest and process.

We even brashly took a group photo on the steps of the church.

Today, someone might look at that photo and yawn. What's the big deal, right? They just look like clergy. Smiling. Waving. Happy.

But, gay? Well, okay. If you say so.

I'm here to tell you that that picture was a Really Big Deal.

It was LGBT Episcopal Clergy defiantly saying, "We're here. We're queer. We're not going away."

In 2003, we were in Minneapolis, MN. The House was PACKED.  The ranks of LGBT clergy people swelled in size. We were visible. We were organized. And, we would leave that convention with a bishop we could call our own - The Rt. Rev'd V. Gene Robinson.

In 2006, we were in Columbus, OH. Again, the house was PACKED to overflowing. The choir loft was full. The undercroft was also filled to capacity, even though all they had was sound. Indeed, everyone wanted to be there to hear Bishop Gene preach.

He made it "safe/r" to be out and open and honest. I can still hear the roar that went up from the congregation as row after row of clergy processed out of the church that night.

In 2009, we were in Anaheim, CA, at a Eucharist Cecil B. De Mille would have envied.

Those LA folks sure know how to put together a Eucharistic celebration worthy of having Bishop Barbara Harris as our preacher and Bishop Gene Robinson as our presider.

They represented two "firsts" in the Episcopal Church. Barbara Harris is, of course, the first woman and, in fact, the first African American woman, to be elected and consecrated a bishop in our church.

And Gene Robinson is, well, our beloved Bishop Gene.  A miracle - a triumph - all wrapped up in small, dynamic package in a purple shirt preaching God's love for absolutely everybody.

In 2009, Bishop Gene called all the LGBT (and, this time there were several "Ts" present - all of whom had their very own Eucharist later in the week) clergy up around the altar with him.

We didn't fit - spilling out on the floor around and in front and behind the altar. It was glorious! It felt, to me at least, that we had come into our own. Completed a revolution. Ready - charged, energized, excited - to begin another cycle in the life of the church.

As we head into Indianapolis in a few weeks, I find myself looking forward to attending the Integrity Eucharist. It's scheduled for 8:30 PM on July 9th in the Sagamore Ballroom of the Convention Center.

I trust, if you're at General Convention, you'll be sure to be in attendance.

I hope you'll visit their webpage and make a donation to the incredible work they do.

There will also be opportunities to view the newest in the "Voices of..." series. This one is called "Out of the Box", which documents some of the journeys of Transgender people in The Episcopal Church.

Odds are pretty strong that we will leave Indianapolis with a process to begin to authorize liturgical rites of blessing for the covenants made between LGBT people of the same gender.

There can be no doubt that the progress we've made in terms of the acceptance of LGBT people in The Episcopal Church would not have happened without the work of Integrity over the decades.

Some might argue that we've done this backwards - that we should have begun this struggle for justice with the blessing of covenants made between two people of the same gender, then moved to ordination for LGBT people, then moved onto the episcopacy.

Sometimes, you can't pick your battles; they are presented to you. You do the best you can with what is on your plate. Like it or not, we're a hierarchical church. It shouldn't be too surprising to too many that our struggle for justice has mirrored that hierarchy.

The Integrity "slogan" for this General Convention is "From Resolution to Reality: Making All Mean All".  Which makes me wonder if it is either appropriate or necessary to put clergy "on display" and "up front" again.

Maybe it's time - finally! - to honor the laity in the church. Especially the LGBT ones. I mean, Integrity wouldn't have come into existence without the vision and the energy and the drive of Louie Crew, irrefutably one of the most stellar yet non-ordained Christians we have in The Episcopal Church - or just about anywhere else, for that matter.

I'm not in charge of Integrity's liturgy - never have been, never want to - but I do hope some thought might be given to switching things up this time.

Instead of calling LGBT clergy up onto the stage or to process in, perhaps we should shine the spotlight of recognition on the LGBT members of the laity. There are, in fact, more members of Integrity who are laity than there are clergy.

Maybe we LGBT people ought to model what "All means All" means.  Maybe it's time for the clergy to take a back seat and let the laity sit up front.

There's something radical and revolutionary about that which appeals to my spirit.

I love a good parade. I love a good processional. Heck, I even love a good recessional.

There's nothing like an Integrity Eucharist at General Convention to call us together as God's Rainbow Tribe, inspire us with great liturgy and music and many hundreds of voices singing full-throat in four-part harmony, and then being sent back out into the world to do God's mission.

I hope we can get really radical this time - get back to our roots - and turn the tables in the Temple.  Let the light shine on the laity. God knows, there wouldn't be a church - much less an Integrity USA - without them.

Before you know it, it may just become as unthinkable to process into church without putting the spotlight on laity the way it is unthinkable to start the NYC Pride Parade without the Dykes on Bikes.

Well, I suppose I've stirred the pot enough for one day.  Full disclosure: no one from Integrity - at any level - has talked with me about this. And, I'm not intending to stir the pot. Not really.  I'm just wondering out loud here, is all. 

As my ordaining bishop used to say, "If you are being run out of town, get in front of the crowd and make it look like a parade".

When church is at its best, most authentic self, that's what it does.

And, hey, if it can happen in a Pride Parade in NYC, it can happen anywhere.


Christian Paolino said...

The Episcopalians have had an increasingly impressive series of floats for the past few years, due to the hard work of Paul Lane and the LGBT Concerns Committee, Diocese of New York, and the generosity of a handful of parishes and individuals. I hear tell this year's will be even more spectacular. If you want to ride, we'll save you a seat!

Matthew said...

You could always ride in a sidecar like Clarissa. That is my dream.

I like your idea. On the other hand, if all is supposed to mean, all, then maybe the altar should be dead center in the room like some in the orthodox tradition and everyone gathers around it in a huge circle. And maybe everyone should process in - everyone- in street clothes or vestments, clergy and lay all mixed up together. I'm just thinking out loud too.

Jeffri Harre said...

Oh, thank you for this, Elizabeth. It needed to be said.

Lots of hugs for one of my favorite clergy--scratch that--favorite PEOPLE.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Christian, thank you, baby. If I'm in NYC on Pride Day (always, always, always, the last Sunday in June), I just may take you up on it.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Jeffri - I'm probably gonna get lots of flak for this (My gravestone will read "Nobody asked me") but I think it's time for the circle to go round again and start another revolution.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Matthew - I think the LGBT community can be ahead of the curve on this one. I love the idea of the altar in the center of the room - see St. Gregory of Nissa in SanFran - and a diminution of liturgical hierarchy. I think Jesus said something about "All" If all means all, then let's do all.

Lis Jacobs said...

A word from Integrity USA's treasurer, I can't wait to discuss this during the pre-convention Board of Director's meeting. Huge grin on my face.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I can see your grin from here.