After meeting our fellow pilgrims on Wed. evening and some guided discussion, Thurs. morning we all went to the Civil Rights Institute in Birmingham. There was a instructional exhibit for those who had never experienced the Jim Crow laws of the South. The majority of our group had either not grown up in the South or were too young to have been confronted with many of the
degrading expectations of people of color in the 50's and 60's. It was hard for me to remember the indignity of Jim Crow.
I remember the injustice of those laws. Riding in the back of the bus, the green or worse water fountains, the smell of bathrooms that were never cleaned marked 'colored' from the time I was small. It wasn't until college that I learned of 'night riders', the rape of Black women that was not seen as a crime, and the lynchings. The Institute had exhibits that brought them all back. The recordings of
bigoted politicians and police were played that reminded me of the TV in the 60's. But standing now in a Birmingham museum the horror of those days it all returned. Judy and I did not walk together. I couldn't walk with anyone. The violence of the videos of marches, police brutality upon non-violent marching were visions I didn't want to revisit, and yet needed to. It is so easy for white folk to close their eyes. However, if my Black friends had had to endure it, I could
not in conscience close my eyes. There is such truth in "I am not free if my brother is oppressed." My own oppression came over me in waves, the kind of oppression that I allow when I fear those who would belittle others because of ethnicity, color, culture, sexual orientation, creed.
We also went to the 16th Street Baptist
Church, the church that was bombed in 1963 and where 4 tween girls were killed on their way to their Sunday School class. Many went to the Jazz museum where images of how people of color coped with the oppression and how a local musician was able to lead young people of the era into creativity rather than hatred.
While in the Institute I met the daughter of Rev. Fred
Shuttlesworth, the founder of the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) and a member of the NAACP, an organization that was outlawed in AL in the 50's. She was visiting the Institute while on a visit to Birmingham too. I felt humbled by her presence. She wanted Judy's name so that the whole story of the struggle for equality could be told. She too understood that White folk were oppressed by Jim Crow too. Any group that has to oppress others to feel superior is already imprisoned. And the White folk of the South were as much chained by their fear as people of color were by the law. And in many cases, still are.
When we got back on the bus, I sat with an African-American priest, younger than I, who had never lived under Jim Crow. "How could they do that to MY people?" she cried. I realized how much of a shock the exhibit had been for her. I was reliving but she was experiencing it for the first time. My heart hurt for her. It hurt for me--a White woman whose race had terrorized her people and I began to understand just how hard it is to us to talk with one another to get to any kind of healing of the racial barriers. Between the shame and the indignation it is hard to insert reconciliation.
This pilgrimage was not about what happened 50 years ago. It was
about now. It was about Ferguson, Charleston, and every other murder that we have had over the past years. It was about Rebel flags. It was about voting rights now. It was about scholarships and percentages
of minority admittance or employment. It was about anger and despair where minorities will always be minorities until America becomes brown or learns that cultures are designed to give us more than what they mean to separate in us.
A type of fatigue began to settle on me. I not only couldn't find internet connections in which I could blog or sent my impressions back to the parish or the diocese as I had planned. I was overwhelmed with what hadn't happened in the past 50 years in the South. And by the end of my first day, I knew that this trip was going to be life changing if I allowed it.
Wednesday, September 2, 2015
Saturday, August 29, 2015
I had planned to write an ongoing series of blog posts while on pilgrimage to mark the 50th anniversary of Jon's death in Hayneville, AL. It just wasn't possible, primarily due to fatigue. Walking, talking with many different people and a ton of mixed feelings bombarded me for the 2 1/2 weeks that we were gone.
There were little things like a savaged tire before we even arrived in Birmingham. Then there were the larger things, such as visiting with the survivors of Jon's death who had never quite all met together to process their feelings. It was such a combination of mixed emotions that it will take time for me to engage this 'happening' of events.
I am both grateful for the combination of events that Judy and I participated in throughout August but I am still mystified by the grief, anger and deep sadness that still hovers around the life and death of Jon Daniels.
