My spiritual director is possibly as persistent as the Holy Spirit.
I have been working with her for a year now, and so she has observed my journey, both the ups and downs as I am living them and experiencing them in my context of a diocese that has refused to step up on the issues of LGBT inclusion. And if you are reading this blog, you know that LGBT inclusion in the Body of Christ is one of the driving forces in my life and ministry.
And so, since my SD is canonically resident in the Diocese of Georgia, she put it before me that I could come to their Diocesan convention in Tifton, and see how things are done north of the border. This was an offer, and I could have refused. But if I had, I have a feeling I would have been, how shall we say... wrong.
So, I'm here. In Tifton. With Georgia Episcopalians. And it's a hoot and a challenge!
I attended a workshop on Social Media and the Church Thursday, and got a few pointers on how to use the tools such as Facebook and Twitter (and YouTube and Instagram and Four Square...) to reach a varied population. It confirmed many things I already knew, and it taught me a few things I didn't know. That's what workshops are for, right?
Thursday night, I went to Evening Prayer at St. Anne's in Tifton. It was a beautifully simple service with a great sermon that set the tone on mission and, to borrow the wisdom of the late Gov. Lawton Chiles, taught the congregation how to see beyond oneself, so that we can be "a community, not a crowd." Mission is the theme for this conference. Living out one's Christianity beyond the walls of the church and what that looks like is the thread throughout the presentations. And it's being done with seriousness and wonkiness, with plenty of silliness and fun videos to keep you from falling asleep.
There is good news and bad news at the Georgia Convention. The bad news is what many churches across the country already know: people aren't coming to church or pledging the way they did back in the days of President Eisenhower and the novelty of owning a television set. The world has changed... a lot! Even in Georgia. But the good news is that the diocesan bishop and staff believe that the people in Georgia are ready for change. And that includes changing the diocesan canon that prohibits LGBT people from being allowed to pursue a call to ordained ministry.
Bishop Scott Benhase, who has taken it on the chin from some of the progressives in the church for his less-than-outstanding adaptation of the approved same-sex blessing rite, has spent time vetting the idea to change the ethical standards for those entering the discernment process so that an LGBT candidate COULD be considered for ordained ministry. There was a listening tour. There were meetings. And ultimately, there is now a resolution up for a vote at this convention.
Predictably, there were those... many from Savannah... who are not happy about this proposed change and what it could (and does) mean. Savannah, you might recall, has had its share of ugly with the hijacking of Christ Church Cathedral, and schism and squatters and lawsuits. Their pain is very similar to the trauma that places like my beloved St. John's experienced with "the split." There were also many people, straight couples, who voiced their support for the change.
But if one listens to the Bishop, he is challenging them to open their hearts a little wider. In his opening address, he noted that there are still places in the diocese where petty bickering still exists.
"This sucks the life out of mission," he noted. "Let's get over this stuff and move ahead."
The bishop took this plea up a notch in his sermon at the Eucharist last night. He issued what he called his own "altar call" to the assembled congregation. But this wasn't like your Baptist idea of come to the front of the church, and renounce all your wicked ways, and accept Jesus as your personal, carry-around-in-your-pocket, Lord and Savior. This was an Episcopal altar call. And so when we were to come to the rail, we were to think on what are the "things" we are clinging to that are weighing us down. And then we are to put those down at the rail, and leave them there.
Bishop Benhase went further at the time of the offertory. He called on us to reconcile ourselves to anyone whom we are having a dispute, and then, and only then, come to receive the body and blood of Christ.
For the LGBT faithful in the room, his message could not have been any more clear if you consider the resolution from their perspective.
For this LGBT person of faith, his message could not have been any more difficult to absorb.
For me, the Bishop's challenge was intensely personal when I consider my own path. Because what I have to consider is whether I will be willing to give up Florida, give up the idea that I can ever be called to ordained ministry in Florida. I have been hearing the words of Isaiah in my ears for several weeks now: "The Spirit of The Lord is upon me." I think She is. And I think the Spirit is poking at me harder and harder.
At St. Anne's, there is an icon of Jesus in the sanctuary. That icon was in my line of sight at Evening Prayer, staring at me over the Baptismal font. There is also Jesus on the crucifix behind the altar. But their Christ is not a Corpus Christi. He is a living Christ, arms open to the world. And that Christ was in my line of vision when I went to receive the Eucharist. And due to the crowd, I was left there at the rail for a long time to consider, as I consumed the Body of Christ, the question: will I lay down Florida to follow Christ?
People have asked me what I'm doing here. I'm being disturbed.