Saturday, January 16, 2010

GONE...reports from Haitian Episcopal Church

Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Port au Prince (l) completely destroyed by the earthquake along with murals painted by native artists.

The Diocese of Haiti (Eglise Episcopale d'Haiti) is the largest and fastest growing Diocese of the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church is a Province of the world-wide Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church comprises the United States and 13 foreign countries (Haiti being one). Below are some notes from folks on the ground in Port au Prince which is the center (and strongest presence) of the Episcopal Church in Haiti.
Jan. 15, 2010: Update from Canon Beauvoir, Dean of the Seminary in Haiti and a priest in the Diocese of New York. The Rev. Canon Oge Beauvoir called the Trinity Grants Program office today by cell phone. Canon Beauvoir reported that he and his wife are safe and staying in a displacement camp organized by the Bishop of Haiti. Canon Beauvoir is providing leadership at the camp, which is holding roughly 1,000 people. The Sisters of St. Margaret are also there helping people. He described grim conditions.

"It is hard to get food and medicine because everything is closed," he said. At this point, they have water, but the camp only has access to one water tank, and the water is running lower. There is a single truck that takes the injured to the hospital and the dead to be buried. The hospital has been turning back some of the injured. "They can't take that many," said Canon Beauvoir. At the time of the earthquake, Canon Beauvoir and his wife were in their home. "I thought the house was going to crash," he said, but they managed to escape without injury. "For the first time I was certain I faced death. I was certain we were going to die." Bishop Duracin's home was destroyed and his wife was injured. She has been brought to a hospital run by Partners in Health, one of the few still open. "The Bishop has nothing left," Canon Beauvoir reported. Before the line failed, Canon Beauvoir described a litany of buildings that had "crashed" - the seminary, the convent, the university, the trade school. "It's scary," he said. -------------------------------------------

January 13, 2010 From The Rev. Ajax Kessner, priest in the Diocese of Haiti and Deputy to General Convention:

Dear Friends in Christ: We have devastating news to share with you from Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake yesterday. According to reports I have received here in Les Cayes, the damage in Port au Prince and areas around it is terrible. There is no Cathedral. The entire Holy Trinity complex is gone. The convent for the Sisters of St. Margaret is gone. The Bishop's house is gone. The College St. Pierre is gone. The apartment for College St. Pierre is still standing. Bishop Duracin no longer has a house in which to live. In Trouin, four people were killed during a service. In Grand Colline, the church is part of St. Martin of Tours is gone. In St. Etienne Buteau the church, the rectory and the school are gone. In Les Cayes, BTI is OK, but some people were injured trying to get out of the buildings during the quake. The rectory in Les Cayes is in very bad condition.

The Rev. Kesner Ajax Executive Director, Bishop Tharp Institute (BTI)8 Rue du Quai, Cayes>> Tel. Office: 011-509-2286-4676>> 011-509-2286-4677>> Mobile: 011-509-3445-3346>> 011-509-3724-8376>> Mailing address:>> 100 Airport Ave>> Venice Fl. 34285>>>> Or>>>>

Partnership Program Coordinator>> Episcopal Diocese of Haiti>> C/o Lynx Air>> P.O. Box 407139>> Fort Lauderdale, FL 33340

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

With Tongue Planted Firmly in my Cheek

Today the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America will debate and speak on the appropriateness of LGBT people in partnered relationships to serve God as ordained pastors. Reading a USA Today article, I found myself getting agitated and somewhat angry. It wasn't the reporting--it was actually pretty good--succinct, clear and efficient. No, when I read articles like this there is a certain existential assault on LGBT people that heterosexual may not be able to access. The presumptions that heterosexuals stand on when commenting on the sexuality of others is off-putting. So for illustration purposes, I re-wrote the article with the assumption that heterosexuality was being debated, with the hope that a few straight people (with partners they desperately love in their life) will maybe catch a glimpse of what LGBT people feel when their sexuality is debated....pass this on to any you may feel will be moved, or at least get a chuckle from my monkey-business....
(the above photo is of ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson)

The nation's largest Lutheran denomination will consider lifting its ban on straight clergy who are in lifelong, monogamous relationships as it gathers this month for a churchwide meeting.
More than 1,000 delegates will debate church policy Aug. 17-23 at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's (ELCA) biennial General Assembly in Minneapolis.
Therapists, pastors agree: Heterosexual identity no block to spiritual growth

As at previous assemblies, the role of heterosexuals in the 4.6 million-member church is expected to be among the most contentious issues on the agenda.

