A series of essays toward General Convention 2003 and beyond
St. Andrew's Episcopal Church
419 South Street
New Providence, NJ 07974
August 25, 2003
Mr. Manuel Ovando
I hope that you and Stuart are enjoying these last precious days of summer before the hectic pace of life picks up after Labor Day. The reason for this letter is that I want to inform you about the initiation of a discussion about inclusiveness and affirmation of all people that the Vestry formally voted to initiate yesterday. The background to this decision is related to the Gay Pride rainbow flag that has been hanging outside the back entrance of the church for several years.
Recently the flag was temporarily removed in connection with some roofing work being done. However, the removal of the flag precipitated questions and discussion about what the flag is and what is it meant to symbolize, both in general and at St. Andrew's in particular. As these conversations unfolded, it became evident that many people at St. Andrew's are totally unaware that the rainbow flag we have been flying is the Gay Pride flag. Responses ranged from: "What flag?" Did we have a flag hanging from the back door?" to "Oh, I thought the rainbow flag had something to do with the Nursery School," to "I was incorrectly told that it was the old civil rights rainbow flag." It quickly became clear that whatever the original intention of flying the Gay Price rainbow flag was, it was, at best, a hollow gesture in view of the fact that very few members of the congregation, or even the Vestry, understood what the flag is.
These discussions, I suspect, became even more significant in the minds of some people because of the recent decisions of the 74th General Convention of the Episcopal Church to consent to the ordination of the first openly gay man, the Rev. Canon Gene Robinson, as Bishop Coadjutor of the Diocese of New Hampshire, and the Convention's adoption of resolution C051, which states, in part: "that local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions." As I'm sure you are well aware, the Church, locally, nationally, and even internationally, will be wrestling with the implications of these decisions of the General Convention in the weeks and months ahead. So will we.
I believe that the vast majority of people at St. Andrew's genuinely want St. Andrew's to be an inviting, welcoming, and truly inclusive community of worship. At the same time, many people are also struggling in their own minds with how the decisions of the Church's recent General Convention may be reconciled with both scripture, and the Church's traditional stance on human sexuality. People at St. Andrew's will, on the one hand, have to weigh their real desire to be truly inclusive of all people, as Christians are unquestionably called to be, while simultaneously coming to grips with their own understandings of Christian sexual morality. In this context of profound inner struggle and process of discernment we now face, the Vestry has come to the decision that it is not appropriate to continue flying the Gay Pride rainbow flag.
As the conversation we have initiated unfolds, the parish may eventually decide to hang the flag once more, or they may decide to make some other gesture of inclusiveness -- I cannot say. What I can say is that whatever we do, it will be more sincere and honest than what we have been doing for the past several years in flying a flag, without adequate explanation, that few people genuinely understood. In the meantime the Vestry has voted to alter the informational sign posted to the right of the main entrance to the church. That sign now reads: "St. Andrew's Episcopal Church Welcomes You." Below the schedule of services the following sentence now also appears: "We strive to be an inclusive community of worship, welcoming all people as created equally in the image of God."
In conclusion let me say that during the Vestry's deliberations over the flag I was impressed by how many people expressed how important you, Steve, and other gay parishioners are and have been in the life of St. Andrew's. I believe that those sentiments are genuine, particularly in the light of how many people attended Steve's funeral in December. I also know that you have been frustrated in the past with the refusal of people at St. Andrew's to engage frankly in dialogue about the very issues that will confront us in the months ahead. I am convinced that you would ultimately prefer that we not [sic] fly the Gay Pride flag honestly than that we continue to fly it dishonestly.
Finally, I also want to assure you that our Interim Vicar, Marshall Shelly, is aware of these developments. He is concerned that you and other gay parishioners feel positively affirmed in the life of our parish. Like our Bishop-elect, George Counsell, Marshall is quite open in his support of both of the controversial decisions made at the recent General Convention. I also think that he views the Vestry's decision not to replace the rainbow flag as a valuable opportunity to initiate serious dialogue, within the parish about how we are going to respond to both our baptismal covenant and to the Church's 2020 Mission. I apologize for the length of this letter, but I feel that you deserve to know honestly and fully what happened to the Gay Pride flag, before you return to St. Andrew's and discover it missing. I value our friendship and I too rejoice in your participation in the life of St. Andrew's. We are truly enriched by your presence.
Christopher S. Taylor
cc: Rev. Marshall K. Shelly, Interim Vicar
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