11 October 2008

Pray for Fr. Geoff

Fr. Geoff Farrow is such a dangerous person hat he has been suspended from the RC priesthood and removed as a pastor.

What horrible crime has he committed? He spoke against Proposition 8 (removes the right of same-gender couples in California to marry) which the homophobic hierarchy of the RC church endorses.

He has risked everything in defense of his gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

I wrote him a note of encouragement last week. His reply was really wonderful. He said that it is nice to know that he has "close relatives" who are willing to welcome him to the family table.

Pray for this courageous priest. Visit his blog and leave him some words of admiration and encouragement. Many of Fr. Jake's children have already done so.

I'm gettin married in the morning

Lest you all fall over in a dead faint, no I'm not getting married tomorrow, but My friend is.

I would like to offer my prayers and love to a blog friend and her beloved who will be married in San Diego.

"IT" (pronounced I. T. not "it") is a remarkable person. We met over at Fr. Jake's former blog. I was attracted to her as soon as I heard her story. She says she is still an atheist who found the Episcopal Church. I say she is just in denial about her conversion. :)

People such as "IT" make the Episcopal Church a beautiful patchwork quilt of people who love God. I'd rather have a church of people like IT, who question, rather than a church of people who promote hate.

You'll never guess what she and her beloved asked for a wedding present from each of their friends -- a donation to the No on 8 campaign. I did, and so should you.

On a related note I just stumbled upon a really cool blog, California Episcopalians for Equality. You really should go make a visit.

09 October 2008

Letter to the Standing Committee of Pittsburgh

October 9, 2008

The Rev. Dr. James B. Simons
St. Michael’s of the Valley Episcopal Church
P.O. Box 336 Ligonier, Pennsylvania 15658

Dear Jim:

Thank you for your letter of 8 October 2008, advising that you have appointed the Rev.
Jeff Murph and Ms. Mary Roehrich to the Standing Committee, and that you are working together to lead the reorganization of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. I give thanks for your efforts, and I pledge my support and that of this Office in this vital task.

As a first step, and in response to the specific request in your letter, I have asked the Rt.
Rev. F. Clayton Matthews, Bishop for Pastoral Development, to meet with you and your colleagues on the Standing Committee to assist in obtaining appropriate episcopal assistance for the Diocese in the coming months.

I give thanks for the work that the Standing Committee has undertaken and look forward
to learning of your progress as you move forward in this mission. You and the people of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh continue in my prayers and those of Episcopalians across this Church. I remain

Your servant in Christ,
Katharine Jefferts Schori

Diocese of Pittsburgh reorganized

The Episcopal Church USA has recognized new leadership for a reorganized Pittsburgh Episcopal Diocese. This comes after a vote Saturday by some clergy and laity to secede from the national church and align with the more conservative Southern Cone of the Anglican Communion.

The clergy voted 121 to 33 and lay leaders voted 119 to 69 to split from the U.S. Church. Robert Duncan served as Bishop of the Pittsburgh Episcopal Diocese for 11 years before he was deposed last month by the Council of Bishops of the Episcopal Church USA. He now becomes the Episcopal Commissary from the Southern Cone to Pittsburgh. Bishop Duncan led the secession movement following the ordination of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire.

Following the vote to secede, at least 20 parishes voted to remain with the U.S. Church. Today the national leadership recognized a Standing Committee to serve as the ecclesiastical authority of the reorganized Pittsburgh Diocese in the absence of a bishop. The Reverend Doctor James Simons, rector of St Michael's of the Valley, chairs that committee. Reverend Doctor Simons told DUQ News that the first task is pastoral...reaching out to those parishes and members who are in pain because of the split.

Simons says that they will hold a reorganization convention December 13 at which an interim bishop will be chosen to serve for a year or two until a selection committee is formed and conducts the process for electing a new bishop. Reverend Simons says he believes that sometime in the future there will be reconciliation in the Pittsburgh Diocese.

The passing of an Episcopalian Icon

Yesterday, 7 October, one of the Episcopal Church's 20th centruy icons died. I do not want his death to go unnoticed. Today's post is the article that appeared in yesterday's Washington Post.

Francis B. Sayre Jr., who as dean of Washington National Cathedral for 27 years oversaw much of its completion and used his pulpit to confront McCarthyism, racial tensions and the Vietnam War, died Oct. 3 at his home on Martha's Vineyard, Mass. He was 93 and had diabetes.

Sayre, whose grandfather was President Woodrow Wilson, was appointed to the cathedral in 1951 and quickly became a leading national voice of conscience. As the church's fifth dean, he also presided over daily operations and focused on finishing the massive Gothic structure whose cornerstone had been placed in 1907.

