Jul. 20–The successful push to open all doors to ordained ministry for openly gay and lesbian Episcopalians last week started with a nudge from Chicago.
Seeking to lift a de facto moratorium on gay bishops and end the deadlock about commitment ceremonies for same-sex relationships, a team of prominent clergy, scholars and laypeople known as the Chicago Consultation spent three years putting together round tables, literature and documentaries that helped pave the way for the Episcopal Church’s landmark decisions to favor both at its triennial General Convention in Anaheim, Calif.
“The Chicago Consultation believes that, like the church’s historic discrimination against people of color and women, excluding GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender] people from the sacramental life of the church is a sin,” said Rev. Ruth Meyers, a co-convener of the consultation and former academic dean at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston.
To change the church’s policies, Meyers said, the consultation provided theological tools and encouraged face-to-face encounters with international leaders to build relationships and support.
Tensions have been mounting since 2003, when Rev. Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest in a committed relationship, was elected bishop of New Hampshire. In protest, several conservative Anglican leaders, especially in Africa, severed ties to the U.S. church.
This summer, some conservative Episcopal leaders formed the Anglican Church in North America with the goal of gaining recognition from the Anglican Communion as a rival province to the 2.1-million-member Episcopal Church.
The Chicago Consultation emerged three years ago as a group of about a dozen concerned parishioners at All Saints Church, a progressive Episcopal parish on the city’s North Side. Calling itself Title III, the group aimed to remind the church of its own canon that said no person should be denied access to the church based on race, gender or sexual orientation.
Organizers believed that canon was ignored when the church adopted guidelines at its last convention in 2006 that discouraged the consecration of bishops whose “manner of life” would strain relations with the 77-million-member Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is the American arm.
“Some of the very strong leaders in the diocese are gay and lesbian,” said All Saints member Ruth Frey, who eventually became coordinator of the consultation. “Because of that model for leadership, we can see easily that there should be room for them to be called as bishops if that’s where they’re so called.”
A subsequent gathering of theologians at Seabury-Western Seminary in December 2007 concluded that theological support and awareness of gay and lesbian issues were lacking. Production began on a documentary about gay and lesbian Africans and a study guide that included a collection of essays and reflections by eminent Anglican theologians.
But Meyers and others credit relationships and surprising revelations from those relationships for changing minds.
Frey said she was floored to learn at the Anglican Communion’s Lambeth Conference, a gathering of the global church every 10 years, that many international bishops equated Robinson’s consecration with the Bush administration.
“The Bush administration had a reputation for going out in the world and doing whatever it wanted [regardless of the] needs or concerns of the rest of the world,” Frey said. “That was the concern and impression — that the Episcopal Church was this sort of renegade, do-whatever-we-want church body. That was very instructive for our work.”
Chicago Tribune – July 20, 2009
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