Wednesday, November 29, 2023

On the $7.00 Tempest in the TEC Teapot

Some quick background for those who missed the latest episode of As the Episcopal World Turns:

The Washington National Cathedral (WNC) roll out of its annual "come to the cathedral for Christmas" campaign included a $7 fee to cover the cost of processing the passes that make managing the Christmas crowds possible.

Not making an explicit option for those for whom the fee was a financial hardship was inarguably a blow it … a blow it which the WNC folks quickly corrected -- making the fee optional but encouraged. 

My take on what became SevenDollarGate -- an explosion of social media shame, blame and pearl clutching -- is 20% unforced error in the roll out and 80% displaced anxiety, dread, fear projected onto the WNC, blowing up into a tempest in the TEC teapot — a tempest that was not coincidentally fueled by a blog post from Juicy Ecumenism … a mouthpiece of the IRD whose stated goal is to disrupt and dismantle mainline churches in order to precipitate a “return to Biblical Orthodoxy.”

It was nothing less than a textbook effort to polarize and divide us at the very time when our unity and mobilization on behalf of the Good News in Christ Jesus is so desperately needed in this beautiful and broken world. It’s enough to give Baby Jesus colic — and more than enough to convince those who think they know enough about Christians not to want to be one that they are right.

So let’s all take a breath. Resume our preparations for the Advent season of preparation for the coming of the one who loved us enough to become one of us in order to show us how to love one another. And then let’s work a little harder to live out that gospel we proclaim. 

Because at the end of the day, watching Christians be horrible and spiteful to each other will turn a whole lot more people away from coming to the manger than any seven dollar processing fee for a Christmas Eve worship service pass would ever do. 

Thursday, November 16, 2023

“When was I supposed to sing?” -- Woke Words of Wisdom from Bishop John Harvey Taylor

When we gathered for our annual Diocesan Convention last week at the Riverside Convention Center our bishop -- +John Harvey Taylor -- did what bishops do at diocesan conventions and offered his convention address ... which is a kind of  church version of a "State of the Union" address.

You can watch the whole thing here ... and I commend it to you. 

But during this week of Transgender Awareness, I want to share this story he told in his address as a celebration of how one bishop used his platform of privilege to not only center the experience of God's nonbinary beloved -- but to challenge us to go and do likewise. Bravo, Bishop Taylor!

This is the power and majesty of our sacramental faith: that the risen Christ is alive ... inviting all creation to the party at the foot of the holy mountain – inviting everyone to come, without regard to race or nation, orientation or identification. The people of the Diocese of Los Angeles proclaim this Good News to all the world. With the Gospel, we say “Sleepers awake!” We are woke -- and we are proud of it! ...
Sometimes being woke is easy – once you get a poke in the conscience – as I learned just a few years ago, when I was still serving as vicar of St. John Chrysostom in Rancho Santa Margarita

I was spending a week at Camp Stevens as a summer chaplain. Every night at camp, at community gathering, the chaplains get the opportunity to preach -- but third and fourth graders after dinner don’t want to hear a reflection on Ephesians 5 any more than convention does after lunch. So my schtick was to get out my guitar – and take a Lady Gaga or a Taylor Swift song – and write lyrics that resonated with the theme at camp that week.

One time I was doing this and I told the boys to sing the first chorus and the girls the second. Afterward a camp staff member who was nonbinary took me aside and asked, “When was I supposed to sing?”

When it came to gender-inclusive language, I got poked into woke. While preaching the gospel of unity and love, I had actively made someone feel invisible and uncared for.

And you know what? Making some vocabulary changes has cost me exactly nothing.

Now I’d say, “Sing the first chorus if your first name starts with a letter between A and M.” Visiting schools, I used to love walking into a classroom and saying, “Hello, boys and girls!” Now I say, “Hello, kids!”

Instead of he or her, when in doubt, I say and write “their” -- and it’s the easiest thing in the world to replace “brothers and sisters” with “siblings.”

Language is powerful – righteous works proceed from righteous words. Woke language is calculated to include and welcome and to not do harm – as the letter of James reminds us, the words of our mouths are signifiers of the condition of our hearts-- and this is where it really can cost us – but it’s joyful work.

Because once our language identifies a reality, before too long, we are redesigning the restrooms – and appointing a committee to figure out how to include everyone who want to play sports irrespective of [gender] identification – and speaking out against politicians who get themselves into office and hold onto power by intentionally and cynically hurting our LGBTQ+ siblings, especially our children.

Thursday, November 02, 2023

“This Is The Day That The Lord Has Made: Sunday, November 02, 2003”

Today we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the consecration on the 9th bishop of New Hampshire and a historic crack in the rainbow stained glass ceiling with the first openly gay (emphasis on openly) bishop in the Anglican communion. Feeling nostalgic, I looked back at what I wrote 20 years ago this morning and was a little gob smacked to realize how many parallels there were between what was going on then in The Episcopal Church and what is going on now in our national civic arena. Looks like everything I need to know about fighting Christian nationalism I really can learn from the Anglican Inclusion Wars.