Washington National Cathedral is now the sixth-largest cathedral in the world and is often regarded as America's counterpart to England's Westminster Abbey as a national center for mourning and celebration. Attracting thousands of followers, Sayre continued the cathedral's tradition of preaching the social gospel, which applies Christian ethics to matters such as war, race relations and economic inequality.

"Whoever is appointed the dean of the cathedral," he told The Washington Post in 1977, "has in his hand a marvelous instrument and he's a coward if he doesn't use it."

From the pulpit, he denounced the tactics of Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy at the Wisconsin senator's peak of influence investigating Communist influence in government and Hollywood. He called McCarthy part of a crew of "pretended patriots" and also chided the American people for letting demagogues achieve prominence.

"There is a devilish indecision about any society that will permit an impostor like McCarthy to caper out front while the main army stands idly by," he said in a 1954 sermon.

His criticism of politicians extended to presidential candidates, and he once likened Lyndon B. Johnson's ethical foundations to a termite-ridden house. He did not spare other preachers, reproaching evangelist Billy Graham for overemphasizing personal spiritual renewal and not sufficiently addressing the need for social reform.

"The salvation of the world doesn't come about by arithmetic," he said, referring to the mass gatherings hosted by Graham. "There is a dimension to sin that goes beyond the individual."

Sayre spoke out on the injustice of school segregation in 1953, a year before the U.S. Supreme Court declared racially segregated public schools unlawful. He went on to champion home rule in the District in the early 1960s, saying the matter was less about race than maintaining the self-interest of an "oligarchy" led by businessmen who create "apathy and indifference to real social and civic concerns" by denying citizens a vote.

He was later elected to President John F. Kennedy's Committee on Equal Opportunity and was among a group of several leading Washington-area clergymen to accompany the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on his 1965 voting rights march in Selma, Ala.

He spent a decade campaigning for King to speak at the cathedral before prevailing. King gave what became his last Sunday sermon -- a speech favoring civil rights and world peace -- before being assassinated in Memphis in April 1968.

During subsequent years, he opened the cathedral to often-raucous youth religious Masses and antiwar protests. He allowed conductor Leonard Bernstein to lead a free "counter-inaugural" concert in January 1973 against the reelected President Richard M. Nixon. If Sayre was generally seen as a friend of progressives, he was at least temporarily abandoned by many of them when his 1972 Palm Sunday sermon about the "moral tragedy of mankind" sharply criticized Israel for "oppressing" Arab residents of Jerusalem.

Sayre's career addressing social challenges was not a lonely crusade. He found support for his causes from many pulpits across the country. His prominence and eloquence made him one of the church's leading figures of the period, said James D. Anderson, a retired Episcopal priest who worked at the cathedral from the late 1960s to the late 1980s.

Sayre's legacy was also in the building itself. Although not officially completed until 1990, the cathedral's bell tower and nave were finished on his watch. So were a majority of the stained-glass windows, including one containing a moon rock from the Apollo 11 mission.

Trying to rush the construction for the bicentennial celebrations, however, left the church in heavy debt.

Francis Bowes Sayre Jr. was born Jan. 17, 1915, in the White House. He was the fourth grandchild of President Wilson and the first-born of Wilson's daughter Jessie, who died in 1933.

07 October 2008

Working for the cause of equality

I spent a part of my Tuesday working the “No on 8” booth at a farmer’s market in a town a few miles from my home. It was an interesting experience. Bart (of Bart and Tony! – my friends who were married in August) put out an S.O.S. this morning asking for last minute volunteers. I’m glad I decided to work the booth.

I've lived here for the past 51-years (coincidentally, I’m 51-years old). Never in my wildest dreams would I have believed that in this Republican, fundamentalist area, there would be a booth supporting same-gender marriage, or that I would be working in it. But there was, and I did.

I was pleasantly surprised at the number of people who stopped by just to say "right on," or “I'm with you,” or “I'm voting no, too.” They ran the full spectrum from about 4th Grade on up to senior citizens. (Yes, a fourth grade girl, with younger brother in tow, stopped and talked to us for quite a while; said she believes “everybody should be able to get married if they want to.).

We had only one person (an elderly woman) who engaged us in debate, on religious grounds, of course. I nearly had her converted though. I learned that her nephew is gay. I used her love for him as part of my logic of why she should vote “no.” I know it was an appeal to emotion and therefore a logical fallacy, but the whole anti reasoning is an appeal to emotion, so why not use their logic against them?

Just as she was committing to truly reevaluate her opinion, my booth mate entered the conversation and ruined the progress I'd made. He has two children who are gay (he is straight by the way). I admire him for devoting so much time to the cause of equality in marriage. However, he came on like ActUp, and told her “people like you scare me.” Well, there went all the good I’d accomplished

It was the young people who really amazed me. They were all, without exception, firmly in the “no” camp. One young man, whom I was sure had made an anti-gay remark, came back with his mother, and explained the whole “yes/no” issue to her, and told us he would be voting “no.” (He was also shirtless when he came back!) Every person under about 30-years of age stopped and told us they were voting against the initiative.

