Issue Nine: Holy Moments; Falling in Love with God; The ‘Gay Kid from Utah’ Finds His Church

Print edition: Issue Nine, for Thursday, July 2

In this issue:

“Reflecting on Holy Moments” A series of short (and very short) stories.
+Feeling the Spirit by the Rt. Rev. Susan Goff, Bishop Suffragan, Diocese of Virginia
+A Seat at the Table by Ed Keithly, Managing Editor, Center Aisle
+Refreshed and Reconnected by Lisa Kimball, Ph.D., Professor of Christian Formation, VTS
+Infectious Faith by Chris Sycama
+A Chaplain and Her Dog by the Rev. Andrea Baker (web only)
+Surrounded by Love by Amber Carswell, Design Team, Young Adult Festival
“The ‘Gay Kid from Utah’ Finds His Church”
By Jeffrey Stevenson, Staff Writer, Native Utahan
“Making It Easy to Fall in Love with God: Worship at GC78”
By the Rev. Canon Patrick Wingo, Canon to the Ordinary, Diocese of Virginia
A Letter to the Editor (web only)
Responding to “A Question of Context: Do Churches Need a Universal Media Strategy?
“The Question is Now for Us, and Not for the Courts” (web only)
By David Quittmeyer, Esq., Lay Deputy, Central Gulf Coast

Reflecting on Holy Moments

This is the sixth General Convention for Center Aisle, and we’ve never cried this much before.

That’s not a bad thing. It just seems there are more misty-eyed moments – indeed, holy moments – when something we’ve heard, something we’ve been reminded of, opens up our hearts…and our tear ducts. Were you moved to tears during this long, full, Spirit-filled convention? Here are some of those moments that moved us, sometimes to tears.

Feeling the Spirit

By the Rt. Rev. Susan Goff, Bishop Suffragan, Diocese of Virginia

goff-consecration_croppedThe Holy Spirit has been soaring these 10 days. She’s been swooping down and whooshing up, sometimes brushing us gently with the softness of feathers, sometimes gripping us fiercely with the sharpness of talons. I’ve felt the brush and the grip during this General Convention as we’ve witnessed history and as we’ve made history. And I’ve seen it in the eyes of others when the Spirit flew so close that tears came unbidden.

One of the many times I was moved to tears during this convention was during the sermon of the Rev. Cathlena Plummer. She told of going to a dangerous place in search of stray lambs and hearing a voice there. Suddenly I felt a chill, a thrill, of the Spirit’s presence. It was déjà vu and connection and recognition all at once.

As she spoke about hearing God in the voice of her departed father, I felt the embrace of my own recently departed father. And I knew that my own call, very different from Cathlena’s, was affirmed all over again. My tears, right there in worship, were a Yes to God’s continued work in the world.

A Seat at the Table

By Ed Keithly, Managing Editor, Center Aisle

The morning after the shootings at Emanuel AME, I opened up the drafts of Center Aisle’s blog posts. Ready to go out that day was a “Throwback Thursday” post. Lots of white faces looked back at me – Edwardian Era bishops from the 1907 General Convention held in Richmond, Va.

CCWACP members GC 1907

From the 1907 GC in Richmond, Va. The caption reads: “Members from the Commission delegated by the Conference of Colored Church Workers to present their plea for Colored Bishops to the Convention.”

One photo among the 11 included a picture of a delegation from “the Conference of Colored Church Workers to present their plea for Colored Bishops.” I trashed the post and called Dorothy White, the chaplain of St. Catherine’s School, Richmond, Va. By the afternoon, Dorothy’s piece “Oh, My Heart Breaks” was up on Center Aisle, not the Throwback Thursday post.

Soon after Bishop Curry’s election, I received an email from Dorothy: “I heard the news about Presiding Bishop-Elect Michael Curry and am thankful. I grabbed my computer and made hotel and train reservations [for his installation].” In the silent Center Aisle office, surrounded by people, I cried. How much this means to Dorothy is her story to tell, not mine, but Dorothy’s faithfulness against a canvas of murder and church burnings is astounding. It’s Holy.