Happy Anniversary, +Gene ... and Church! La lucha continua!


“This Is The Day That The Lord Has Made: Sunday, November 02, 2003”
So here I am in New Hampshire – “the morning of” the much anticipated consecration of V. Gene Robinson as Bishop Coadjutor of the diocese he has served for nearly 20 years as a priest and pastor.
At a reception last night for friends and family Gene posed for innumerable photo ops, hugged and kissed all comers and generally basked in the well deserved admiration and appreciation of those who elected him, supported him and look forward to his ministry as the Bishop of New Hampshire. The security was extraordinary – at least it seemed that way to me: a police escort waiting outside the parish hall and burly security guards stationed throughout the room, watching Gene’s every move.
I spoke to one briefly – saying I knew he wasn’t there to chat with me but that I wanted to take a second to thank him for his work in protecting Gene. “You’re welcome,” he said without taking his eyes of the bishop-elect. A minute later he leaned over and said, “It’s my job but I’m also an Episcopalian so this is important to me, too.” So there you go.
The service begins at 4:00 p.m. eastern time and I’ll be heading over to the arena shortly. (A hockey rink is being turned into a cathedral for the estimated 5000 who will attend.) The press is there in force – we’ve seen several live CNN reports from the site already this morning – and the CBS folks working a piece for 60 Minutes were with us for breakfast this morning. I’ll post reflections on the events of the day as soon as I can, for it promises to be a grand and glorious celebration.
But this morning I’m already looking past the liturgy we are about to celebrate this 2nd of November to the work we – the mainstream of the Episcopal Church – have ahead of us beginning November 3rd. And that work BEGINS with taking back the word “mainstream” from those who have hijacked it to use as one of the weapons in their arsenal of schism.
And let me be perfectly clear: I am not talking about faithful Episcopalians who disagree with the decisions of General Convention 2003, those who have different theological perspectives than I do or the people in the pews who are yearning to get on with the business of being the church and leave these debates about sexuality behind. I believe that there is more than enough room for all of us in this roomy Anglican tradition we inherit.
I am challenging instead a small segment of the leadership of the American Anglican Council who – in partnership with the Ahmanson funded Institute for Religion and Democracy – have made a decision for schism and are determined to succeed in their quest to split this church apart regardless of the cost.
I was quoted in a post-Plano/Dallas interview as saying “The AAC ‘is not a mainstream organization. This is the radical militant fringe of the church.’" What I actually SAID was "what we are hearing here in Dallas are not the words of a mainstream organization but the rhetoric of an increasingly radical militant fringe.” It is a fine but important linguistic distinction.
For there was a time when I did indeed considered the AAC “mainstream” -- "the loyal opposition" which offered a conservative perspective here in the Diocese of Los Angeles. I spent an entire YEAR having lunch once a month with David Anderson, Ron Jackson, and Bill Thompson -- reading the catechism with other clergy together as part of a reconciliation conversation initiated by Bishop Jon Bruno.
There were years when we managed to craft substitute resolutions at our Diocesan Convention with David and others which ended (for a season) the annual ritual of the same old voices at opposing microphones saying the same old things. And I attended expanded Reconciliation Conversations around the diocese modeled after the work of the New Commandment Task Force and led by AAC founding member Brian Cox.
I learned from those conversations. I grew in my understanding of those who approach Holy Scripture differently than I do. I heard the stories of those who felt that the church they loved was being taken away from them: for whom a church with a "new prayer book" and women priests was not a place of spiritual nurture. But time and again when our work together had ended -- when we stood in those "closing circles" and prayed for each other -- we also prayed together for this church we all loved as we committed to work together through the hard ground of our differences.
Was our communion “impaired” for those standing in that circle who could not accept as valid the orders of the women clergy who stood with them? Or for those who stood knowing that the relationships that they experience as holy gifts from God were not celebrated by all who stood with them? I suppose so – but we weren’t thinking in those terms at that point. Rather than dwelling on the issues that might have divided us we were focused instead on the Gospel that united us. Because our unity in Christ did not require uniformity in our opinions we were able to “go in peace to love and serve the Lord” in communion – if not in agreement – with each other.
Fast forward to Dallas 2003. In order to participate in “A Place to Stand” one had to sign a “Statement of Faith” which excluded anyone who supported the actions of General Convention 2003. During the conference words like “apostate” and “heretic” were used to refer to the majority of the Episcopal Church as it had spoken through its elected representatives in General Convention.
Respected Episcopal media representatives were denied credentials to cover the event for their publications. In an explanation given to a FOX News reporter as to why the Presiding Bishop’s offer to send representatives bearing greetings was rebuffed, AAC leader David Anderson made the comparison of “asking a rape victim to sit down at the table with her rapist.” The conference concluded with nothing less than a demand to the Primates to – in effect – vote ECUSA off the Anglican Island. And in an interview soon after the conference, Anderson used the word “contamination” to refer to those who will be laying hands on Gene Robinson when he becomes a Bishop in the Church of God on November 2nd.
These are not the words of a mainstream organization: it is the rhetoric of an increasingly radical militant fringe.
These are not words that respect the dignity of every human being: they are words that create a climate where the Matthew Shepards of our world live in fear for their lives.
The time has come for us to cease to allow them to set the context for this debate. The day has arrived when the church is ready to get past being reactive to conservative threats and become proactive in telling the Good News of a church where everyone is welcome at the table – where the true mainstream includes a gay bishop AND faithful Episcopalians who voted against his election.
Today is a great day for the Episcopal Church. Let us rejoice and be glad in it – and then let’s get to work!

