Even now, I can't really get my head wrapped around the fact that we did that. I keep saying it to myself, over and over again: We have Liturgical Rites of Blessings. In the Episcopal Church. For 'provisional use', of course, but we've got them. Not every bishop will authorize its use - even provisionally - but we've got them.
Let me tell you a little something about that walk and some of the costs of that integrity. Okay, so this is me, right? It won't exactly be a "little something". Gimme a break! We're talking 10 years here!
Susan Russell has posted a montage of pictures collected over the past ten years - from our humble beginnings at College of Preachers in DC in January, 2002 - on the Claiming The Blessing website.
Putting together that photo montage was a labor of love for Susan (God knows, she's got tons of other, important parochial responsibilities and duties) and I'm deeply grateful for her work as well as the work she has done over the years - and continues to do - as a colleague in the important work of the ministry of justice activism.
Please go over and look at it. Do it now, while you're thinking of it. I'll wait. I promise. I've nicked a few of the many wonderful photos there but you'll want to see the whole enchilada.
|Justice IS Orthodox Theology - CTB Conference, Atlanta, 2004|
It didn't. It took decades of work. Hard work. Costly discipleship. It wasn't so much the physical work - although, there is that - but rather the "soul work" of vulnerability and integrity and authenticity.
It's about years of telling the stories of our lives - again and again and again - often to hostile ears and hardened hearts. It's about daring to climb up to stand on the shoulders of the Giants who sacrificed and walked before us. It's about being able to move from seeing ourselves as helpless victims to children of God - and then acting as if we really believed it, even as people shouted us down and told us that we were "destroying the church".
I believed that she believed that with all her heart. I felt enormous compassion for her because what she was saying was true, at least in part. It's not that there wouldn't be "anything left of The Episcopal Church" but what is true is that The Episcopal Church today would not be recognizable to her were she alive to see it today. And, I choose to believe that she wouldn't be unhappy about it - especially the part about her gay grandson and lesbian granddaughter who are now actively involved and taking leadership in their congregations and diocese.
There were times when we argued - mostly about strategy - and got angry with one another. There were disappointments and petty jealousies and sharp criticism, sometimes from unexpected sources which, when not reacted but responded to, served to provide us new insights about ourselves and the work of our movement.
|Lambeth "Fringe" Conference - 2008|
At first I was stunned by his remark and then I grew curious. Turns out, he likes the recipients of his activism to be more aware and accepting of their status as victims. More willing to let allies take the lead and provide direction. More grateful for his efforts. More willing to let him claim victory and credit as, I suppose, an absolution of sorts for his previously held homophobic notions.
I am grateful to him. Deeply. He provided an important insight to the work of justice. We didn't go back to being 'helpless victims' in need of a savior, but we were more cognizant of the fact that we needed to do more work in our own ranks in terms of raising awareness about the intricacies and complexities of anti-oppression work.
While we remained focused on "claiming the blessing" we also became increasingly aware of what Queer scholars are now calling the "intersectionality of justice issues". Decades of work in the early days of the AIDS pandemic had taught us the importance of collaboration with other partners in justice work, and we were careful to make the membership of the CTB Steering Committee representatives of all of the justice organizations in The Episcopal Church (UBE, EWC, ECPC, EENJ, EPF, etc.) but we were beginning to listen carefully to our African-American, Asian, Native American LGBT sisters and brothers and straight allies for the intersections of the justice issues.
Collaboration is one thing. Solidarity is another. We began to take more active, visible stands with our sisters and brothers on *their* issues of justice, realizing more deeply that they were our own. "No one is free unless all are free" became not just a pity saying but a lived philosophy. So was the old Civil Rights slogan, "Each One Teach One".
|SRO at Integrity Triennial Eucharist- 2003|
Michael Hopkins, then President of IntegrityUSA, not only *warned* the church that LGBT people are "not going away", but also told our conservative sisters and brothers that (1) we do not desire for you to go away, (2) we do not desire to force same-sex blessings on you or anyone and (3) we do challenge you to stop scapegoating lesbian and gay Christians for every contemporary ill in the Church, particularly for our current state of disunity or the potential for the unraveling of the Anglican Communion."
Alas, those statements were neither believed nor heeded by many "orthodox" conservatives and The Great Schism to the Global South began in earnest after General Convention 2003 gave its blessing to the Diocese of New Hampshire election and consecration of V. Gene Robinson as the first 'honestly gay' bishop in The Episcopal Church.
Still, thanks to Louise Brooks, Cynthia Black and Katie Sherrod, our educational efforts continued, taking a new direction in multimedia formats. The "Voices of Witness" video series began in 2003 with LGBT people in the US, but we began to reach out to our sisters and brothers globally in the "Voices of Witness: Africa" video, which debuted at Lambeth, 2008 and then "Out of the Box" which were the voices of Transgender witness in 2012.
As critically important as "Out of the Box" is, the importance of giving voices to LGBT Africans can not be understated - especially on the International Anglican stage of Lambeth.