The question is not whether openly straight clergy can be ordained. They already are — as long as they remain celibate. The question is whether they can have committed relationships and still be called to ELCA pulpits. Partnered straight clergy are technically prohibited, though some congregations break the rule without punishment.

FIND MORE STORIES IN: Local churches Martin Luther Mark Hanson

Like most mainline Protestant churches, the ELCA has been deeply divided for decades over heterosexuality and how to interpret what the Bible says about it.

After much discussion, in 2001 the church formed a task force to study the matter in depth; several years later the same task force was asked to make policy recommendations that would be put to a churchwide vote.

This month, those proposals will come before the voting members in Minneapolis for their consideration. Among the proposals are a 30-page social statement that defines the church's position on sexuality and a four-step plan to lift the ban on partnered straight ministers.

If adopted by the assembly, the four-step plan would remove the blanket ban on non-celibate heterosexual clergy and empower local congregations and governing bodies to make their own decisions on whether to allow them.

The social statement can pass with a two-thirds majority vote, while the four-step plan requires a simple majority.

But the latter undertaking may be easier said than done, since even the task force could not reach consensus within its own ranks, finishing with three dissenting opinions.

"It's our best attempt at trying to deal with the reality that over the years of our study our church has not come to consensus and is not likely to in the foreseeable future," said the Rev. Peter Strommen, a former bishop who chaired the sexuality task force.

To ease concerns, the resolutions stipulate that congregations do not have to hire ministers in opposite-sex unions. On the other hand, congregations would be allowed to keep their openly heterosexual pastor without fear of repercussions.

The Rev. Bradley Schmeling of St. John's Lutheran Church in Atlanta, Ga., informed his bishop after committing to a life partnership; following an ecclesial trial, he was removed from the ELCA's roster of clergy in 2007.

But Schmeling's church has kept him in the pastorate, and the current bishop has not pursued disciplinary actions against the congregation.

"It's true that I probably wouldn't be called to a rural community in the Midwest but that shouldn't mean I shouldn't be called in a context that's more diverse and open," Schmeling said.
In the end, the ELCA could take baby steps instead of a leap. The task force has tried something new, proposing four interconnected resolutions, which must pass alone and in the following order:

• The ECLA is committed to allowing congregations and synods to recognize and support "lifelong, monogamous, opposite-gender relationships."

• The ELCA is committed to finding a way for people in such relationships to serve as clergy in the church.

• The ELCA agrees to respect the consciences of churchmembers who disagree on the issue.

• The ELCA agrees to remove the blanket ban on partnered straight clergy.

Any of the resolutions can be revised from the floor of the assembly. "If it doesn't appeal to people, it was either inadequate or way ahead of its time," Strommen said.

The ELCA assembly comes on the heels of the Episcopal Church's decision last month to lift its de facto ban on straight bishops and develop rites for opposite-sex unions.

"We've been paying pretty close attention to the Episcopal Church it should really be a warning to the ELCA of going down the path of approving in any way of opposite-sex relationships," said the Rev. Mark Chavez, director of Lutheran CORE, a conservative group. "They are on the verge of triggering what may be a schism within the whole Anglican Communion."

Chavez said Lutheran CORE is fighting the ELCA proposals "because it completely disregards the clear words in Scripture giving boundaries for sexual relationships as a lifelong relationship of one man/woman and one man/woman."

Scripture remains a paramount concern in the debate, and no wonder: Lutherans trace their roots to Martin Luther, who believed in "sola scriptura," — that the Bible contains everything necessary for salvation.

"One thing 'sola scriptura' is not is a way of expressing that the Bible is to be taken literally, exactly as written," said Phil Soucy, spokesperson for Lutherans Concerned, a pro-straight advocacy group. "...We do pray for straight rights, and full inclusion is very much within the message of the Gospel and the message of Christ."

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Coming Into Los Angeles

I will be blogging at this site during General Convention....


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

My Silver Jubilee

It was 25 years ago today (in chronos), on the Saturday in the Week of Lent IV (in kairos), that the Rt. Rev. Robert Poland Atkinson laid hands on me in Trinity Church, Parkersburg, WV and asked the Holy Spirit to "make me a priest" in the Church. My seminary field-work supervisor, The Rev. Jim Bradley (of St.Paul's Church in New Haven and now Rector of St. John's Waterbury, CT) was the preacher and used the the words of an architect and reworked them to apply to priesthood by calling me to "provide a space for God's People to become who God created them to be". It was a powerful sermon, as Jim was and is one of the best preachers I have ever heard.

