Since last Friday I have been thinking of the ethics of the internet. There are those who have said that the No Anglican Covenant Coalition brought the resignation of the Archbishop of Canterbury. I don’t believe that is true, but I have been quite aware of the work of our little NACC group trying to get the message out that seen the Anglican Covenant is as one of my colleagues says: “Neither”. I have said from the beginning that the Archbishop put too much of his cache into the Covenant alone as a way to keep the Communion together.
Personally, I don’t count for much. I am not a bishop. I have been in charge of medium sized parishes in my career; I don’t have a doctorate. I don’t have much cache and yet our small group has had an impact on the way that the Church of England has voted on the Anglican Covenant. We have no power except the sincere faith that the Anglican Covenant is truly wrong for the churches of the Anglican Communion.
Back in 2003 when +Gene Robinson was elected I had just started in a new parish in CNY. It was a difficult parish going through the loss of the major industry in town. The parish had turned down a candidate before they interviewed me. They felt that I was the only hope—I should not have accepted the call, but I thought I could help them recover from a 32 year incumbency in which the curate had followed an equally long-term rector. The parish had never come to grips with women’s ordination really and the interim had not work through the normal anxiety that comes after a long incumbency. I was on vacation when +Gene was confirmed by the General Convention and there were all kinds things in the papers. We had several vacancies in our deanery so we were only a few rectors in the area and two of our parishes were up in arms about the election of a partnered gay man. I was called by a local tv station and asked my opinion on Bishop Robinson’s election and I told them that I thought that the Diocese of New Hampshire was doing a courageous thing. It was a statement of integrity and it was in keeping with the inclusivity of the Gospel.
At the next deanery meeting the seething anger of those opposed to +Gene’s election made some incredibly foul statements about LGBT people. The dean of the district was one of the nay-sayers. I finally said that that kind of language was out of line and expected the dean to agree with me. I finally said that I would not accept that kind of language about ME. It was the first time I had publically owned my own lesbianism but I could no longer listen people denigrate people I knew and what I knew myself to be. I finally walked out still shaking at what I had just done. The dean then talked to some of the leaders in my parish. Within 5 months I was gone from that parish. The bishop came (without being asked) to one of my Vestry meetings and that night I was removed from the parish. I had a panic attack that night that landed me in the hospital thinking I had had a heart attack.
The kind of polarization that came from that incident had a tremendous impact on my life. The kind of nastiness that the ‘evangelical’ parishes pushed on the diocese was rank. It was name-calling and untruth spread abroad by way of the internet. The diocesan list-serve became a place where the neo-conservatives commented on every post whether it was on human sexuality or not. There were only 3 or 4 parishes in the whole diocese, but they caused so much disorder that it was impossible to have peaceful discussions in the diocese.
I had never really identified myself as gay. I knew I was more attracted to women than men, but I had been celibate since 1970. I knew how I lived before God and to me that was what was important. But it was with +Gene’s consecration and the resulting hate that it drew to the surface, I knew I need to claim my own identity for my own sake and for the sake of the Church. I cannot in conscience allow people to denigrate my priesthood or anyone else’s just because they are uncomfortable with the call God has given us. I had to stand up and say NO to the prejudice that many were exhibiting whether they were lay, clergy or bishop.
Yes, I was angry. It was one of the most difficult times in my life because I knew I had been faithful but I had been rejected because it was easier to reject than deal with the reality of the anger at the homophobia and fear in the diocese. I was isolated and became a pariah and what was more difficult to deal with; J was also treated as a pariah. She was one of the most senior members of the diocese, but we were both relegated to nothing with no hopes of any work. It took 3 years before I finally got a position in the ELCA. The betrayal of my church family was and still is the most hurtful thing that I have known. And that loss also had a tremendous effect on my pension.
Even though I have been a priest for almost 30 years, not having a parish to pay into pension my last 5 years means that I don’t have much in the way of pension. And I was told not to pay into Social Security. So I don’t have any ‘entitlements’. I should be angry still. But I am not. When I entered the convent, I knew that I was giving my life to God. That is enough. That is all I have ever wanted. But I am still drawn back to this ‘Time of Great Unpleasantness’ that we have endured in the past 10 years. God is doing something in our world. I still can’t see what it is, but I believe we are coming to the place where we are seeing that it is not “standing firm in faith” that marks the Christian. It is not making cogent arguments or even debate that shows us what faith is. It is balance and respect.
I found that when I allowed my anger to get in the way of the respect that I have for the person with whom I disagree, I have lost the ability to find Christ in them. And when I no longer find Christ in them, I can dismiss them. I was dismissed; I know that pain. I cannot inflict that pain and still call myself a Christian.
It is easy to see the No Anglican Covenant Coalition as a group of nay-sayers. And I have to admit there are those among us who are angry or pissed. But for the most part this is a group of people I have found privileged to work with. We have always called ourselves to the best of ourselves. We have wrangled with different ways of articulating the truth of what we know Anglicanism is. Sometimes it feels that we can’t quite say what Anglicanism is but we all know it when we see it.
I know that there are those Anglicans in the world that do not believe in the Real Presence and who don’t subscribe to a liturgy that I would recognize from a BCP. But that doesn’t matter. We are still kin to each other in the fact that Jesus is still lord to them and to me. That is all that is important. That is the communion that we share. That is the respect we hold. And that they worship God in God’s holiness says that they are my sisters and brothers.
I am saddened by the resignation of ++Rowan Williams. I am sure he will be relieved to be rid of the yoke of the archbishopric. I do not know who could have weathered the seas of contention that the Anglican Communion at this time. I do not consider him a failure—misguided perhaps, but not a failure. I merely see this as one of those times when we must disallow our anger to overwhelm us and I wonder if that is what he is doing.
I am still debating with myself about the ethics of email campaigns. But the internet is among us. We have yet to figure out how we should or should not use it in the Church. But I do think that when more than one voice is heard, the truth of the Gospel can be heard more clearly. And after reading over 300 emails a day for several weeks, I know that the Truth of God is in there. Refusing to allow the anger to overwhelm and maintaining the balance and respect that Christ graces me with is the way that that Truth will out. It is when a retired priest in TX or the dales of Yorkshire can have a say with a professor from Oxford and a lay woman from the Louisiana Bayou, a Chicago guy who is isolated in his own church, or a priest in Washington, a computer geek from Pittsburg, a priest from New Zealand or a retired bishop of the UK, a priest from the wiles of Saskatchewan or an Archdeacon from Alberta or a Scotsman or a layman from Guatemala that we begin to understand what this Anglican Communion really is. God is in the conversation.
The work we have done may never be feted but has been important for the future of the Communion. No, we didn’t bring down the Archbishop of Canterbury. The times, the Churches and the world has changed in the past 10 years. Let us rejoice and be glad.