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Coming Out In A Cathedral

Yes, I came out in the National Cathedral on the 4th of July in 1996. It's a story I've told many times ... but since it's the only one I have and it's National Coming Out Day 2023, here it is again.

On July 4, 1996 at noon eastern time I was in the choir at the National Cathedral. While crowds of tourists milled about the nave of the cathedral and others gathered outside or headed toward the Mall for the fireworks festivities scheduled later it the day or lined up to see the opening-that-day film “Independence Day” (remember that one?) a remnant of us gathered in the cathedral choir for a festival celebration of the Feast of American Independence, BCP style.

The music was glorious, the lessons inspiring and the privilege of receiving Holy Communion at the altar in this amazing “house of prayer for all people” as we celebrated the birth of a nation dedicated to “liberty and justice for all” was an amazing gift I will always remember.

Oh … and I came out.

In the cathedral. On the Fourth of July. In the middle of festival Eucharist I had the great “aha” moment – the epiphany – the “I-shoulda-had-a-V8” realization that the God who had “fearfully and wonderfully” made me had made me gay. And called me to priesthood. And told me “now, go back and be the priest I called you to be.”

That’s my coming out story. I’ve told it many times before but on this “Coming Out Day” it seemed worth telling again. It seemed worth reminding myself – and anybody else who wants to listen in – that I did not come out from the fringes of anything but from what former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold famously called "the diverse center."

I came out in the context of a spiritual journey that began with my baptism at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Los Angeles in 1954 (go ahead and do the math!) and continued through Junior Choir, confirmation class, Altar Guilds and Vacation Bible Schools, ECW Boards, teas and luncheons, Diocesan Conventions, vestries and parish day school boards and finally seminary, ordination and parish ministry.

My coming out had nothing to do with a political act. It had nothing to do with a genital act. It had to do with recognizing that I could not be fully present at altar if I was not fully present in myself – and it had to do with being raised in a church where +John Hines taught me that “justice is the corporate face of God’s love,” +Ed Browning told me that in the Episcopal Church there would be no outcasts and the consecration of +Barbara Harris incarnated for me the hope that this church was actually willing to live into its high calling to live out a radically inclusive gospel.

So Happy “Coming Out Day” to me – and to the scores of LGBTQ Episcopalians like me. Are we a challenge to the wider church? I hope so. And I hope we continue to be. I hope that our voices of faith and witness will continue to preach, to protest and to prophesy – that we will stand in the temple and tell the Good News of God in Christ Jesus made present in our lives, our vocations and our relationships. That we will preach that Good News in and out of season.

And here's to our core American values of liberty and justice for all and to everyone committed to our core Episcopal values of respecting the dignity of every human being. Not because we’re politically correct but because we’re gospel obedient -- and because we're going to do whatever we can to offer a rebuttal to the rabid rhetoric of the religious right who have taken the Good News of God’s inclusive love and distorted it into a weapon of mass discrimination. Of humiliation. Of homophobia.

Because the stakes are too high. Because the damage to precious souls is too costly. And because the truth that there are people of faith who proclaim justice and compassion — not judgment and condemnation — is too important not to step up and speak out. As Harvey Milk said “You must come out ... and once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions.” And for me as a Christian, those lies and distortions include hijacking my faith and turning it into weapon to wound God’s beloved LGBTQ children.

So Come Out, Come Out wherever you are. Come Out as proud LGBTQ members of the rainbow tribe. And if you happen to be the Christian variety, then Come Out as a Christian, too. Break down some myths. Destroy some lies and distortions. And if we do it long enough and loud enough and together enough eventually we will be done. And October 11th will roll around and nobody will need to Come Out because there won’t be any closets left.

And wouldn’t that be fabulous?

