Veterans of Church Wars Past
A Mild-Mannered Revolutionary
7:30 a.m. The Debate Continues . . . .
The Episcopalians are behind. They had planned to vote on their response to the Windsor Report by tonight, Friday night, but the language of their response–is it contrite enough? is it reflective enough? is it repentant enough–has stirred so much debate and so much real anguish on both sides that the vote has been postponed.
Meanwhile, rumors persist that Peter Akinola, the Archbishop of Nigeria, has come to town secretly and may be waiting to lead conservatives, who do not think the church should recognize homosexual priests like V. Gene Robinson, the Bishop of New Hampshire, away from the larger church. At the last meeting, in 2003, some of these conservatives walked out of the convention hall and they have since made noises about breaking from the Episcopal Church for good. Still, these are just rumors. No one has seen him–or if they have, they aren’t talking–and he would be a hard man to miss in his rainbow colored robes and pointy archbishop’s hat.
Meanwhile, it seems that the mood has turned more somber than before. That’s what’s missing from this convention–an air of celebration. I am sure it is here, but I have not seen it. Instead, people move more purposefully through the convention hall, going more slowly from room to room.
Perhaps they watched V. Gene Robinson and David Anderson, leader of the opposition to Robinson’s ordination and president of the American Anglican Council, take their struggle to “Larry King Live.” Both men looked beset. Maybe they are just tired. There have been daily events from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Or perhaps they were up late attending a special talk on reconciliation. Retired Missouri Senator John Danforth, an Episcopal priest, called the 500 or so folks gathered in the hall reserved for the Eucharist, to “a higher calling. “Ours is a special calling to the ministry of reconciliation,” he said.
Tired or not, the biggest battle–a vote on whether or not to continue to consecrate gay bishops and same sex unions–is still ahead.
1:00 p.m. Trinity Cathedral
I have found the celebration.
Within the stone walls of the historic Trinity Episcopal Church near the Ohio state capitol, about 50 men and women are scattered in the dark wooden pews. They are marking 30 years of women’s ordination in the Episcopal Church. It wasn’t until 1976–after an official vote at another Episcopal Convention–that women could be ordained officially as priests in the church.
“Who are we, anyway?” the first reader, a small woman in a blue blazer, reads as the service starts. “We are the ones who make visible what was never seen. We broke the stony ground. We broke the stones! We brought a sea change to the world that has brought a radiance that is wondrous to behold.”
The butterscotch walls cast a warm glow that is punctuated by the bright fractals of stained glass windows or saints and medallions. A single soprano voice rises above the strains of an unseen piano to ask that God be among them.
Two days before, I attended a similar gathering in a side room of the convention hall, a liturgy in honor of the same anniversary. The gathered women–about 300–sang and danced in the aisles to the music of piano and tambourine. Most were in their 50s or above; most had the gray hair to show it. All had the spirit to show they had made the long, long journey from the pews to the altars.
“When you need God,” one of the first women to be ordained says from a lectern at the front, “No one cares if the person he sends is male or female.”
Dr. Fran Toy, a priest who serves the church in Asia, remembered being pushed to the fringes of her congregation not only because she was a woman, she also because she was Asian-American. Her bishop told her someone had objected to her taking a leadership position because “She is so short.”
The Rev. Dr. Peggy Bosmyer-Campbell, ordained in 1977, recalled the vote at the 1976 convention. There was “a holy silence,” she said, as the votes were tallied, and then riotous cheers from both men and women as their ordination was approved. “After 2,000 years of tradition,” she remembered, “We stepped out into the unknown. I was so proud of my church.”
All of this sounds familiar to me. I have heard similar language–tales of repression and marginalization–from those in the church who would like to see full inclusion of lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgendered persons and reconciliation with those who do not.
It occurs to me, as I watch these women embrace and cry that maybe in 30 years, at another Episcopal General Convention, people will gather–their hairlines graying, their waistlines expanding–to celebrate a history of inclusiveness for another group that now feels they do not have a place at the table
At the end of this liturgy, the women rise and move toward the walls, bringing with them chains of paper. On each pink or red construction paper link they have written the name of a woman in the diocese who has been ordained in the past three decades. When they get to the perimeter of the room, they join their chains together to form one vast rosy circle of names. They hold the chain up over their heads and begin singing:
Many gifts flow from one spirit
Many talents from our Lord;
Many ministries to thy service
By our acts Thou be adored.
If just one of our body suffer
All respond in deepest pain;
And when one of us is honored,
All rejoice in Jesus’ reign.
June 15, 2006
10:30 a.m. In the halls of the Greater Columbus Convention Center
It is day three of the Episcopal General Convention, the church’s triennial gathering, and as bishops, priests and others move through the halls of the convention center, many seem almost hung over after last night’s long and heated hearing. More than 1,100 Episcopalians packed the Hyatt Grand Ballroom to discuss whether or not to repent and apologize for electing V. Gene Robinson as the church’s first openly gay bishop three years ago and to declare a moratorium on same-sex unions.