Since Judy Upham, my spouse, was the companion of Jon in the spring of 1965 when they marched in Selma at the call of Dr. Martin Luther King, it was a foregone conclusion that we would mark the 50th anniversary. But due to a fall in January we were uncertain if we would be able to. Then we learned of a guided pilgrimage by our seminary to mark the 50th anniversary of Jon's martyrdom. It would begin Aug.12th in
Birmingham and end with an actual walking through the events in Hayneville, AL. Judy and I had wanted to ride on the bus with the rest of the pilgrims and initially we did; however logistics required that we drive part of the way so that when the pilgrimage was over we could drive back to Selma on Sunday to attend St. Paul's Episcopal Church, the parish that had initially denied entrance to the marchers in 1965.
In addition to the pilgrimage, Judy and I were invited to speak in Detroit as a way to mark the feast of Jon Daniels by a former classmate, the Rev. Ron Spann, at St. James, Grosse Pointe. And
we were also invited to the Jonathan Daniel Day celebration Aug. 21-24 in Keene, NH, Jon's hometown. We then flew back to Birmingham, picked up the car and drove home. All in all, it was a true saturation in the life, death and inspiration of Jonathan Daniels.
As with all spiritual journeys, pilgrimage is sacramental. The outward actions of movement are often the sign of something very powerful going on the soul, or whatever part of the human experience that is touched by the Holy. This was no mere aping of what the saint had done. This was the kind of transformative event that can be recognized as a 'mountain top experience', but without the euphoria. It was and still is, for me, a time in my life that will continue to demand my attention and my growth in so many different areas in my life. It touches the interior but it requires so much exterior change as well as interior change for me to find the balance that I know that God calls righteousness.
Now that I am released from the 'silence' that was demanded of me the past year by those frightened of the truth, I plan to write on the various points that touched me along the pilgrimage. They will range from Jim Crow to hummingbirds to white privilege. I will
group them under the heading of The Selma Tales not because they all have to do with Selma, AL but because they touch me because of Jon Daniels, Judy Upham, Ruby Sales, Richard Morrisroe, Gloria House and Jimmy Rogers, fellow pilgrims, the people of Keene, NH and some of the people of AL we met along the way.
Most of these points are as much of an attempt to process what has happened in my heart over the past month. Like all extroverts, I need to 'discuss' what I saw or felt to make them real for me. Some are incidents that need to be understood so I can let go of them.
Some are precious to be treasured. Richard Morrisroe, the Catholic priest who was shot with Jonathan made a statement that sticks with me: "I knew Jon for 9 days in life and for 50 years in death." It is true with me. I have known him for almost 40 years in death, but I have seen his life lived out in others and that is what sainthood is about. So I continue my pilgrimage, the same one that follows in the footsteps of Christ.
Saturday, August 1, 2015
As I prepare to go on the Jonathan Daniels' 50th anniversary pilgrimage, I am pondering what martyrdom means. Throughout the history of Christianity we have had those who have 'died for their faith' or whose lives have been laid down for others because of their faith. Originally the term martus meant witness, but as the years after the death of Jesus, many who followed him were seen as those who threatened the control of the Imperium.
Saint Stephen is noted as the first Christian martyr (Acts 7ff). Stephen was fairly inflammatory in his preaching so it isn't surprising; however, the stoning of him did mark for the early followers of Christ's Way a powerful image of the cost of discipleship. The 2nd century was
filled with those who were willing to lay down their lives for the faith. The attitudes of Roman or even local rulers were that Christians were 'obnoxious' or rebellious. Christians were pacifists and refused to serve as conscripts in the Roman army. And they refused to worship the Roman gods which was considered treasonous. Just how destabilizing Christians were to the Roman Pax is questionable, but Christians were targeted and harassed the way that minority cultures or movements are today. That so many were martyred says more about the fear that permeated Roman imperial society than it did about Christian bravery.
Martyrdom is still known in Christianity. Even today, Christians
are being targeted and killed because of their faith. Well-lived Christian lives are still frightening to those who wish to control others. For many Christians the witness of those who have laid their lives down for others is still the 'seed of the Church".
It makes me deeply sad that in order to do good, or preach good, or to live the goodness of life in the name of Jesus is still grounds for people to kill. The need to kill those who are different is centered in the fear of those who are 'other'. The other sadness comes from those who
I do not believe that the cross is the sign that demands suffering despite Gregory I. Nothing in the life of Christ teaches that we are to take on suffering as a way of faithful living. It is interesting that the cross does not become a symbol of Christianity until the 3rd or 4th century once the imperial powers have taken over the Church.