The stories I’ve found most moving while editing Center Aisle are Dorothy’s reflection and the Rev. Phoebe Roaf’s story, in which she wrote, “Some within the Church have conveyed…that there is no room for me at the table as an African American.” Despite how crucial it is that Dorothy and Phoebe tell their stories in their own words, asking them to write can make me uncomfortable—as if the seat at Center Aisle’s table is mine to offer.

But Bishop Curry’s election signaled something – not the end of racism, but maybe the beginning of the end, the setting of a banquet where I don’t draw the seating chart. A banquet where Dorothy and Phoebe already have taken their seats.

Refreshed and Reconnected

By Lisa Kimball, Ph.D., Professor of Christian Formation and Congregational Leadership, Director of the Center for the Ministry of Teaching at Virginia Theological Seminary

I was sitting on the wall outside the Salt Palace reconnecting with a very good friend from many, many years ago who is a priest of our church in Massachusetts. We went to college together. And, the two of us sat for probably an hour or an hour and a half and remembered what our lives have been and where God has moved in them and how we got to where we are today. It was just such a blessing to have been known by somebody when I was 18, 19, and 20 years old and to be seen again in the light of our current lives and work. So, I give thanks for Jane and thanks to God. It was a wonderful, wonderful week.

Infectious Faith

By Chris Sycama

I watched a delegate from the Diocese of Maine walk up, so moved by the Homeless Jesus statue. She was completely overcome. Something about her piety and faith was so infectious.

A Chaplain and Her Dog

Andrea and Zac

The Rev. Andrea Baker and Zac

By the Rev. Andrea Baker, Army Reserve Chaplain and Zac, Unit Ministry Dog

Yesterday I served communion with Zac at my feet. After serving in Afghanistan together, it was powerful knowing the connection I have with him and where we’ve been. Being in this worship space with people coming up to us for the sacraments, I wasn’t sure if people would be turned off by the idea of taking communion with a dog there. But Zac opens doors of connection when humans often find it hard to break the ice.

Surrounded by Love

By Amber Carswell, Design Team, Young Adult Festival at GC78

The Integrity Eucharist was a moment I will never forget. This is my first General Convention, and I’ve never walked into a space and felt so surrounded by love. To see the work that Integrity has done for gay, lesbian and trans Episcopalians during its 40 years of existence was supremely moving.

The “Gay Kid from Utah” Finds His Church

Jeff StevensonBy Jeffrey Stevenson, Staff Writer, Native Utahan

Accepted as a postulant by Bishop Shannon Johnston a few months ago, I’ll begin my studies at Virginia Theological Seminary next month. Though I now live in Virginia, I grew up in Utah, just north of Salt Lake City. In fact most of my family members live within 30 miles of this General Convention.

Many of my weekends as a child here were spent with my dad in nature. This is where I first experienced a connection to God’s grace and where I longed to find that grace in the pew. Even at an early age, I knew that I wanted to be part of “the Church.” However, the LDS Church was the only Church I knew, and I felt at an early age that they would not accept “the gay kid.” The idea of exploring other faiths and other Churches was simply beyond my grasp.

Joining the Navy in 1995 gave me my first exposure to other traditions. This was the first time I saw other faith systems in action – and that changed everything. I found myself admiring the chaplains. I wanted to be like them and I wanted to do what they were doing. As the gay kid from Utah, it was so far beyond my reach. How could I be “holy enough” to make that commitment? As a gay man, I felt “less than”; I felt as though there was no Church that would see me as a member, much less a leader.

