A series of essays towards General Convention in 2003
Welcome. Welcome to the start of a new day in the work of the church. Welcome to the dawn of a new way to respond to the ancient call to justice, social change and peace.
I believe that every person in this room has been called here - to this place, to this work, at this time - to claim the blessing that has been ours from the moment we were conceived in the mind of God.
Look around you. Look at the person sitting next to you - in front of you - behind you. Each one of us has been called away from our places of comfort and safety, our own little niches of work and ministry, to come together to work for ancient truths in a new way.
Let's see who we are. Please stand if you are
We are here representing 38 states. Approximately 25% of us are deputies to General Convention. Most of us represent some justice organization in the Episcopal Church.
We have been called together to do a sacred task, a holy work, of claiming the blessing promised to us in our baptism that we might be a blessing to the church that gathers in the name of our Risen Lord.
Many of us have been doing this work for a very long time and, Lord knows, we are weary. My grandmother used to say that there are two ways of working: you can work hard or you can work smart. We have been working very hard for a very long time. I believe we have been called together because God has heard the cry of the people. I believe God has brought us together to learn how to work smart.
We have had other moments in justice work when we have worked smart - the ordination of women was the last great effort. From my perspective, this movement had its genesis in the unlikely place of an empty stairwell outside a classroom at the University at Canterbury during the 1998 Lambeth Conference.
Each other knew us who gathered there but not to each other, and it was the first time any of us had gathered together in the same place. We had certainly never worked together, although we all cared passionately and deeply about the same work of justice.
We were the old and venerable: LGCM UK and Integrity USA. We were the new and upstart: Changing Attitudes UK and The Oasis, Oasis CA. I think it was the day after Lambeth officially opened and we finally opened our eyes to see each other and the reality of our opponents.
Clearly, it was not the first time they had met or gathered to work together. While we huddled in that stairwell, the conservatives had already been together on campus for two weeks. They had quickly seen the challenges of communication on that lovely, bucolic setting and had outfitted themselves with pagers and cell phones, fax machines and computers. They were well funded, well organized, and focused.
And we were not.
And so we did what humans do when we are frightened and overwhelmed - we turned on each other. Tempers began to flare and squabbling broke out. Battles over turf wars began to surface. I remember standing in that stairwell, listening to the tension rise along with the anger in our voices, and it brought out the mother in me - in the full and ½ sense of that word - and I remember saying, "STOP! Stop it! Sit down! Stop squabbling! We have got to learn to work together or our work will die!"
There were a few moments of sobering silence as we realized that the most we could word for in that time was a modicum of damage control. We came away from Lambeth deeply wounded and limping, but still Walking. Still determined. We are a persistent people of a most persistent God.
We saw what they did. As soon as they finished with LGBT people, they went right after women. Something's never change. It's just a matter of the order in which they happen.
We came away outraged - and remain outraged! - that this elite group of people in purple shirts dares to claim that they - and THEY ONLY - speak the mind of the world-wide Anglican communion. What arrogance! What cheek! Last time I read The Outline of Faith there were four orders of ministry: bishops, priests, deacons and the laity.
Hello? Good morning! This is your wake-up call. Open your eyes and look around. We are the church, too. Our faces are part of the Imago Dei. Our work is central to the Misseo Dei.
We would not be here today if it were not for the collaborative efforts of the coalition of justice workers who have come together on this work known as Claiming The Blessing. The lead group of this effort are Beyond Inclusion, Integrity and The Oasis, but we also represent EWC, UBE, EPF, ECPC/The Witness and more!
At this moment, we are focused and coalesced around a single task: to obtain authorization for the development of a liturgical rite of blessing of the faithful, monogamous relationship between two adults of any gender at General Convention 2003. (Would someone please tell the bishop of Pittsburgh that we do not bless 'sexual relationships'? We are blessing faithful, monogamous relationships!)
But this is just the beginning. Our collaborative efforts for justice for LGBT people is what, we pray, will be the initiation or formalization of a network of communities and individuals who are striving to live out their baptismal covenant. We hope to equip you here with information and theology; with opportunities to have conversations that are transformative and inspiring; with the impulse to go back to the 38 states and various countries and formalize the networks of justice where you live; and then link up with the national network of justice work.
There is much work to be done and the laborers are few. We can work hard or we can work smart. The work of Claiming the Blessing, I believe, calls us to a yet more excellent way.
Before I turn this over to Michael Hopkins who is going to start our work together by introducing to you the theology which is the foundation of our work, I want to leave you with a story. It was written by the author of Jonathan Livingston Seagul and, as I remember the story, it is about The River Bottom Creatures.
Way down, deep down at the very bottom of the riverbed there live small beings known as the River Bottom Creatures. For centuries and generations they have lived their lives clinging to the rocks at the bottom of the river. They spend their days holding onto their rocks for dear life, as the current in the river whirls by them, threatening to tear them away and into the vast unknown of the water. They hold on in fear and trembling because they know their rocks, and they own their rocks. Every once in a while one of the creatures would grow tired and let go of their rock, only to crash into other creatures on other rocks and be carried off to another part of the river bottom - either to die, or to find another rock on which to cling.
One day, one of the river bottom creatures looked up at the current up above and exclaimed: THIS IS INSANITY! Holding onto these rocks is not life. I know that there is something else. Something more. Something beyond ourselves. Something greater than our lives here and now. I'm going to let go. I'm going to swim into the current. I'm going to fund what is beyond hear and now. I'm going to find what is possible.
The other River Bottom Creatures were horrified. "FOOL!" they exclaimed. "You'll kill yourself. You may kill others. Stay here. Stay with us. Avoid the current. It is dangerous. At least on the rock, we are safe."
But, the brave River Bottom Creature focused his eyes on the current and, propelling himself forward, begam to swim into it. And lo! He discovered that he could not only swim, he could FLY!
The other creatures on the river bottom looked up and saw him. Some were afraid. Some were angry. Others were jealous. Some said to each other, "Look! It must be the Messiah, come to save us!" They called to the flying River Bottom Creature, "Are you the Messiah? Have you come to save us?"
"No, I am a creature of the river bottom just like you. You are called into your own salvation. You have to let go of your rock. You have to let go of what you think is saving you. You must come into the water. Come into the current. Come! Follow me!"
Sisters and brothers, I believe that we are being called into the deep end of the waters of our baptism. We are being called away from the safety of our own turf, our own niche, our own understanding of reality - that we all may be one, even as God and Jesus are one.
We are being called into the dream of God. We are being called to live out the most fervent prayer for the sacred heart of Jesus - to be one.
Let the church say, "Amen."
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