[first posted in Blogs 1/14/2011]
The Episcopal church seems to make the headlines via parishes that leave because they don’t approve of gay bishops, gay priests, blessing of same-sex couples, etc. (Most don’t approve of women priests either – certainly not women bishops!) It’s happened here in Connecticut – and the court battles are not over. Fortunately a majority of the Episcopal bishops, priests and congregations in the US do not support the conservative agenda. (Unfortunately this is not the case in much of the rest of the world.)
However, what really matters to us as individuals is the parish itself. In most ways a parish is quite independent and sets its own agenda – including its view of the LGBT community. Here at St. Paul’s our basic view was settled a long time ago when an openly gay priest was installed. Those offended by the LGBT community left – and controversy left with them.
We have gay, lesbian and transgender parishioners and our previous priest was a lesbian. However, we are not a “gay church” we are a diverse church. You will find poor and rich (actually more like middle class comfortable), different occupations, different backgrounds (including different religious backgrounds), some racial diversity, and the full range of sexuality and gender identity. All this in a small, friendly church where everyone is a full member of the family (of course this includes a few slightly strange relatives)!
Large organizations, such as the Episcopal church, like to be safe and not make the membership too uncomfortable (remember the civil right era when the mainstream churches mostly had to be dragged into the struggle?). As we can see, the right wing does not compromise. It also does not allow for the possibility of any scriptural interpretation besides their own. As a result, those of us on the opposite side are expected to make all the compromises in order to keep the organization together. Under many circumstances compromise can be a very reasonable thing. However, no compromise can be justified when issues of justice are at stake. Although our main concern is what happens here in Willimantic and its surroundings, we do add our voice to this ongoing battle when possible. To illustrate, the following is a resolution passed by the vestry (Episcopal-speak for the council or board) in October 2006:
I. Resolved: that the Vestry of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Willimantic, CT, urges the Rt. Rev. Andrew Smith, Bishop of Connecticut, to lift immediately his inhibition regarding the blessing by clergy of same-sex unions and their officiating at civil unions.
II. Resolved: that the Vestry of St. Episcopal Church, Willimantic, CT, affirms our shared mission of Christian inclusiveness by endorsing the following paragraphs from a resolution recently adopted by the parishes of St. Francis Church, Stamford, and St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk:
We are committed to full inclusion of everyone, no matter who they are or where they may be on their faith journey, and we oppose any attempt to discriminate against any person based upon race, gender, age, sexual orientation, physical ability, or socio-economic status.
We will continue to invite those who are not yet here to experience God’s radical welcome as an Episcopal church doing church differently and functioning as the kind of Episcopal church we believe God expects us to be. We are firm in our understanding that in God’s economy there are no outcasts. And we welcome dialog with those who disagree with our perspective.”