About a year after I left the Navy, I met my fiancé. I knew from our second date that he was the one. Not only do I love Noah, I love who we are as a couple. We are opposites in almost everything we do but, rather than a stumbling block, our differences have always been the source of our strength. Though we are both strong individuals, we feel unstoppable together. Where one is weak, the other is strong. He is my balance, my inspiration, my partner in crime, my instigator and my shoulder to cry on. He is my best friend.Rings GC

Together Noah and I discovered St. Barnabas’ Episcopal Church, Annandale, Va. We felt we could make our church home there. We felt we were accepted there for who we are – not only accepted but embraced. Being gay wasn’t a strike against us, and there was no feeling of “but they love us anyway.”

This was the first time I felt I could be a member of Church; I could be a part of the body of Christ without stipulations. This was the first time I thought it might be possible for me to follow that tug, to listen to that whisper, to respond to this call. This was a place where I could worship and open myself to the Spirit – no guards, no hesitation, no fear.

It’s important to remember that the House of Bishops and House of Deputies are debating how, not whether, to be more inclusive. They are not debating whether to excommunicate Noah and me. The Church is not turning us over to a government that is prepared to throw us in prison. We are a Church that has said, “God accepts you as living members of this Church and you are loved by God.” Our Church is saying, plainly and without compromise, “We want to celebrate your love by allowing you to enter into a sacrament – a covenant with God that celebrates your love for one another.”

Now, in my hometown, I have declared my love for this Church that has accepted us as a part of the body of Christ without stipulations. I pray that I will have the strength, wisdom and gumption to lead as we enter the next era.

Making It Easy to Fall in Love with God: Worship at GC78

Wingo_PatBy the Rev. Canon Patrick Wingo, Canon to the Ordinary, Diocese of Virginia

Most people who attend General Convention agree that worship is a highlight. Almost without exception, the preaching, music and creative liturgy are extremely well done. We Episcopalians are at our best, Dean Terry Holmes once wrote, when all of these things “create a world of wonder that makes it very easy to fall in love with God.”

The worship at General Convention often symbolizes the larger issues that engage us as a Church and society. This was clear to me on Tuesday, when the wonderful choirs from St. Augustine’s and Voorhees colleges, Episcopal HBCs, sang hymns and songs that reminded us that Black Lives Matter, that we grieve over the deaths of the Charleston Nine, and that we rejoice in the election of our first African-American presiding bishop. I left that service inspired and proud of our Church.

Tuesday’s worship also reminded me of another service at General Convention in 2006, when I was a deputy from the Diocese of Alabama. That was a difficult convention. Much of the energy and debate centered on the Windsor Report and the questions it raised: What would be the Episcopal Church’s role in the Anglican Communion? How would we live together in our Church, given that we were deeply divided over important issues about inclusion, sexuality and process? About halfway through the convention, after participating in some very difficult legislative sessions, I decided to volunteer to distribute communion at a worship service.Worship peace

It was a service very much like what we have been experiencing this week – perhaps one of the few high points of that convention. At the appointed time, I walked up on the stage to receive the basket of bread to take out into the crowd, and I was paired with a deacon holding a large flagon.

As we moved toward the stairs to take the Body and Blood of Christ to the 2,000 people gathered in the hall, the deacon, who walked just in front of me, did not see the riser for the lectern. Her foot caught the edge, and because we were all hurrying to get the elements out into the crowd, her momentum sent her flying. She landed face-first, her glasses scattering off, a sickening thump as she hit the floor.

There was a gasp from the congregation and, after a moment of hesitation, those of us around her reached to help her. That was when we saw that, even though she had fallen hard, her right arm was stretched out, firmly holding the flagon of wine straight up, not a drop spilled.

She was badly shaken, her glasses broken and her vestments twisted. But as others helped her sit up, she insisted on carrying on with her ministry, taking the Blood of Christ to the people.

General Convention has seen a number of powerful worship moments – Bishop Michael Curry’s “Crazy Christian sermon” in 2012, Maria Von Trapp’s granddaughter providing lovely music in 2006, and yesterday’s powerful sermon of healing by Becca Stevens.

