A series of essays towards General Convention in 2003 and beyond
Well, we are two Sundays out from General Convention, and here in the Diocese of Lexington (KY) the fur is starting to fly. Let me hasten to say that the bishop (Stacey Sauls) and the majority of the clergy and people of the diocese are not only OK but glad about General Convention. I grew up in this diocese and it is amazing how much it has changed in the last few years, a witness to the courageous and sacrificial leadership of Bp. Sauls and the clergy of the diocese.
Nevertheless, we do have a minority of clergy and people in all parishes who are upset (that's putting it mildly) about the actions of General Convention. These persons are the loudest voices in the debate and as such they tend to drown out more reasonable views. I do not know what they really want -- sympathy, or attention, or just a chance to be troublesome in a very public way. But I am getting a little tired of consoling people who are judging me.
In the past week I have attended a meeting of the clergy of the diocese in which the church, and by extension me as the only openly gay priest in the diocese, was referred to as "excrement", "stinking corpse" and other jolly epithets all with appropriate biblical quotations, mostly from Revelation. The bishop was threatened with all manner of dire circumstances including being "uninvited" to his visitation at one parish. The overall reaction of my brothers and sisters in the clergy was to rush to these vocal and obnoxious persons and murmur, "There, there, you poor thing."
I have also experienced the first parishioners leaving my parish and the Episcopal Church because we now officially accept the witness and ministry of gay and lesbian people. Now I've been here for eight years and have always been open and honest about my sexuality. These people have been happy to accept my ministry, to receive the sacrament at my hands for all that time. But the Sunday after General Convention I had one woman draped over the pew weeping audibly all through the Eucharist, and noted that my hands were not clean enough any more to give the the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ to her. She has now insisted that her husband and children leave the parish and the denomination of which they are lifelong members because she is "unhappy."
I have to say that I am now, just two weeks out, through with patting hands and saying, "There,there dear." I do not think that doing so is useful, honest, or even pastoral. Confirming someone, anyone, in bad behavior is not "loving" them; it is "enabling" them. In my sermon Sunday I was honest about this with the congregation, without of course naming names or citing specific incidents. I told them that the week past was one of the most painful and difficult of my career as a priest and that I was exhausted, angry, and heartsore. I told them further that that the only thing I knew to do in the situation was to eat and drink of the Body and Blood of Christ and trust to be strengthened and renewed in that process, and I invited them to share in that renewal with me.
Guess what! All of them took my advice. Hand-wringing and whining ceased as if by magic, and after service I was gratified by the many expressions of approval and support that I received. I have been here eight years and I have never been hugged so many times in the receiving line. (We aren't the huggy sort here).
My conclusion is that it is best to be honest in dealing with the backlash issues that will face the parish and the church at large in the coming weeks. There are some of my fellow Episcopalians who are unable to tolerate or accept what the church has done. To them I can only say, "Go with my love and my prayers that you find peace." But I do not intend to be bullied, guilt-tripped, or emotionally blackmailed anymore. I commend a similar course of actions to all. Sooner or later common sense has to prevail.
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