So what does it mean to 'pick up the cross and follow after me'? Does it mean that I am to try to emulate Christ in the way I am to die? No! It means that I need to be willing to live my life so freely and so lovingly that death has no power over me. It means that if I am asked for my life to save others, I can give it. But it does not mean that I am to go seek ways of giving up my life to emulate Jesus' death. 2 Cor. 6:2-10 speaks of the kind of integrity that life in Christ means--it is a kind of living that defies the critique that often happens to those who try to follow the Way of Jesus. For invariably, living the life of Christ mocks the status quo in societies in which there are classes, boast have/have nots societies, or those who rule over others.
In the particular martyrdom of Jon Daniels: he was not killed
because he was preaching something that the people thought was heretical. Jon was living in a way and teaching in a way that made others take notice that their lives could be transformed if they became convinced that there were others who would stand beside them in the face of those who would deny their God-given dignity. Tom Coleman, Jon's killer, was not necessarily an evil man. He was a frightened man who aimed to control his community and saw Jon, Joyce, Richard and Ruby as those who would invade his life and change his ways. He was a man who was caught in an evil system--a racist system that said that White should rule. And for years that system had said it was right to do what did.
Martyrdom doesn't really make saints. God does that. But martyrdom makes a society question. The death of one who is willing to sacrifice his/her life because it can be lived freely is so awe-inspiring that it attracts the worn eyes of those bored by life caught up in meaninglessness. Jon's death captured the imagination of hearts that had grown tired of those who practiced a benign faith. It caught the attention of those in Northeast who had been blind to the plight of people in the South--
Blacks and Whites caught in an evil system. It was a system that masked the reality of humanity with layers of religious bias, socio-economic lies, historical jingoism and convenient anti-intellectualism.
The witness of Jon's death brought a conscientiousness to the 'powers that be' at the time that brought legal changes for our nation. Is that what Jon and Judy Upham were doing in Selma? Or
was it just naivete? It might have been, but there is something about lives that are lived in the freedom of Christianity. They weren't thinking about their grade points when they responded to the call of Dr. King. They were living lives freed by their love for God that would allow them to help others know the freedoms they knew. They were supported by institutions that allowed them to act on their faith. And had grown up in families that engendered the kind of fairness that Jesus' life characterized. They had responded in a manner that changed their lives. And would change the lives of others.
Jon wasn't thinking when he pushed Ruby from the path of Tom Coleman's shotgun. He didn't have to. His faith was so integral to his living that it was 'natural' to do it. That is a saint! One who doesn't even have to think about laying down his life for another.
So martyrdom is not so much about the death of a saint. It is about the living of those who are willing to live with such abandon that they are not afraid of death, not afraid of what others think, not afraid of the cost. They live only in sight of God's love and that is enough.
Holy One, I do not believe that you have asked me to be a martyr, but you have invited me to live a life worthy of your calling. Grant that through the witness of others, I can keep the freedom you have wrought in me ever before me and allow me to continue to live in ways that can help others to know the joy that living in you means.
Sunday, June 28, 2015
It feels good to be back in the pulpit here at St. Martins. For those who have known me to preach extemporaneously, I have finally come to that place in life when I am beginning to lose words. So I will be working from a text so that you won’t have wait for my brain to cough up the right word. It will make the sermon shorter!!!
I would like for us to look at the Gospel reading for today. It is really two healing stories wrapped into one. It is easy to just choose one of the readings but Mark embeds one of these stories in the other and because of this little literary device, we are invited to look at the embedded one as the more important.
First, it is important to look at what Jesus is saying and doing in this passage. Jesus is in an area that was religiously diverse in the northern Galilee. It was not a majority Jewish community. The first story is of the 12 year old daughter of the leader of the synagogue, Jarius. The other is the story is of a Gentile woman* who has had a hemorrhage for 12 years. Even though the story of Jarius’ daughter is a story of resurrection, because of how this story is constructed it tells me that the important part of this passage lies in the story of the Gentile woman who reaches out to touch Jesus.* I bring up the number 12 because it is a metaphoric number. And when you hear the number 12 in the New Testament it is always associated with the coming of the messiah who would gather together all the 12 tribes of Israel in the reign of God. This story is about living in the kingdom where resurrection will not be needed nor will there be a need for healing.