I was surprised at the number of lesbians who were at the farmer’s market. They all stopped and talked to us. I must admit, and I apologize for this, I don’t think about lesbians very often (but, I really don't think much of any one's sexuality.) So I was pleasantly shocked by the number of female couples in our area. One couple had only been married a few days. Another couple had a blessing sixteen years ago but was married just this last August.

One young woman mentioned the religious aspect of the debate,and said that, because of the “ignorance and intolerance” in the religious community, she could never attend church. I invited her to St. James’ and told her our a new priest is a lesbian and who has a partner. The woman nearly fell over and said, “Now, THAT is the kind of church I can go to.” When she left, she told me she would see me Sunday, and I told her only if she comes to the eight o’clock mass. I really hope to see her there because she was absolutely delightful to talk with.

A straight couple in their late twenties stopped by and talked with us for about ten minutes. I learned they are from Wyoming and he is a biologist working in our area for two months. They were both very supportive of the equal rights cause.

All in all, it was a very good experience and I learned a lot.

During the conversation with the biologist from Wyoming (sigh), I had to think of what this day is – 7 October. And I marvelled that this young straight couple was so supportive of Gay rights, and that they are from Wyoming. I could not think of a better way to honour Matthew than by making my first foray into political activity in support of GLBT rights.

I find it incredible that after my positive experience today, and the one hundred percent support of every young person at the farmer’s market that I should find an article by IT over at Friends of Fr. Jake that the young people are now turning their support to the “yes” camp. I just cannot believe that survey is accurate. I have to work now to prove it false.

I also learned that a young gay man was severely assaulted and gang raped in Houston, Texas last Sunday by at least three US Soldiers.

As I write this review of my day, it is almost exactly ten years to the hour when Matthew Shepard was abducted. Have things changed much in the past ten years?

Ora et Labora, brothers and sisters, ora et labora.

05 October 2008

Yesterday was the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. Francis was a healer, seeing to bring the church into a closer union with Christ.

For Evensong this week, I turn to Francis' words of praise in stead of a quiet hymn. We need Francis' and his way of expressing what "it's really all about" them this weekend.

My thanks to the CJCLDS's Mormon Tabernacle Choir for uplifting us this evening.

Evensong from the BBC was recorded in Westminster Abbey, Wednesday, the 300th anniversary of the death of John Blow. This week's Evensong is particularly lovely.

Pentecost XXI

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20, Psalm 19; Philippians 3:4b-14; Matthew 21:33-46

Today’s gospel is like any clear, simple narrative account in many regards. First of all, it is a story, not exactly a factual account: the characters are anonymous, and the setting is spare. It’s another in a long series of stories told by Jesus, a series that we’ve been hearing for a few Sundays, and will continue to hear for a few weeks yet.

Jesus tells us a story, about an anonymous landowner. We hear it and we figure it’s just another ordinary, unremarkable, simple story: no complications, no allusions, no hard life lessons to be learned. Jesus’ story appears to be just another story.

And what we may miss on first hearing is how like Jesus’ own personal situation the story is. In this parable, we can imagine the landowner as a metaphor for God the Father, the First Person of the Trinity.

The Creator did a lot more than plant a vineyard, put a fence around it, dig a wine press in it, and build a watchtower; but those images show us some basic truths. God created this earth, and the land on it; God separated the water from the land; God leased the land to people; and God developed the property, with and through the work of those human hands.

Simple, right? God owns the universe, and we are mere tenants in it, or stewards of it.

And then we look at the history of the Israelites: God sent his holy prophets to his people, and great leaders, and monarchs, people like King David, Moses, the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. And yet the people didn’t listen to what the leaders said. They rebelled, and sinned, and transgressed the law – again and again and again.

So God sent his only son, saying, “They will respect my son.” Up till now, we can imagine this story – and Jesus’ place in it – with no difficulty whatsoever. The landowner’s son, of course, represents Jesus, God’s son. And the son, like Jesus, comes to the story after a series of unsuccessful attempts to deliver a message.

Yet when Jesus tells this story, he knows – and reveals – something else about himself. Jesus predicts something more profound than his return home. Jesus predicts his death, his murder at the hands of our fellow humans.

Just imagine what it was like to hear Jesus tell this story.

Just imagine how it feels to see him drive out all who were selling and buying in the temple, to hear him say, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.”

Just imagine what it would be like to take part in the great procession from the Mount of Olives, with Jesus riding on a donkey, and the crowds shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”

Just imagine what it was like to sit and listen to him tell stories – prophetic stories, about himself and about us – the very next morning. That’s the setting for this passage from Matthew’s gospel, by the way.