I was somewhat dismayed that I didn't really feel different than I did the day before, I wondered if it really took. One of my presenters, The Rev. Sandye Wilson (now a priest in Newark) knelt and asked me for a blessing right after the liturgy---that felt silly and awkward to me, wet behind the ears, ink not yet dry on my ordination certificate--but I blessed her as best I felt I could! I remember the people coming forward the next morning to receive Holy Communion after my first celebration of the Holy Eucharist at 8 o'clock Eucharist at Trinity Church in Parkersburg, WV (where I was Curate and Ken Price was the Rector) and thinking "These poor people, they actually believe this is real!". But looking into their faces as they held out their hands I realized that it was real.

Much like Baptism and Confirmation the sacrament sets us on a journey of revelation of who we really are. The Church and the Holy Spirit formed me into this vocation over the years. Learning to pray through the Prayer Book came much later in my ministry where I could actually pray rather than worry about the mechanics of presiding and preaching. Its an acquired charism we receive through the prayers, ministries and associations with The People of God. Seminary never prepares one fully for what is to come--it just provides the first toolbox and some crude tools with which to fashion ministry---the "good" tools come much later! It hasn't been an easy road for me. To integrate who God created me to be AND my vocation has had its rough places, difficult times and sorrow. Unlike others, my personal life and vocation have been in conflict in public ways that haven't always been pleasant. I need to acknowledge my children who have had to put up with not just one parent who is a priest but TWO! A "blessing" I would not wish on any child!

Reflecting on the past 25 years I have seen lots of change in the Church (mostly positive). I am proud of the Episcopal Church and its witness to a non-confessional, praying Christianity and its ability to be resilient in the face of the chances and changes of life...its ability to contain within it a catholicism that allows for divergent understandings of our pilgrimage as a Community of the Baptized. I pray that my contributions in ministry have helped bring forth the harvest that is promised by God to all who put themselves in his/her hands. The prayers of the Episcopal Church has arms, legs, heart and mind attached.

One of the poems someone gave me the day of my ordination has kept me honest in this vocational path. Its a prayer by poet John Ciardi (1918-1986). I first kept it in my Prayer Book, scotch taped in as a reminder of the humility and uncertainty that is our call to holiness. I share it with you:

Palaver's No pray-er
PALAVER'S no pray-er.
There's a nice-ninny priest
at tea in everyone,
all cozy and chatty as auntie,
but a saint comes
and throws rocks through the window.

Ironic perhaps. True, absolutely! Thank you for the privilege of this amazing, terrifying and awesome vocation. I couldn't have arrived here without God's grace and your prayers and ministry!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

For the Bible Tells Me So

I recently was able to view "For The Bible Tells Me So" which is a documentary film about gay and lesbian people's journeys as people of faith raised in Churches which gave them various (usually negative) messages about themselves and how they claimed their lives as l/g/b/t people (or didn't).
Recent Prop 8 "post mortem" reports from California claims that the coalition of Mormon, Roman Catholic and Fundamentalist Churches caused its defeat. Alas.

It is hard for gay Christians to stand firm in all of this, knowing the truth deep within them, knowing that it was not "choice" but innate wiring that is not bad, evil, perverted or intrinsically disordered. I hope that things are changing--it seems they are, no matter how slow and ponderous the movement forward may seem. I grieve those who are still filled with self-hating and self-loathing because of what God made them to be. A gay teen is twice as likely to kill themselves even with the loosening of societal prohibitions.

I am not one that is fixated on "Gay Marriage", I believe that the word "marriage" itself is somewhat wounded by heterosexuals, and is so wrapped in religious tradition, that it may be faulty language to do battle over. I do believe that there needs to be legal, religious and social mechanisms for two people of the same gender to receive the same benefits--inheritance, child custody, medical visitation/decision making, tax credits, health benefits etc etc---that heterosexuals receive. If they call it "Civil Union" or "Civil Partnership" and it has the same benefits for same-gender couples as heterosexual marriage, then that is OK --- if it walks like a duck....

Until we have role models for LGBT Youth, heterosexual society, and the larger gay community, then LGBT couples will be considered marginal and freaky by the culture. Until a Church can truly celebrate its same gender couples --- their union and anniversary --- then we have not come that far from Stonewall.