Jesus came to heal—yes. But more importantly Jesus came to renew the faith as it was practiced in Israel in the first century. He was neither a conservative in faith nor a progressive. He was a radical. He wanted to get back the roots of faith in God—not just observance of the Law of Moses. And the root was love of God and love of others. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[a] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] There is no commandment greater than these.” Deut. 6:5
And what we see in these stories is not a NEW gospel, but a reclaiming of what was central to People of Israel’s relationship with God. It is my opinion that Jesus did not come to start a new religion, but to draw all into the realm of God. Not just Jews, not just Gentiles. But all.
In first century Judaism, how one obeyed the Law labeled someone as faithful, or righteous (tzedek) in Hebrew. Some followed the laws to the letter—every jot and tittle. Others, and especially those farther away from Jerusalem followed the laws
The Gentile woman was a woman who had tried everything to be healed. She was shunned because she was not ‘righteous’ because a hemorrhaging woman was unclean. Touching such a person rendered a man unclean, unable to enter the synagogue, unclean to celebrate Shabbos without a trip to the ritual baths. So this encounter takes all the temerity of this woman to reach out to the rabbi. She desires to be healed of her illness. She had to reach across the social customs of her society. This is one story in which Jesus does not initiate the healing; the woman does. She claims a faith in this man who has not even seen her. And Jesus confirms her healing: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” He returned her life to balance, to acceptability and removed the shame that her society had heaped upon her because of her illness.
Jesus stepped into the real meaning of Mosaic Law—to the bring wholeness, to bring balance and healing despite all the rules and expectations of how one was supposed to act. Jesus stepped over the partitions and boundaries of normal expectations so that God’s work could be seen.
This is what I believe that Mark is trying to tell of the ministry of Jesus. Mark is the first Gospel and the oldest and in some ways the most revealing of the person of Jesus. And I take heart in this story of the woman with the hemorrhage. Because I can hear so much of myself in this story that speaks of balance, of the willingness to not wait to know acceptance in God but to reach out and claim it even when we don’t look like everyone else.
The other thing about this story is that it has so much meaning for our own day. There is a temptation to think that this is ‘girls only’ passage. But it isn’t. It has to do with the kind of healing of all those deep places within us that are ‘ickky’, those places we don’t want to look at. David Lose, Lutheran pastor and teacher, refers to this ‘ickky
The woman wanted healing and had spent 12 years trying to be healed. But it is when she reaches out to Jesus that she knows the power of God in her life. She isn’t Jewish—she isn’t one of his flock. She steps beyond the normal boundaries of polite behavior to claim the righteousness—the tzedek, the balance that she so desperately needed. She would not allow herself to be bound by convention. She quit living quietly in her own hell of being an untouchable.
To know the healing of our hidden places requires a thirst to know balance and a willingness to speak the hidden so that it no longer tyrannizes us. We have to be willing to acknowledge that we aren’t perfect and neither is anyone else. We spend so much of our time trying to cover up our imperfections rather than live the life that God
But this story is not just for individuals. Our society has many places where we as a people avoid raising up the places where we are unbalanced until things converge. And it is often in the face of tragedy that we see the consequences of our illnesses. Over the
And even though we as Church say that radical hospitality is practiced here in this diocese, we don’t ever talk about the pain that our thoughtlessness can engender. Here at St. Martin’s I don’t believe we have had diversity training in this, the most diverse parish in our diocese.
Back in the late 80’s and 90’s I was rector of a parish about the size of St, Martin’s in the DC area. It was one half Black and one half White. Early in my tenure and deeply in my Southern stupidity, I made the mistake of asking the 4 persons of color on my vestry what the Black take was on a certain issue. A six-foot two African American woman, principal of a local high school said, “Lauren, Toby is from Mobile, Alabama, I’m from the Bronx, Norman is from Jamaica and Emanuel is from Nigeria—pray tell
Here in Fort Worth we have been so caught up with the division of our Church we have not listened to the hearts or the stories of those who are different from us so that
When we aren’t willing to embrace what it means to really be one, we never know that balance, that righteousness, tzedek, that Jesus offered to the woman who touched his cloak. We also will never truly be that nation that invites people from all over the world to our shores if we aren’t willing to recognize that longing to be healed of the boundaries that separate us.