For me, the enduring image of worship is a deacon sprawled across the floor next to the altar, firmly holding the Blood of Christ as if every drop was precious and necessary for the gathered Body. It was and is a reminder, a symbol, that each person is precious and necessary. May it always be so.

A Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor,

Center Aisle has been producing great coverage of General Convention, but have they missed the point on the Digital Evangelism Initiative (DEI)? “A Question of Context: Do Churches Need a Universal Media Strategy,” posted June 30, 2015, is an entertaining piece offering some valuable insights. But it doesn’t hit the mark.

Adopting the construct “think global, act local,” the DEI builds on successful pilot activity and aims to build a framework of practices and materials that will be of direct use in our network of dioceses and parishes. It is just one part of a suite of initiatives, not a social media strategy. It’s not supposed to be and doesn’t claim to be an SMS.

We have a life-changing Good News story to tell and what Resolution B009 does, at last, is to launch concrete activity to provide a digital presence that connects us as a Church to those searching for answers to the hard questions of life.

The Episcopal Church is most definitely not a line of products but that does not mean that there is nothing to learn from those who do have products to sell and do so very successfully. Together with resolutions “Leveraging Social Media for Jesus” and “Energizing the Church: Gathering and Sharing Evangelism Resources,” B009 gets us into the right place. With these resolutions in place, top down and bottom up activity combine together into a “via media” which gets the best out of both.

Memorial V* presented to the General Convention urges us to “find new ways of proclaiming the gospel in varied and ever-changing neighborhoods“ and prompts us to “fund evangelism initiatives extravagantly.“ The DEI is exactly the sort of action envisaged. It may not meet everyone’s personal preference as an approach, but it is a bold and essential step forward.


David Case
Lay Deputy, Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe

*Editor’s note: Memorial V was presented by Episcopal Resurrection.

“The Question is Now For Us, and Not for the Courts: Same-Sex Marriage

Yesterday, same-sex marriage was made possible in The Episcopal Church after the House of Deputies passed Resolution A054, which passed the House of Bishops on Tuesday. For many gay and lesbian Episcopalians, this decision represents long-awaited full inclusion in the Church. Though, some express concern that this decision will cause further schism within the Episcopal Church and distance the Church from the Anglican Communion.

The resolution adopted two trial-use liturgies, which include a gender-neutral version of the marriage service in the Book of Common Prayer and a trial-use liturgy approved at General Convention in 2012, which was updated to include marriage vows. General Convention also began the process of amending the BCP, which requires a vote by two successive General Conventions.

General Convention’s deliberation on the approach to same-sex marriage was, in a sense, made less complicated by the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage earlier this week.

David Quittmeyer, esq., lay deputy, Central Gulf Coast, brings us this analysis of the Supreme Court ruling with an eye towards how it affects The Episcopal Church. 

quittmeyer_davidThe Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage in most respects appears to be the “final word” on the subject, not subject to further review or modification. [But] this hardly means that the controversy has ended. One might compare the decision to Roe v. Wade, which has held public attention and debate, both in secular and religious forums, for decades.

Constitutional assurances of religious freedom allow denominations to determine their own practices. And that may be the remaining challenge to The Episcopal Church. Internally how do we determine what civil authority may or will be performed? What religious context do we import to a civil marriage? What rite is appropriate within the Church?

The United States Supreme Court today held that the Constitution requires all states to license marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage has been lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state. The case was Obergefell v. Hodges (June 26, 2015). The decision was by a 5-4 vote of the justices. The court’s opinion was issued and delivered by Justice Anthony Kennedy, joined in by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan. Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito each issued a dissenting opinion.

The majority based its holding on the principles of due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment. The particular rights were declared, for the first time, as fundamental rights under the Constitution.

My summary and interpretations are mine alone, and offered with a best effort at objectivity and with some emphasis on references to religious principles that are reflected in the opinions.