Today’s gospel is not about Jesus teaching on a mountainside early in his ministry, or visiting a village to cure the sick. Today’s gospel is about Jesus stopping to teach on his way to the cross. Jesus, who knows that he has come from God and is returning to God, Jesus tells us his story. Jesus tells us the story in simple, uncomplicated, ordinary terms. He does this, I suspect, not because he thinks we are dullards. Rather, because he wants to be sure we don’t miss the simplicity of the message.

God has not given up on the ancient Israelites, just as God has not given up on us. No matter how unloving and uncaring, no matter how many mistakes we make, no matter how often we turn away from his messengers, God still loves us, and continues to reach out again and again and again.

And when we reject a stone, when we turn away from Jesus, when we kill the landowner’s son or commit some lesser sin, well, then God just turns around and takes that very rejection and makes it into the cornerstone of the strongest foundation ever, for a structure built of love. God hasn’t given up on us: not then, not now, not ever.

For God loves us, and desperately wants us to produce fruit for the kingdom. God craves a new Jerusalem, where all people live together in harmony, where peace and prosperity abound, where truth and justice reign. But God loves us nonetheless even though we have not yet achieved this state.

God loves us so much that God just keeps on telling us that – in stories, in sermons, in our everyday experiences. God loves us so much that he created us, and made this world for us to live in as his beloved friends. God loves us so much that he gave his only son to suffer death upon a cross. And God loves us so much that he made sure that this rejection, this defeat, was not the end of the story. God loves us so much that the end of the story is yet to come, and it is more glorious and wonderful than we can imagine or understand.

God’s story and our stories are not over yet. There is still time for change, still time for new plot lines, still time to introduce new characters.

The story of salvation is not like a fairy tale; they always end with everyone living “happily ever after.” But our lives are pretty rarely like that. Sometimes, then, knowing that the story is not yet over can be very good news indeed.

Consider, for example, the current financial situation here in this country. Major investment banks have failed, a huge international insurer needs to be bailed out, and our two government-backed mortgage agencies have collapsed. And this may be only the tip of the iceberg.

This particular chapter in our story is a scary one. Retirement savings are at risk, tax revenues are in question (and therefore, significant tax hikes are a possibility), and the health of the US economy is threatened.

Churches are not exempt from all this. We rely on the voluntary contributions of our members, and we know that members are as generous as they are able to be. When your investments are going well, when your savings are safe and secure, when your salary is increasing, then you are able to be generous to your church. In difficult times, charitable giving declines. That is understandable, as we need to take care of our own family first. Yet it creates a challenge that every congregation in this country will have to face in some way.

There may be tough times ahead. We may not suffer the likes of the Great Depression, but it is clear that things are already worse than they were just a few months ago.

And that is why we give thanks that the story is not over, not yet. There is time for the Federal Reserve Bank and the US Congress to come to the rescue. There is time for the market economy to adjust to a new set of circumstances. And there is time for God’s Word to be heard anew.

When God’s Word is carefully considered, there are fewer financial crises, less economic inequity, and there is greater stability for everyone.

In 2007, the average C.E.O. of a Standard & Poor’s 500 company received $14.2 million in total compensation. Five hundred people made a total of more than $7 billion.

At the same time 1.1 billion people in this world had consumption levels less than $1 per day – what the World Bank describes as “extreme poverty.” And a total of 2.7 billion live on less than $2 a day. That’s about 40 per cent of the world’s population.

Surely this is not a sign of God’s inestimable love for all people.

This is why the United Nations’ set of Millennium Development Goals is so crucial for us as people of faith. Goal number one is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, and the first target within that is to halve by the year 2015 the number of people whose income is less than $1 a day.

This is not only a goal of the U.N. It is the mission of the Church. In his earthly ministry, our Savior demonstrated solidarity with the poor, the sick, the outcast, and those on the margins of society. He was anointed to bring good news to the poor. And now that ministry has fallen to us.

We are the Body of Christ here on earth, and it must be our care and delight to help lift up the most lowly, to exalt the humble and meek, to fill the hungry with good things. Justice, mercy, and love for all people: that is what God intends. And we can help.

When the landowner returns, let us be found working not for our own selfish greed, but for the good of all people. The Millennium Development Goals are incredibly ambitious, and we probably will not achieve them fully in just seven short years. But every small step we take means one fewer person in extreme poverty, one more productive citizen of the world, one more righteous soul striving for the kingdom of God.

By more faithful participation in God’s mission for humanity, we can and will make this world a better place for every one of God’s beloved children.

-- The Rev. J. Barrington Bates is rector of the Church of the Annunciation in Oradell, New Jersey.