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.
While yesterday morning, people seemed poised with tension, today they seem not so much resigned as discouraged. The whispered buzz in the elevators and on the escalators is that the differences on both sides may be too broad for the church to reconcile at this 11-day meeting.
1:00 p.m. A Stairwell in the Network Arena
It is a 10-minute walk from the convention center to the temporary headquarters of the American Anglican Council, a group of Episcopal conservative parishes and individuals opposed to the full inclusion of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered persons in the church. To offer recognition and full inclusion, they feel, would be opposed to traditional Christianity and the teachings of Christ.
Each day of the convention, they gather for lunch and a briefing at the foot of a broad staircase in the Nationwide Arena, which begins with the gentle strumming of an acoustic guitar, as a priest leads the gathered–about 125 of them–in a song.
“Great is the Lord, He is holy and just,” they sing. The stairwell amplifies and lifts up their song. “By His power, we trust in His love.”
Just as V. Gene Robinson, the man, is as plain and as normal looking as a man can be, so are these folks, who are so opposed to his consecration as bishop and ministry to the church’s LGBT people. Their official tags identify them as being from well-known places New York, Georgia, Montana, West Virginia, Florida, South Carolina, and Texas. They eat the apples included in their lunches the usual way–in a methodical circular gnaw about the core. When they are done they do not foam at the mouth.
After the song, Canon Ellis Brust, the corporate operating officer of the AAC, which claims to represent tens of thousands of distraught Episcopalians, delivers a devotional. “Fear of the Lord is just the starting place of truth and divine wisdom,” he tells them from a lectern at the foot of the stairs. “But when was the last time you heard a sermon on the fear of the Lord?”
They were about to. After a discussion of what resolutions and proposals were to appear before the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, the church’s two legislative bodies, Canon David Anderson took the lectern. Anderson is president of the AAC and has been a vocal opponent and prolific blogger of the actions the church took in 2003 with Robinson’s consecration.
He commended the church body for being so open and willing to listen to all voices during last night’s hearing. Then he said, “We have done enough talking. Let’s move to action.”
That action, many fear, will be to step away from the Episcopal Church to membership with another body in the Anglican Communion, an umbrella organization of 38 autonomous Anglican denominations. That would be a step to schism.
Unless . . .
“In a perfect world, what I really want is for the Episcopal Church to do a one-eighty,” Anderson continues. “To completely change its mind, to truly repent, to truly reaffirm the tenets of the Christian faith. I want the Episcopal Church to roll back the misdeeds and the mistakes of the last several years. Then we will have a starting point for a conversation of reconciliation.”
But then he continues, “It will be a miracle on the order of the parting of the Red Sea. But with the God we believe in, we know that is possible. But we also know the Episcopal Church and we know that statistically it is not likely.”
As he speaks, people are quiet. No one looks happy about any of this. But no one seems ready to back down, either.
“It is either time for reconciliation based on the truths of the church, or it is time for a divorce,” Anderson finishes. With an a cappella chorus of “Alleluias” and a “Go in Peace,” everyone files out the doors and back to the two houses of the convention, where they will work to influence the afternoon’s proposals.
If the AAC divorces itself from the Episcopal Church, where will they go? Rumor has it that Peter Akinola, the Archbishop of Nigeria who has been particularly vehement in his opposition to the Episcopal Church’s approval of Robinson, is in the city awaiting a vote on the LGBT-related issues. If he is, he could lead the disappointed conservatives out of the convention hall and into his branch of the Anglican Communion.
So far, this is only a rumor.
Press room at the Columbus Convention Center
In 2003, the church consecrated V. Gene Robinson as the ninth Bishop of New Hampshire, making him its first openly gay bishop and sending shockwaves through the Anglican Communion, the worldwide umbrella organization of 38 autonomous church bodies of which the Episcopal Church is a member. At this year’s meeting in Columbus, Ohio, church officials and laypeople will have to deal with the fallout of Robinson’s consecration and the blessing of same sex unions performed by some Episcopal clergy.
About 1,100 people–a capacity crowd–are packed into every seat in this largest meeting room in the Hyatt Hotel.