I remember well an incident, ten years earlier, at Lambeth 1988, with several African bishops whose path I crossed while walking on the beautiful, bucolic university campus in Canterbury.
|CTB - Palm Springs - 2003|
There we were, ten years later, at the Lambeth Conference, watching a video of many LGBT men and women from several countries in Africa, courageously telling their stories, risking continued persecution and, as we learned from the murder of David Kato, death.
The Incarnation. It's not for sissies.
In addition to collaboration and solidarity, one of the most important lessons I learned in those years of work on the Claiming the Blessing Steering Committee was something Ed Bacon, rector of All Saint's Pasadena, named "sacrificial presence".
Lord knows, none of us had much money in those days. Still don't, truth be told. Oh, we got a few grants here and there, but mostly we begged, borrowed (but never stole) from friends, relatives, cardinal rectors, deans, bishops and congregations to fund our efforts and our work. Mind you, we all did this in addition to the demands of the work in our own congregations and places of work.
|Louie Crew - banned in Dallas (AAC meeting) - 2003|
I was deeply moved by that idea, rooted as it is in my love of and believe in the Incarnation.
|"No Entry" to GAFCON|
We showed up with weary minds and heavy hearts and empty pockets, but our sleeves were rolled up and we were ready to do the work we passionately felt Jesus was calling us to do.
God knows, we also showed up in places uninvited and decidedly unwanted. Indeed, we were even "banned" in a few places, like the 2003 AAC conference in Dallas called "A Place to Stand" (but, clearly not even a place to sit if you are LGBT) and at the 2008 GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference) in Jerusalem.
When Bishop Gene Robinson, duly elected and properly consecrated Bishop of New Hampshire was dis-invited (politely, of course) by the Archbishop of Canterbury from attending Lambeth 2008, he showed up, anyway. So did a whole host of LGBT people from all over the Anglican Communion, including parts of Africa.
We claimed our place on the margins and called it "The Lambeth Fringe Conference".
I remember, at General Convention in Denver, 2000, talking with John Guernsey, then a priest in Virginia, after an open hearing on Resolution D039 which acknowledged our differences but set the standards of "life-long, committed relationships" of "fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God".
John turned to me and said, incredulously, "You people are not going away, are you?" Yes, he said, "you people". A few years later, John left and is now a bishop in one of the dioceses (Hmm....Kenya, I think) of ACNA (Anglican Church of North America). Pity. He was, I thought, a fine priest.
|2002 - The Writing Team of Sherrod, Vesely-Flad and Kaeton|
Indeed, we still have many miles to go before racism and sexism are abolished, or immigration laws are changed and poverty is eradicated and nations cease to take up arms and war against nations.
It's been a long night's journey into the sun, and although it might sound trite, at least we know that the light at the end of the tunnel isn't an oncoming train.
We LGBT people are the "canaries" in the coal mines of the Church. If its safe for us to be here, we'll fly out singing and let everyone else know.
At the end of the day, this movement called CTB begins and ends with a deep, passionate belief in the goodness of each and every aspect of God's creation. It's all about the beauty that can be called into being when you allow God's breath, God's Ruach, to breathe over the chaos of our lives.
|Part of the CTB Bunch in Indianapolis, 2012|
When we believe that Christ dwells in us and in each other, then God blesses us with a passion for justice so that we may be a blessing to others.
And so we show up and practice "sacrificial presence". We continue to pray and work our way towards a vision of the Realm of God, even when we are tired and broke and have eaten too much of the bread of anxiety. We keep on keepin' on, even though some would obscure that vision with the spit of fear or the mud of hate.
We know that compassion is born of suffering, so we fight for our rights (and our rites) without imposing them on others. We will no longer stand as helpless victims; rather, we are embodied children of God who take responsibility for the awesome, challenging, daunting, ennobling task of working out our own salvation in the Beloved community of Jesus.
These are important lessons to take with us as we journey even deeper into the work of justice, and the church tries to define marriage - separating out the wheat of the sacrament from the chaff of cultural definitions - and struggles to understand "gender identity and expression" even as it works to restructure itself to do the work of mission in a world and a church which seems to operate on a "Target Mentality" of "expect more, pay less."
I continue to be inspired by the Rev'd Dr. Bill Countryman who said these words as part of his address at the CTB Conference in St. Louis, MO in November, 2002:
"We recognize afresh what Christians have recognized, in their various ways, from the beginning: that human desire, the same desire that informs our human loves, is an integral part of what draws us to God. The Song of Songs enshrines this principle in the heart of our Scriptures. The love of the human beloved is our closest, most decisive analogy to the love of God. Both loves are difficult to express adequately. What I am saying is that without human love, we would have almost no analogy for our relationship with God. Flawed as all human love is, it is still the best thing in our makeup, the brightest treasure that God placed there. And it is by this that God calls us home."
I think my colleagues on the Steering Committee of Claiming the Blessing will agree with me in saying that the last ten years of work have been a 'labor of love' through which and by which and from which we have come to better understand love - human and divine.
It has been an enormous blessing. We have been richly blessed that we may be a blessing to others.
"Flawed as all human love is," Countryman says, "it is still the best thing in our makeup, the brightest treasure that God has placed there."
Onward, my dears.
"The love of the human beloved is our closest, most decisive analogy to the love of God"
We have only just begun to love.