It is my daily prayer that this issue will be resolved soon, as it is divisive in our communities and destructive to people of both orientations. I do not believe that it can be a "states rights" issue. What if that were true of heterosexual couples--you would be married in Massachusetts, but when you move to Pennsylvania you would have no relational status. No. It must be decided by national law and will most likely end up in the Supreme Court (as all civil rights issues do). Its too important and too large to leave to state legislatures.

Jesus said nothing about homosexuality. What he did say was that faithful and long-term love was the highest value. Its what he showed, its what he lived. I would not have been surprised to find Jesus in a gay bar. An Episcopal Bishop once asked one of his gay priests if he would wear his collar into a gay bar. The priest responded that he would not as he felt it might bring scandal to the Church. The bishop replied "Well, that's what separates you from Jesus".
Its pretty clear that St. Paul and the other epistle writers were unclear in what they meant when we translated it to mean homosexual relationships. They had no idea that there was any other category than heterosexual orientation. We ignore much of scriptures "irrational passages"....but take as Gospel truth those that do not effect us, but another class.
I know Christianity has a great deal to offer the gay community and vice versa. I just fear that neither will have the chance to truly know and love each other.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

I Was Homeless and you Gave Me Shelter

For the last few weeks my parish has opened its parish hall on Friday evenings for those who need shelter from the nights we have had with temperatures dipping into the teens and twenties. It was a risk for this parish, a world they had only known from a distance as they always helped other parishes and institutions in serving food and volunteering at Food Pantries. And while this was good, it also didn't impact the parish as a whole, but mainly individuals.

At first we did it with an idealistic zeal as a good thing to do, not as a responsibility. Most of the volunteers were green in dealing with the homeless. Many of them expected the "humble poor" dressed in rags who would be grateful for a place to stay. They didn't expect them to show up in down parkas, most with varying degrees of mental illness and/or addiction, some perfectly sane, some are angry, some are not.

When I was at the Catholic Worker in New York City in the early 1980's I learned a great deal about living with the homeless of the Bowery and St. Mark's area. Living with the homeless was an eye opening experience. Most at the Catholic Worker had some form of mental or developmental disability. They formed a community that was held together by faith and hope and love. Did it change them? Well, it didn't change their mental issues and it didn' change their highly idiosyncratic personalities. While we didn't try and change them directly, we ask everyone to act with respect and in a non-violent manner. There were consequences for violent behavior and disrespect (usually "time out" from the shelter for a time until repentance could take hold).

While there Dorothy Day had posted a quote from St. Vincent DePaul which I never forgot:

You will find out that Charity is a heavy burden to carry, heavier than the kettle of soup and the full basket. But you will keep your gentleness and your smile. It is not enough to give soup and bread. This the rich can do. You are the servant of the poor, always smiling and good-humored. They are your masters, terribly sensitive and exacting master you will see. And the uglier and the dirtier they will be, the more unjust and insulting, the more love you must give them. It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give to them.

This quote is a mystery (and a tad offensive, maybe) to those who are giving up their time to help someone in need, but its true. One thing that I find is that most people want to be independant. We get angry and grouchy when our life depends on the good will or cooperation of another. Human Beings are mostly wired to take care of themselves when they reach adulthood. It's a self-esteem issue. When we can't it upsets us. Many of our guests resent being homeless for they are there for a variety of reasons: rejection by family and friends, health reasons as one of the guys had cancer and was rendered asset-less from the treatments with no medical insurance, others are on that first step to recovery from addiction to alcohol or drugs, others had economic disasters beyond their control visited upon them.

When we serve the poor to make us feel good we will soon run out of steam. They don't respond the way we want often. They make us nervous, feel vulnerable, sometimes take us for granted. I always go back to St. Vincent's quote when I have times like this.

One must have some sense of a higher power who asks us to be love in the world. Its hard as hell, but it is requested nonetheless. As I have studied all major world religions there is not one that says God doesn't require inconvenient love of us. So there must be truth there.

I learn about myself--I am pushed up against my selfishness, pride and limited ability to love when I actually live with the poor for an evening. Instead of interacting with them, I resist. I notice spending all my time in the kitchen with people "like me" rather than our guests as a shelter from these truths.

Its a process to love the poor. We must see ourselves in them. We must listen to their yearnings, desires and hopes and hear the echo's of that in our own heart and life. Its not hard but it is an act of the will to be exposed to the humanity of the poor.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Keith Olberman on Prop 8 (watch!)