[photo: Church of the Advocate, Philadelphia. 1997]

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Walking on Water: A Sermon for the Celebration of the Ministry of Bishop Gene Robinson


Walking on Water A Sermon for the Celebration of
the Consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson | St. Thomas, Dupont Circle | October 7, 2023
It was 1998 and I was the Associate Rector at St. Peter's in San Pedro, California. The Inclusion Wars in the Episcopal Church were heating up with a resolution from the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops declaring "homosexuality incompatible with Scripture" -- a resolution my own Diocese of Los Angeles immediately "declined to receive."
A "concerned parishioner" made an appointment to come and talk to me ... and we met in my office. He started out by assuring me he wasn't anti-gay ... "but the thought of two homosexuals standing in the same spot in my church where my wife and I stood and took our marriage vows makes me sick to my stomach -- nothing personal."
Yeah. "Nothing personal." Except, of course, it was.
That moment came flooding back to me this week as I went down the rabbit hole labelled “memory lane” in preparation for the ridiculously awesome privilege of being invited to preach at this celebration of and with my beloved friend, mentor, colleague and sibling-in-the-struggle Gene Robinson.
It came back to me because it was a reminder of just how toxic the fear, ignorance and entrenched homophobia we were up against was back in what now seems like a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away -- as we were organizing and mobilizing to be the change we wanted to see – to become a church where the full and equal claim promised to its LGBTQ members was not just a resolution we adopted but a reality we lived. Nevertheless, we persisted.
Here’s another story:
It was early in 2003 and a feisty group of Episcopal activists had gathered for a meeting of what would come to be called “Claiming the Blessing” to strategize moving legislation forward at the upcoming General Convention to advance our goal of approving liturgies for the blessing of same-sex unions -- an audacious goal at the time.
Canon Gene Robinson was one of those gathered and he shared with us that he had decided to let his name go forward in the election process for the 9th Bishop of New Hampshire. And in a mic-drop moment, he told us while he could not imagine having the hubris to assume he would be elected, he also could not imagine not having a plan in case he was.
And the rest – as they say – is history.
We added “securing consents for Gene’s election” to our to-do list for the 74th General Convention meeting in Minneapolis that July … and we fastened our seatbelts for what would turn out to be an ecclesial version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride -- a ride which led us on a chilly November day to a New Hampshire Hockey Rink surrounded by news vans and security guards … where we passed through metal detectors and bomb sniffing dogs to be part of the great cloud of witnesses to the historic shattering of the rainbow stained glass ceiling with the consecration of the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion.
Emphasis on the “openly.”
Here’s how the local New Hampshire newspaper reported it:
In his first words following consecration, Robinson asked the crowd to be seated so he could say a few words, words cracking with emotion: "It's not about me ... it's about so many other people who find themselves at the margins, and for whatever reason have not known the Lord's favor; your presence here is a welcome sign for those who have been brought into the center. This is not about me; it's not about us, even. It is about God, a God who loves us beyond our wildest imagination. … The eyes of the world are on us, and use every inch of it.
"We couldn't buy this kind of publicity -- Let's use it for God. There are so many people out there that are so hungry for the good news, who have no idea that they are loved the way this God loves us. And they will never hear it if you and I don't tell our stories about how God saved us. Please use this time, this wonderful event, to reach out to all those in the world who so desperately hunger for it.
Let’s use it for God.
That my brothers and sisters and gender fluid siblings is a sound bite summary of why we are gathered here to celebrate Gene Robinson and his 50 years of priestly vocation and 20 years of ministry as a bishop. It is a window into the mission and ministry of a man whose life’s work has been dedicated to reminding absolutely everyone that they are loved beyond their wildest imaginings. And it is absolutely consistent with the Gene I know and love who called me last week and said “I would never presumed to tell you what to preach” … and then said “but don’t preach about me.”
Sorry Bishop. It has to be a at least a little about you. You can absolve me later.
It has to be a little about you because your story – your example – your inspiration – is exactly what we need to equip, inform and prepare us for the work ahead – and to remind us to always, always, always “use it for God.” And my, my, my – there is plenty of work ahead.
For while it is absolutely true that we have made tremendous gains since those early days of taking on the seemingly impossible odds of challenging systemic homophobia, transphobia and heterocentrism in our church, our communion and our nation -- it is also absolutely true that there is an organized and rising tide of all of the above being motivated, mobilized and monetized to turn back the clock on LGBTQ inclusion.
For those of us who have been at this work of bending the arc of history toward inclusion for God’s beloved LGBTQ people over these last decades, it feels a little like we’re in a bad remake of the film “Groundhog Day.” Wait – didn’t we already do that? Didn’t we already fix that? Is that seriously a thing again?
But we in the LGBTQ+ community are not alone in this Groundhog Day scenario.
The overturn of Roe v Wade and the stripping of bodily autonomy from those who can become pregnant has turned the clock back on reproductive freedom while hard won voting rights are being rolled back, disenfranchising Black and Brown voters. Science is suspect, data is debatable and hate is being monetized to finance an upcoming election cycle in our divided and polarized nation.
White Christian Nationalism is on the rise and Homeland Security has declared a heightened threat environment for domestic terrorism from “individuals inclined to commit violence due to their perceptions of the 2024 general election cycle and legislative or judicial decisions pertaining to sociopolitical issues” and a CNN feature this weekend drew a lot of attention declaring “11:00 on Sunday mornings one of the most dangerous hours in America.”
Nevertheless, we persist.