The majority opinion was broad and emphatic, and in my view carefully written to apply to secular and governmental rules of marriage. Specifically, the opinion addressed the question of issuance of marriage licenses by state entities, and the uniform recognition by all states of same-sex marriages wherever performed by lawfully licensed persons.

Of interest to the Church may be the clear reference to the submissions of “amici” (non-party “friends of the court”) covering a broad spectrum of the central institutions in American life: state and local governments, the military, large and small businesses, labor unions, religious organizations, law enforcement, civic groups, professional organizations and universities. The court emphasized “that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.”

The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faith, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. In turn, those who believe allowing same-sex marriage is proper or essential, whether as matter of religious conviction or secular belief may engage those who disagree with their view in an “open and searching debate.”

The court thus recognized that while religious rights remain protected, they cannot restrain state governments from the constitutionally fundamental right under civil law for same-sex couples to receive marriage licenses and have those marriages performed and recognized uniformly.

The majority mentioned several principles that would support its conclusion: First, civil marriage is a personal and autonomous choice. Second, the right to marry is a fundamental right under civil law. Third, civil marriage historically safeguards families and children. Fourth, civil marriage is the “keystone of the Nation’s order.” The Court was careful to point out that the right to marry cannot be conditioned on the capacity or commitment to procreate.

The decision in most respects appears to be “the final word” on the subject, not subject to further review or modification. Indeed, Justice Scalia’s dissent stated, with some frustration, that within the political and legal process, the court has ended the debate with its 5-4 decision. Traditionally, such decisions become “the law of the land,” and uniformly binding without further review unless there is a change in the make-up of the court or there are unusual circumstances that may force consideration in a different context.

This hardly means that the controversy has ended. One might compare the decision to that of Roe v. Wade (about abortion rights), which has held public attention and debate, both in secular and religious forums, for decades.

The four dissents were noticeably assertive in their own way, reflecting clear sentiments that were supported by historical, legal and sometimes personal principles. Combined, they were nearly twice as long as the single majority opinion. The common element to the dissents was one involving a basic element of American democracy: that changes in domestic and social institutions are constitutionally left to the decision of voters and not to judges.

Justice Roberts wrote that the court should not act as a legislature, and argued that the decision could in fact constitute religious intrusion. Justice Scalia viewed the decision, regardless of its particular topic, as a threat to democracy in a serious, perhaps unprecedented, way.

Justice Thomas offered probably the most thorough historical analysis, both in traditional legal and religious terms, notably saying that “marriage is not just a governmental institution, it is a religious institution as well.” He also noted that there was a difference between religious wedding ceremonies and personal vows, which could not be inhibited by governmental interference, and civil domestic laws, which have traditionally been the exclusive domain of the voting public. Justice Alito regretted that the opinion would marginalize the many Americans who have traditional ideas.

The legal question of civil same-sex marriage seems to be resolved and determined. Civil marriage between two people is now allowed and must be afforded in all states, and each state must recognize the marriages performed in every other state. No denomination or religious body or tradition is compelled to perform such marriages within its own system, but to the extent that people of religion are licensed by civil authority to perform marriages, and to the extent that their own traditions or rules allow them to carry out civil authority, the unions are valid throughout the United States.

Constitutional assurances of religious freedom allow denominations to determine their own practices. And that may be the remaining challenge to The Episcopal Church. Internally how do we determine what civil authority may or will be performed? What religious context do we import to a civil marriage? What rite is appropriate within the Church?

Religious freedom allows us to make those decisions as The Episcopal Church. And that work – maybe hard work, maybe controversial work – will continue. But we now know that civil law will recognize our decisions uniformly throughout the country. Civil authority is now determined – apparently with finality.

The question is now for us, and not for the courts.

1 reply »

  1. I didn’t understand the “Letter to the Editor” that began, “The Center Aisle has been producing great coverage of General Convention . . ” I know it was talking about digital communications, but isn’t The Center Aisle” digital communication? Beyond that I didn’t understand anything about what point is being missed.