The Feast of Saint Benedict, 2012
This morning I am not going to discuss the lessons appointed for Sunday, and instead I’m going to write to you from my heart. Yesterday was one of the hardest days of my life, hands down. It can be said that I haven’t suffered much in my 32 years, and that would be true, but I have certainly had some hard days.
The night, my first year in Seminary, when it became clear to me that ordination to the priesthood in The Episcopal Church was going to be monumentally difficult, was a difficult day. My six months at Virginia Theological Seminary (and the two and a half years of discernment before that) were mired in the depths of the Gene Robinson controversy. I was torn between my call from God and my understanding of what God had in mind for his Church. Thanks to the support, prayer, and confidence of some wise colleagues, I stayed at VTS – eventually being elected Student Body President – and was ordained into The Episcopal Church as a Deacon in June 2007 and a Priest in January 2008. Without the support of my friends, I’d have never been called to Foley, where I am blessed to serve a community of committed disciples who reach up in worship, in to serve, and out in love to the glory of Jesus Christ. I’m forever grateful to those folks who talked me out of dropping out on that night in the West Virginia hills.
Yesterday was hard. It started out like any other day. I had breakfast. I drank coffee. I did some laundry. I attended worship. I left our worship hall on the third floor of the JW Marriott, blissfully unaware of what the day would bring. Sure, I knew what work lay before the House of Deputies, but I was unprepared for what would happen as the day went on. The morning session began rather innocuously. We made some declarations, we passed some legislation, we prayed, and we broke for lunch. Everybody knew what was ahead of us for the afternoon of 10 July 2012, our sixth legislative day.
- D008 – Affirm Anglican Communion Participation
- B005 – Ongoing Commitment to the Anglican Covenant Process
- C095 – Structural Reform
- A049 – Authorize Liturgical Resources for Blessing Same-Gender Relationships
These were the three hot button issues that have been the elephants in the room since day one: the Anglican Covenant, Structure, and Same-Sex Blessings. They all came to us in the same day. People spoke passionately from their perspective. Stories were shared (which I don’t find all that helpful on the floor of a legislative body, but that’s for another place and time). Prayers were offered. In the end, the House of Deputies voted:
- Yes on D008, giving thanks for our place at the table in the Anglican Communion. It goes on to the House of Bishops.
- Yes on B005, taking three more years to evaluate the Anglican Covenant and to stay in the conversation as it changes and evolves. It goes on to the House of Bishops.
- Unanimously Yes on C095, developing a task force to study structure and reform. It goes on to the House of Bishops.
- Yes on A049, concurring with action already taken in the House of Bishops authorizing for “provisional use” liturgical resources for the blessing of committed, monogamous, same-sex couples.
Probably the only thing you’ve heard about, unless you pay attention to this stuff, is the last part. It got picked up by FOXNEWS, MSNBC, NPR, CNN, and was the front page of the Pensacola News Journal. The matter of Same Sex Blessings passed the House of Bishops, in a roll call vote, by a tally of 111 for, 41 against, and 3 abstentions. Our Bishop voted against it. It passed the House of Deputies, in a vote by orders. In the Lay Order, the tally was 86 deputations for, 19 against, and 5 divided (2 for and 2 against). In the Clergy Order, the tally was 85 deputations for, 22 against, and 4 divided. 78% of Lay Deputations voted yes and 76% of Clergy Deputations did the same. In the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast, our Lay Deputation voted against (3 to 1) and our Clergy Deputation voted for (3 to 1).
I voted yes.
Here I have a choice. I could start into my story, and how that story played a part in my vote. I could tell you of my Uncle Bob, a gay man who died of AIDS in 2001. I could tell you of his partner, Dan, who died several years earlier, whose parents declared rights to the body, and whose funeral was celebrated by a clergyman who had never met him, and, in fact, called him by the wrong name. I could tell you all that, and some of you would still be convinced that I had defiled the faith as it has been passed down. I understand that. I felt that way, for a long time, not all that long ago.
I could tell you that what we did today wasn’t that significant, how much of what A049 says is very much needed in the life the Church, and that for these reasons I voted the way I did. I could tell you that we didn’t redefine marriage, it is still, in our Prayer Book and Canons, understood as between one man and one woman. I could tell you that our “provisional” use means that we didn’t amend the Prayer Book. I could tell you that what happened today was merely the standardization of something that has already been happening in places like New York, Maryland, and Iowa, where same-sex relationships can become state recognized unions. I could tell you that this leads us into a much larger conversation on the nature of life-long, committed relationships that has needed to happen for a long time. I could tell you all that, and some would say it is all smoke and mirrors and that the sanctity of marriage has been irrevocably corrupted. I understand that. I felt that way, for a long time, not all that long ago.
I could tell you the story of the 90 minutes from 5pm Eastern until 6:30pm. I could tell you the painful intricacies of Parliamentary Procedure. I could tell you how Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies earned a lot of respect from me as she attempted to give many of us an out in a motion to separate. I could tell you how the Vote By Orders form sat in front of me for what felt like an eternity as I struggled, like many in our Deputation, to hear the voice of God in the midst of the many competing voices. I could tell you of the somber mood of the House, compared to the joy and singing of 120 minutes earlier when C095 passed unanimously, as we went into recess for the night. I could tell you all that, and some would still be convinced that I had betrayed their trust and ventured into heresy. I understand that. I felt that way, for a long time, not all that long ago.
I will not try to change your mind. I will not offer apologies for my vote. I will not hem and haw.
I will, instead, say this. I appreciate your trust. I thank you for your prayers. I pray that we can stay in conversation. And, I hope you understand that just because my mind has been changed, I don’t, for one second, think that yours needs to be. We need not agree on this subject to remain in fellowship with one another. This is not a time for arrogant progressive thinking, but instead a time to love one another, to pray for one another, and to give thanks to God that his grace covers myriad mistakes.
Whether you agree with me or not, I encourage you to talk with me. Not by text, tweet or email, but in person. Call me (251-752-0466), and we’ll grab a cup of coffee or a beer and talk, pray, study, and dream. Let’s dream of a Church that seeks after the Kingdom of God and encourages us all to come before the altar of God and partake in the heavenly banquet.
I leave you with the recent publication from my Seminary, VTS, and the call to stay in relationship.