We persist because the Episcopal Church has walked on water before and it can do it again.
Forged out of the crucible of the English Reformation, we have the DNA of Anglican comprehensiveness coursing in our veins – inheriting the legacy of a particular people of faith who in the 16th century when Christians were burning each other at the stake over whether they were Catholics or Protestants found a way … against all odds … to be both. Uniquely wired to hold differences in tension, in the 21st century we continue that legacy – continue that tradition – as we strive to become Beloved Community embracing gay and straight, transgender and non-binary – drawing the circle ever wider.
We persist in proclaiming the Good News of the God who loves us beyond our wildest imaginings and calls us to keep risking stepping out of that boat in faith as we follow Jesus – the radical rabbi from Nazareth who got into his own Good Trouble by centering the marginalized, by siding with the oppressed, by eating with sinners and outcasts, by insisting that the kingdom of God could not come until there was not a single stranger left at the gate – and by insisting that centering those who have been historically excluded is not erasing those who have been historically centered – it is erasing the silos, barriers and boundaries that keep us from being the human family God created us to be.
Yes, it sometimes feels like a bad remake of Groundhog Day as we take two steps forward only to find ourselves one step back on the journey toward turning the human race into that human family.
But it is the journey we are called to make if we are going to move beyond inclusion to transformation of this broken world into the Beloved Community of blessing it was created to be.
For if we stop at inclusion – my inclusion, your inclusion, anyone’s inclusion – we miss the point. Inclusion is Step One. Step Two is to be fueled by the bread and wine made holy we will receive at this table in order to go out into the world as beacons of God’s love and justice … of compassion and transformation.
And there are as many ways to do that as there are beautiful, diverse, gifted images of God gathered here this or any Sunday.
If there was only one way, Jesus would only have had one parable. And he had a million of them … because he knew whoever you were and wherever you found yourself on the journey you needed to hear the Good News he had to proclaim in the way it would speak to your heart and transform you into a partner with him in the work of making that kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.
• This kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed …
• The kingdom of heaven is like yeast a woman added to the flour …
• The kingdom of heaven is a like a shepherd who leaves 99 sheep to search for the one lost one …
• The kingdom of heaven is like a woman who lost a coin,
• like a son who squandered his father’s inheritance …
• like whatever story it is that is going to get through to you that God’s love is absolutely limitless and that Beloved Community includes absolutely everybody.
That is the message every single solitary precious human being brought into this world should know as deep down as it is possible to know anything –
that their existence is a blessing;
that simply being gives them value;
and that the God who loves them beyond their wildest imaginings
wants one thing and one thing only from them –
that they love each other the way God loves them.
That is the message Jesus loved us enough
to become one of us in order to show us how to live it;
and that is the message the institutional church has failed to live up to
over and over and over again
every time it has chosen protecting patriarchal privilege
over birthing Beloved Community.
Nevertheless, we persist.
Which makes me think of another story.
It was 2009 and the Episcopal Church was gathering for its first General Convention after the 2008 meeting of Anglican bishops at Lambeth. The Archbishop of Canterbury had traveled all the way to Anaheim to bring us greetings … and a not so thinly veiled warning, saying he hoped there would not “be decisions in the coming days that could push us further apart” … which was code for opening the way to ordaining any more LGBTQ bishops.
And in that context, we gathered for a Eucharist organized by Integrity – our then LGBTQ Episcopal Church Caucus – where Bishop Barbara Harris of blessed memory was our preacher and uttered these immortal words:
"If you don’t want LGBT folks as bishops, don’t ordain them as deacons. Better yet, be honest and say, “We don’t want you, you don’t belong here,” and don’t bestow upon them the sacrament of Baptism to begin with. How can you initiate someone and then treat them like they’re half-assed baptized?"
My brothers and sisters and gender fluid siblings, the word we have to the world today from St. Thomas Church is that there’s no such thing as half-assed baptized and there’s no such thing as half-assed Beloved Community.
And the word we have for world today is that the Episcopal Church will continue its legacy of being a first responder church … running toward – not away from -- whatever threatens anyone from being a loved, valued and centered member of the Beloved Community we aspire to be ... walking on water if necessary.
Because either we’re all in or none of us are.
Either all of us are safe or none of us are.
Either all of our stories and images are represented or none of us are.
Either the radical welcome that calls us beyond inclusion to transformation includes all of us or none of us.
La lucha continua -- the struggle continues. But we're in it to win it … so as much as we yearn to hear those longed-for words “arriving at destination” from our spiritual GPS, we know there are miles to go before we rest – before liberty and justice for all really means all -- before that kingdom come on earth is not just a prayer we pray but a reality we live.
And so we continue to take two steps forward and the occasional step back …
trusting in the depths of God's mystery that truth will be vindicated someday …
trusting God will continue to bless the courage of our witness ...
trusting you can do the right thing and not just survive -- but thrive –
as we journey together into the future where the God who loves us beyond our wildest imaginings – a future that is not only possible: she is on her way.
I want to close this prayer which is a gift from the inimitable Ana Hernandez giving voice to the words of poet Arundhati Roy, as we ask the God who gave the Gene Robinson and the Episcopal Church the courage to be the change they wanted to see as they stepped out in faith 20 years ago to give us the courage to go and do likewise as we step forward in faith into God’s future. Won’t you pray with me:
Another world is not only possible
She is on her way.
On a quiet day, you can hear her breathing.
She is on her way. Amen.

