Witnessing to the Province 4 Synod

Witnessing to the Province 4 Synod

by Bruce Garner, Past President of Integrity
Bruce wrote this as a private letter to me in response to my question about the synod meeting, the last week of May 1999. He has reluctantly but graciously consented to let me share this on the web. I think we are fortunate to have a first-person account of this occasion of grace. -- L.

I went and both my bishops went. The first evening and next day were devoted to what I will term civil discourse on topics about which we may not agree. A lot of role play and theory was involved. The closing "exercise" was about human sexuality and was a dialogue between two folks - orginally to have been Kendall Harmon and _____. The latter had a conflict so it ended up being between two bishops - Ted Gulick (Kentucky) and John Lipscomb (Southwest Florida).

When I had heard what this would be about, I went to the facilitator, Chuck Barker, and asked if anyone gay or lesbian would be part of the dialogue about gays and lesbians. He said no - presumably because no one knew anyone who would be there. I self-identified. He was pleased and concerned about my concerns about us being talked about rather than being talked with. He offered to include me but I declined - realizing it would be unfair to switch his gears only hours before the presentation. He said there would be questions and comments after the vignette. I told him I would see what happened and would respond accordingly.

The dialogue was ok - actually a little too polite! The two bishops were not that far apart.

Several people commented and spoke. One raised the inappropriateness of us having this discussion without the participation of any gays and lesbians. I had already decided to speak, but this seemed to be that moment of the spirit that confirmed it. So I went to the microphone and introduced myself as being from the Diocese of Atlanta. I began by explaining that I had come to the Episcopal Church some 35 years ago from a Baptist tradition and that I was a "recovering Baptist" - which got the usual knowing giggles. I added that what had attracted me to the church was, for the first time, being asked to worship God with my mind as well as my heart and soul. Then I proceeded to tell them that I was a gay man - as best as I could determine the only "out" one there. (I think I had company but all in closets.)

I shared my concerns about being discussed without being part of the discussion and offered to be part of it. I then offered some suggestions: When you talk to us, ask about our personal relationships with Jesus Christ, not about what we do in our bedrooms. Ask about the depth of our faith and about our spiritual journeys. You get the idea of where I was going. I continued with more similar requests.

I noted that they were stuck with me unless they could anul my baptism and cancel my confirmation. I related having witnessed the pain the church had inflicted on my sisters and brothers. I shared with them the ministry I term "putting a face on a faggot." I then closed with the story I once wrote in my column as President of Integrity about being in a gay bar during Sunday Gospel Hour. I related how every one of those guys knew all the hymns that were being sung and how for them, that was church. I wanted to offer them more than a gay bar with three drag queens singing Gospel music. I was later advised that I had given an old fashioned "testimony."

When I ended, there was sustained applause - I was exhausted. Coming out never gets any easier, even after all these years.

When the session ended, I got up from my discussion table and turned around to be greeted by several dozen folks who wanted to shake my hand, hug me and thank me. That was very gratifying. Both bishops who had been part of the staged dialogue came and thanked me and the PB gave me a big hug and thanked me. My deputation did as well. Onell said I made him cry. (I think there were a few others who did as well - I tried not to look.) So it appears I did what the spirit called me to do.


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