Because I am a teacher at heart, I am going to give you some homework. I will not be grading papers, but in the end THERE WILL BE A TEST! I would like you each to ask yourselves ‘1. what needs to be healed in my life so that I don’t expect others to be like me?’ 2. ‘am I willing to reach out to Christ and allow myself to be healed of my fear?’ It is only when we as a faith community are willing to address those questions that we can claim the radical hospitality that we so desire to offer. The God who gave Jesus the power to heal, gives us the power in faith to be healed of the fears that keep us from knowing the joy of life. I am not suggesting that you go shout your vulnerabilities to the world. But let yourself to reach out to the tassels on God’s garment. And as a parish and diocese, let us reach out despite our brokenness to know the joy that God holds for us. This is the Gospel that Jesus proclaims. AMEN.
(*Following preaching this twice, Judy reminded me that no where in the passage is the woman identified as a Gentile. I went back to the text and she was right! So I stand corrected about my isogesis. Spouses are so helpful.)
Monday, June 15, 2015
Today I commented on a national church site on which I spoke to the area of TX in which I now live. After spending 43 years living outside of TX, and now have returned ostensibly to help our diocese recover our Episcopal identity and to live supposedly happily in retirement, I have had to wake up to some realities that I wasn’t prepared to address when I moved here 5 years ago.
I have been in NY State, MD, CA in the meantime and have watched our Church grapple with racism, prayer book revision, women’s ordination, Latino inclusion, the addressing of the place of LGBT persons in the church without too much schism. There is a temptation to believe that there was a time before all of this ‘newness’ began we were all one big happy family. Actually I have never known the Church without an issue that some said threatened us. And when some of those issues didn’t affect me personally, I understood that the Church needed to make allowances for those who it did.
Faith demands that we constantly bounce what we know of the Holy One off on how we personally live and how we corporately live in the light of the Gospel, the light of how Christ lived. The journey of faith is constantly making me face the cool comfortable shadows in which I want to walk so that I can see clearly how I participate in my own enslavement to systems that keep me bound. God’s desire for me is to live in the Light, in a way that proclaims with every step that Christ’s is my life.
Part of the problem of having preached regularly for most of my lifetime is that over the years I have ingested enough Scripture and been forced to unpeel it from its time and place in order to know what it means some 21 centuries later, is that most of my actions I have to regard through an awe filled lot of messages. But whenever I begin to hear the other messages about how we need to be people of peace and move slowly, I keep hearing “Behold, I make all things new.” It is from Revelation, not my favorite book of the Bible. Also one of the most operative passages in my life is “I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end”. It is in Christ that I begin and I end. I have no real existence outside of that relationship. So I know I am beloved by God. And I know that I am in Christ. But as a priest I am required to uphold a Church too. I am not solely my own person. When I don my collar, I must speak for the Church too. I cannot go off on my own personal journey without the community of faith which
At the same time, different places have different ways of going about living out the same Gospel that challenge me. And perhaps it is the gap between those who have been formed in this part of the Church and those who have been formed by other regions of the Church that drives up my wariness.
The Episcopal Church has always been a place that accepted ‘local custom’ as a natural way to live out one’s faith. What has not been proclaimed as sinful is often permissible no matter if it appears to be wrong. It allows each region of the Church to grapple with issues in due time and often I am so impatient. I would so like the Church where I live to be like the Church I came from, or experienced elsewhere. But it doesn’t happen that way. And nothing that I can do will change others overnight.
As the Church gets ready for its 78th General Convention, our triennial all Church meeting in Salt Lake City at the end of the month, many of the issues that have faced the Church over the past 50 years will once more be raised. I have been a part of much of that history and live with decisions made in their light. And they have been
That has worked for the past 50 years. Local ‘custom’ has often flown in the face of all the legislative work that Deputies and Bishops could work out in their 2 weeks of
A response to my comment on the website was one in which the responder admitted that he is opposed to mine and that because of his opinions he is feeling that he cannot find a ‘home’ in the Church any longer because of his holding his particular position. It touched my own experience of exclusion in the Church because I have held the opposite view. I hurt for him. At the same time, I do not require him to renounce his position. I do not demand that he leave the Church or be turned away from the sacraments and the life of the Church because he disagrees with me. And that is why I continue to speak up to the growing backlash to LGBTQ presence in the Church and their service in the ordained ministry. I have no problem that my colleague has a different opinion. I actually relish it. It means that the Church is alive and well. But when his opinion must carry with it exile, the exclusion minorities in the Church, the loss of faithful people who are excluded because of his opinion, then I take issue. We may disagree, but we may not exclude and that is what the LGBT movement has been about.