Sunday, September 03, 2023

Time To Make Some Noise

The email hit my inbox at 12:58pm ... just as I was about to log into lead a 1:00 Zoom meeting. Because it was from our PHOD (President of the House of Deputies) I scanned it quickly to see if there was any breaking news ... and I felt like I'd been gut-punched as I read the words:

On July 9th, 2022, shortly after the House of Deputies elected me to serve as your 34th president, I experienced an incident of unwanted and non-consensual physical contact. I was physically overpowered and lost bodily autonomy by a retired bishop waiting for my arrival to greet our colleagues in the House of Bishops. This, along with some accompanying inappropriate verbal statements, compelled me to submit a Title IV complaint via my chancellor to the intake officer in the Office of Pastoral Development.

PHOD Ayala Harris went on to share that after a 13 month process with multiple affirmations of clear violations of both the spirit and letter of our commitment to "safe church culture" the issue was being referred for pastoral rather than disciplinary action. And all I could muster in the moment was "How long, O Lord?" as I read:
My motivation for sharing this story stems from a deep love for our church. It is from this place of profound care and concern that I raise important questions about safety and accountability. If the president-elect of our House and deputy chair of the Legislative Committee on Sexual Harassment, Sexual Exploitation, and Safeguarding can experience unsafe treatment right at the door of the House of Bishops during the General Convention, then who in our church can truly be safe? If there is no discipline for well-documented violations, then under what circumstances would discipline be imposed?
I was clearly not alone.

Within hours a letter generated by members of the House of Bishops to members of the House of Bishops was posted -- a letter which included the message “We are angered by and deeply concerned about the perception – or the reality – that bishops get a free pass on behavioral issues” and a call for a thorough discussion at the upcoming House of Bishops meeting later this month.

And then my phone started pinging and my DMs started buzzing as a powerful cohort of sister-in-the-struggle organized to create and distribute a sign-on letter for the church-at-large to stand with and speak out for Title IV reforms in general and President Ayala Harris in specific.

The text of that letter is posted below ... and here's a link to add your name

Ready. Set. Go!




To President Ayala Harris: WE STAND WITH YOU. We see you living out the commitment to truth-telling and full inclusion that you promised when you stood as a candidate to lead the House of Deputies. We bear witness that what you have described represents an assault on you, our elected leader, and by extension on the entire Episcopal Church. We acknowledge that you have taken a great risk and shown great courage and love in making visible that which was meant to remain hidden. We commit to work alongside you to build the safe and life-giving church we all deserve. Finally, we are so, so sorry. We recognize the toll that the Title IV process must have taken on your first year as President of the House of Deputies. We are grieved and outraged that on your first day as our elected leader, you were abused by a member of the most privileged class in our church’s hierarchy.


To our Bishops: WE NEED TO HEAR FROM YOU. We applaud those within the House of Bishops calling for accountability and attention to the need for Title IV reforms. That important work does not take the place of a direct and public response to the report that the second ranking officer in our Church – a lay Latina woman of color – was publicly assaulted at the doorway to your House, by a member of your House. She has taken a tremendous risk in making this incident public and calling the church to greater accountability. You now have a choice. Will you make a strong statement about your commitment to safety for all and your unwavering solidarity with the people of color, women, and lay people who regularly experience being “put in our place” when we dare to step into positions of power? Will you step out of the cozy collegiality and privileged opacity that has characterized the (still) overwhelmingly white and male House of Bishops and address all four orders of the faithful? Now is not the time for silence or mumbling about not really knowing all the details. We know enough to make our commitments clear. What do you stand for? What will you fight for? Scripture gives you an excellent starting point, “As for me and my House…”


To Presiding Bishop Curry: WE NEED A GOOD WORD. We are praying for your health and your energy and your spirit. We know that this has come at a time when you needed and deserved rest. We probably count too heavily on you. Your powerful words and your fire for justice have carried us to a whole new place of faith and commitment to the path of love. We know that you have that fire within you, even in times of physical weakness. This is a critical moment for our church and a bland bureaucratic statement will not be enough. We await a powerful word as only you can bring it.


To us all: WE SHARE A POWERFUL FAITH. 1 John 3:2 reminds us, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.” Our Church has faced moments of reckoning before. We are at our best when we let our faith, not our fears, carry us forward. May this be a moment when more is revealed about what it looks like to be a gathered community struggling towards a fuller and deeper commitment to the dignity of every human being.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

We Persist: A Sermon Commemorating the Philadelphia Eleven

A sermon preached at All Saints Church in Pasadena on July 30, 2023 commemorating the 49th anniversary of the ordinations of the Philadelphia Eleven.

It was a hot Monday in July 1974 at the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia -- and as Barbara Harris told the story, "The phones were ringing off the hook."

One woman said ‘Are you people going to ordain women there today?’ and I said ‘Yes, we are!’ and she said ‘You’re gonna split this church right in half.’ And I said ‘The church is already split in half – that’s why we’re doing it.”

 And so on that day July 29, 1974 eleven deacons — who came to be known as the “Philadelphia Eleven” — and four bishops gathered in front of a standing-room-only-congregation at the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia and made history with the ordination of the first women as priests in the Episcopal Church.

Forty-nine years later it might be hard to imagine — in a parish like All Saints, Pasadena with a long history of women clergy serving at this altar; in the Diocese of Los Angeles with a history of women bishops on its staff; and in an Episcopal Church with a woman as one of our former Presiding Bishops — what a radical act that was. But it was.

Protesters at the ordination called the proceedings “unlawful and schismatical; constituting a grave injury to the peace of Christ’s Church.” One priest said, “You are trying to make stones into bread.

Yet, in spite of the warnings and protests, the hand wringing and the phone calls, the threat of schism and the dire predictions of the end of the world as we know it, the Episcopal Church kept moving forward. 

In September 1975 four more women were ordained in Washington DC. And in September 1976, at the 65th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, the ordination of women was “regularized” with a resolution that simply said that the canons for ordination “shall be equally applicable to men and women.”

And while the church may have said it, that did not in fact settle it.

The protests continued, including some congregations (four here in the Diocese of Los Angeles) trying to leave the Episcopal Church over the ordination of women -- and a number of dissenting bishops refused to either ordain or license women in their dioceses.

 In 1994 – twenty years after the ordinations we commemorate here this morning – I was in seminary and serving as the legislative aide to the Bishops’ Committee on Constitution & Canons at the General Convention in Indianapolis … and the chair of that committee was one of those bishops – Bill Wantland from the Diocese of Eau Claire. 

As convention was wrapping up, Bishop Wantland thanked me for my work on the committee and told me I clearly had gifts for ministry but … he couldn’t resist adding … could never actually be a priest because I was ontologically incapable of being an efficacious bearer of a sacerdotal presence.

Yeah. That’s a moment you don’t forget.

What he was saying – with big churchy words – was that very nature of my being as a woman made it impossible for me to preside at this or any altar as an icon of the priesthood of all believers … something he was capable of doing by virtue of having been born a man.

And that – I believe -- was the split Barbara Harris was talking about to the irate woman on the phone in Philadelphia that hot July morning.

It was the split between those who saw the church as an institutional structure steeped in patriarchal privilege they were determined to protect at all costs and those who saw the church as the Body of Christ still growing into the Beloved Community they were determined to help birth into being.

It was the split our rector emeritus of blessed memory George Regas described in his appeal for support for the ordination of women: “I suggest to you that we cannot wait to settle questions of the freedom of all humanity. Women are either free in our society or they are not.”

And it was a split the courageous women, their ordaining bishops and those who supported them were determined to bridge, fix and heal  -- which led us to July 29, 1974 and a moment in the Episcopal Church where those two tectonic plates crashed into each other and set off the ecclesial Richter Scales in a seismic event that challenged what had for centuries been the patriarchal narrative controlling women and limiting men … and making God’s beloved nonbinary children utterly invisible.

And the aftershocks continued – in fact, continue to this day.

Remember – my “ontologically incapable” conversation with Bishop Wantland happened in 1994 … a full 20 years after the ordination anniversaries we commemorate today.

For while we have made tremendous progress, sexism remains a thing in our church, our nation and in our world -- and the church still struggles to live into its high calling to dismantle rather than participate in the myriad interlocking oppressions that keep us from seeing each other as fully human images of God.

Nevertheless, we persist.

The work of dismantling oppressive systems is long and hard and usually involves at least two steps forward and one step back … and what we have learned in this struggle to dismantle patriarchy in the Episcopal Church  applies not just to the finite number of women who feel called to holy orders and the vocation of priesthood – it applies to the ongoing work of becoming Beloved Community where all are seen, all are represented, all are loved, valued and called into the work of being agents of love, justice and compassion in this beautiful and broken world.