Whether Same-Sex marriage passes at GC, isn’t that important. Whether we restructure the Church is mere moving the deck chairs on the Titanic in my opinion. The Church that I have known over the past 40 years is changing so fast that I can’t keep up. I just hope they can continue to send my pension check. But the faith is still there. The journey with Christ is still there no matter how it is packaged. “Behold, I make all things new” is still the journey of the Church no matter what it looks like. It is still the willingness us of all to listen for those places where those who are denied access to that message and flag them for the Church. It is willingness to continue to be the outward and opening of life in Christ that will forever call us to this journey no matter if we have buildings or even altars. It will be those of us who can hear that call who will build the new church, the new diocese, the reign of God.
Thursday, May 21, 2015
I have just finished Barbara Brown Taylor’s Learning to Walk in the Dark, a beautifully written book that at the same time heals and scares the heck out of me. I believe that it is meant to do that. She reminds me that I can depend on nothing, not even God, for certainty when I so long for it. After
I have not written much over the past 12 months. I have been embroiled in some up close and personal events in my life. As those who have followed this blog over the years know, I have had a life-long acquaintance with depression. But if there is one thing that I am sure of, this experience has not been depression. Like Taylor, I am knowledgeable enough to know that John of the Cross’s Dark Night of the Soul is far too dramatic to call this ride. But the gloom I havedon't wish on others. It has been a walk with the Holy in ways that I would never have guessed or wanted. I am not yet finished with this path, but I am being moved to speak of this passage simply because the Gospel cannot be kept within.
I have been told that if I value my priesthood, I should be quiet. I have been told that ‘people are not ready for the truth I speak’. I have also heard that ‘the other side will use what I say against us’. But all of this is fear of others who will not enter their own terror. It paralyzes and heightens the anxiety rather than allows a passage through it to the embrace of healing and the liberation of the soul.
Spoken journeys are the paths through the apprehension that keeps frozen the heart that longs to deepen its relationship with God. Ask any therapist or spiritual director. Fear is the stuff that keep us imprisoned, locked in the dungeons of our hearts and minds.
The Gospel is that which releases us from the constraints of social conventionality and points us toward the Truth of the Universal Path of the Holy One. I find in those who have marked this journey the courage ‘to live lives worthy of their calling’.
As one who still appreciates the name ‘Christian’ and refuses to allow the dogmatic fundamentalists to define the term, my Christianity demands action. I cannot just be quiet like the benign soul
Thursday, April 2, 2015
This isn't the normal article one would usually find during Holy Week on this blog. Because of J's fall and broken neck in January and the weeks in rehab and therapy, we chose not to observe Lent this year. January and
February was as close as we wanted to come to the journey to the Cross this year. And consequently I am not ready for Easter.
Since neither of us have liturgical duties this year, we are 'sitting this one out'. We will attend, of course, but not get too Eastery--no chocolate eggs.
Instead we are both are contemplating the meaning of Covenant and Marriage as we have decided to be married in
Delaware in May. This may come as a shock to some. It even comes of a bit of shock to me as I have never thought of myself as being 'the marrying kind.' But the real issues of safety in medical facilities became not only apparent, but they showed to be real barriers to good care and made clear we need to make our relationship more 'official' as we grow older. One may have all the medical power of attorney in the world, but if the doctor, nurse or orderly on the medical team doesn't want to deal with you, you can't get the medical information for the other unless one is a spouse.
Judy Upham and I have lived together for 40 years. We first came together because of financial constraints: we were roommates trying to do ministry at the very beginning of women's ordination in the Episcopal Church. J was one of the movers and shakers in the movement and was priested only 6 days after the ordination of Women was permitted in 1977. We met at a group of interdenominational women in ministry founded by Mary Bruggeman in St. Louis. We moved into a small house a couple of blocks from Eden Seminary.
Our relationship was not 'love at first sight'. However we did know 'respect' very quickly and enjoyed the conversations and shared our respective ministries: I, a religion teacher in Roman Catholic schools and she, a hospital chaplain.
Those were heady times. The ELCA had just been formed; Seminex was meeting at St. Louis U, a Jesuit school where I was working on Masters in Religious Education. I was also directing the choir in a large RC church. We understood each other as support, financial, spiritual and emotional, over the years. In 1979 J was called to Syracuse, the first woman called across diocesan lines to become a rector. I followed when the publication of Paul VI's encyclical on women was promulgated, and I realized that I could no longer stay a Roman Catholic.
I did not become an Episcopalian in J's parish. We knew that separation to do ministry was important and we have never worked or were members of the same congregation until retirement, recognizing that each of us had different ways of following God's call to us.
I understood our relationship to be not much different from my life as a vowed celibate while I was in the convent. I knew myself to be lesbian, but I also understood that the private vows I had made were still the way I wanted to live. I could not live openly as gay; I would never have been accepted as a priest and pastor in the congregations I served. Also, I never
wanted to J to be identified as lesbian. It was too much of a stigma. We both respected the relationship that she had had with Jon Daniels. The gay-straight relationship was a comfortable one for us.
In the 80's we explored the possibility of joining with other women and formed the Caritas Community. At that time there were no women bishops to sponsor and we chose not to go through the rigamarole of becoming 'official'. Most of us were not Anglo-Catholic and the models of being an order didn't fit the priestly nature of the 5 of us who discussed the Community. It never really developed in the kind of spiritual reality that we wanted.
We lived in each other's rectories. We attended the same clergy events and participated in the work of diocese as
rectors or interims as our ministries took us. Sometimes we had to have 2 separate households to do the work that we were given. But we still spent a great bit of time with each other. We supported each other for 'richer or poorer, in sickness and health' and over the years the love just grew. She helped me through seminary. I took care of her after an aneurysm. It was just what we did because of the commitment that we never had to speak.
In 2003 after I supported the election of +Gene Robinson, I was outed by the dean of my district who finally left the Church. The treatment that we received from the bishop then helped us realize that the Episcopal Church may be 'welcoming and affirming', but we weren't to be believed when we said we were celibate. I have had enough of knowing looks by men who cannot understand that there can be intimacy without sex. We became worker priests learning about retail and the grocery business. Finally I was called to a small ELCA congregation and was able to get enough credits to retire.
When NY state began to explore 'same-sex' marriage J and I would joke about getting married but we weren't serious about it. We had friends who began to be married. I was invited to critique the Blessings of Same-Sex liturgies before their acceptance at the 2012 General Convention. I
was asked to celebrate the first Blessing in the Diocese of Fort Worth with the permission of the bishop. Marriage still wasn't on my radar. Texas doesn't recognize it. Slowly but surely however, I realized that what J and I had was more than just roommate status. And besides, at 70, to still refer to J as my 'roomy' was just a bit too much!
After a lovely visit with a lesbian couple at Christmas, on the way home, I asked Judy if she would really want to be married to me. Her vociferous response of YES!!! shook me. I never knew she felt as deeply committed to me as I felt to her. We have always told each other that we love her. We do it several
times a day and especially when it is the hardest to say it. But to be espoused is a whole different thing. It is opening one's self to embrace a whole level of affirmation of life in one another. It isn't about ownership, as marriage is often understood. It isn't about sex. It isn't about obedience but it is about the laying down one's life for the other. It is a surrender.
The kind of intimacy we have may not be the same as either heretosexual couples or lesbians. But it is just as deep, and it has stood the test of time. It has gone through the same ups and downs that most good marriages have.
Marriage is about trust and covenant. It is about common values. It is about holding up our place in society with respect and embrace. It is about nurture of those around us in Christ's love. And just as surely as J and I are called priests of the Church, we are called into the covenant relationship of Marriage.
Those who feel that marriage can only be about
If you can celebrate with us, please join us at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Lewes, DE on May 30 at 2:oo pm. Please RSVP by email or Message so we can know how many to prepare for. If not, your prayers and spiritual presence would be appreciated.
Lauren Gough and Judith Upham