 And as we persist, we stand on the shoulders of the Hebrew midwives Shiphrah and Puah, whose story we heard this morning in Exodus; women who were willing to defy Pharaoh in order to bring new life into being …

We persist in the tradition of Sirach and the personified-as-feminine Wisdom that has been part of creation from its very inception …

We persist in alignment with the words from Paul in his letter to the Galatians: that in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female – all are one in our Big Fat Human Family …

We persist in solidarity with the women who were the first proclaimers of the resurrection, ignored by the men who dismissed them as being ontologically incapable of being efficacious bearers of a prophetic witness … rejecting the good news they had to offer as the first preachers of the resurrection as “nonsense.”

We persist because we know that centering those who have been historically excluded is not erasing those who have historically centered: it is erasing the silos, barriers and boundaries that keep us from being the Beloved Community God created us to be.

We persist because we refuse to be limited by the false narrative that maleness, heterosexuality and Whiteness are “normative” reducing all the rest of us to somehow-less-than variants thereof: a narrative that is – for the record – just as destructive to those who identify as men as it is to the rest of us.

As author, activist and academic bell hooks wrote long before the Barbie movie was even a glimmer in Greta Gerwig’s imagination: 

“A patriarchal world view teaches a man
that his value is defined by the things he can achieve,
rather than who he is.
In an anti-patriarchal culture,
males do not have to prove their value and worth.
They know from birth that simply being gives them value,
the right to be cherished and loved.”1

That my brothers and sisters and gender fluid siblings is the message every single solitary precious human being brought into this world should know as deep down as it is possible to know anything –
that their existence is a blessing;
that simply being gives them value;
and that the God who loves them beyond their wildest imaginings
wants one thing and one thing only from them –
that they love each other they way God loves them.

That is the message Jesus loved us enough
to become one of us in order to show us how to live it;
and that is the message the institutional church has failed to live up to
over and over and over again
every time it has chosen protecting patriarchal privilege
over birthing Beloved Community.

Nevertheless, we persist.

And the reason we persist
is because we love the vision of what this church could become
so much that we’re willing to endure the pain of the birth pangs
of bringing that new reality into being
of being co-creators of a world of liberation for absolutely everyone
of believing that another world is not only possible, she is on her way –
of saying yes to the vision Alla Bozarth –
poet, author therapist and one of the Philadelphia Eleven --
describes in her 1978 poem “Call”:

There is a new sound 
of roaring voices 
in the deep 
and light-shattered 
rushes in the heavens. 

The mountains are coming alive, 
the fire-kindled mountains, 
moving again to reshape the earth. 

It is we sleeping women, 
waking up in a darkened world, 
cutting the chains from off our bodies 
with our teeth, stretching our lives 
over the slow earth— 

Seeing, moving, breathing in 
the vigor that commands us 
to make all things new. 

It has been said that while the women sleep, 
the earth shall sleep— 
But listen! We are waking up and rising, 
and soon our sisters will know their strength. 

The earth-moving day is here. 
We women wake to move in fire. 
The earth shall be remade.

The earth shall be remade.  The kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven. Beloved Community will become a reality we live, not just a dream to which we aspire. The other world that is not only possible will no longer be on her way: she will have arrived.

So won’t you pray with me, this prayer we have prayed together before in this sacred space, as we ask the God who gave the Philadelphia Eleven the courage to be the change they wanted to see as they stepped out in faith 49 years ago to give us the courage to go and do likewise  as we step forward in faith into God’s future. 

Another world is not only possible
She is on her way.
On a quiet day, you can hear her breathing.
She is on her way. 3



1 “The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity, and Love” by bell hooks
2 “Call” from Womanpriest by Alla Renée Bozarth
3 Ana Hernández  from text adapted from a quote by Arundhati Roy


Friday, July 21, 2023

Comment on Diocese of Florida Episcopal Election Results

My comment on the results of the most recent episcopal election in the Diocese of Florida after a day of reading, marking and inwardly digesting various letters, comments and reactions.

Yes, there's plenty of pain to go around. And it grieves the heart of God when there is polarization and division. And there is much work to do by all of us who love, tend and seek to call this church to become the Beloved Community it strives to be. But let's not perpetuate the false equivalency between feeling discriminated against because you're disagreed with and being discriminated against because of who you are. One of those things is categorically not like the other.

This is not about who we like, love, or tolerate. This is not about engagement across difference or -- God forbid -- "imposing a litmus test of secular politics on the sacred life of our Church." This is about the end of a long, sad process that was demonstrably hard-wired to disenfranchise Episcopalians who disagreed with their bishop about how to live out our call to be Episcopalians -- a particular people of God who have since the 16th century valued striving to live out the value of Anglican comprehensiveness. And this is about the DM that continues to echo in my heart this day from a long time member of the Diocese of Florida who wrote: "For so many years we felt alone and forgotten. This process has shown us that we are neither."

And the fact that the Episcopal Church has spoken -- through its historic polity -- and refused to consent to the election of a bishop who refused to commit to address the systemic marginalization of God's LGBTQ beloved in the Diocese of Florida is for many -- including me -- something to be grateful for.
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.