I have been somewhat oblique on this blog about what has been happening with me and my bizarre journey with God. I haven't wanted to say anything or put anything out there that might put into writing what has been spinning around and spiraling up and down from head to my heart. But here it is: I believe I am called to be ordained as a priest. There. I've put it in writing. I have "come out" as being called.
I have had multiple experiences with Scripture, with Eucharist, with leading various groups, with public speaking engagements that have all been coalescing into this call. An example: when I was asked to be the token "lay gay" on a panel this spring on matters of marriage equality and religion, I could sense what was happening with some folks in the room. There were those who had made up their minds that I was of Satan. Nothing I could do about that. But there were many more individuals, including members of the panel, who had been unsure of where they stood on LGBT people being in the church, let alone permitted to marry. The more I allowed the spirit that is within me to express itself, the more the audience was overwhelmed and in awe of hearing a lesbian speak with passion about being gay and in the church. I was coming from the place of a prophet to those religious authorities who refused to see the divinity of a same-sex relationship, and challenging folks to see us as brothers and sisters, not "those people." I have more and more folks increasingly coming to me with matters of the Spirit and asking me for guidance. I prevented a man from being arrested for unorthodox prayer practices on Maundy Thursday. And then there's this blog, my place for working it all out. Some of you have written to me, or spoken to me, and shared how I have reached you. I'm glad to be providing support to you in your journey. We all need each other as we make our way through life.
As many times as a person has come to me and asked, "Are you considering the priesthood?" I have hemmed and hawed and privately prayed that, "Now, this time, God: send in the big fish that will swallow me whole!" I have not received my whale. Not only that, my spiritual director has told me that my wardrobe is already covered in whale puke, so it's time to get on to Nineveh. So, getting to the place of telling my rector I have a call (which he and several other local clergy have recognized) was big. He called our bishop, and shared this news with him. He also told him that I am a partnered lesbian, a big no-no in our diocese for clergy, but would he still consider me.
The answer: No.
Fast-forward almost a year. My spiritual director invited me to attend the diocesan convention in Georgia. At the opening Eucharist, Bishop Benhase preached a message aimed at the delegates to challenge them to consider laying down at the foot of the cross whatever prejudices or strongly-held convictions they had that would prevent their diocese from accomplishing God's mission, and went so far as to say that they must do this before they received the Eucharist. As I knelt before that enormous Christ staring out from the cross at St. Anne's in Tifton, the question before me was, "Will I lay down Florida in order to follow Christ?" It was unnerving. The next day, the diocese took up a resolution which eliminated discriminatory language in their canons aimed at keeping out LGBT people from the ordination process. Suddenly, a path was opened before me. All I had to do was step forward.
Or hide and hope that I wouldn't be found. That didn't work. More people approached me about a call. More people asked me for spiritual advice. More people, the very ones who reject the church, were telling me that I am the only Christian they can stand (I guess that counts for something!)
Finally, tired of fighting and wrestling, I met with my rector again. This time with tears in my eyes and I told him, "I'm sorry, but God isn't quitting the pursuit and I have to leave." My rector, acknowledging the difficulty of my position was ready to let me go and then...
Wait! Give the bishop one more chance.
That chance came this past Monday. My rector and I made the long, thunkity-thunk trip along I-10 to Jacksonville to meet with the bishop. We started with a prayer (I had already prayed with my rector, and prayed silently to myself as we walked down the hall: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, O God, my strength and my redeemer.) The bishop cut right to the chase, asking me to talk about my call. I asked if this was the moment I could call in the body double.
"No," he said. "You have to do this."
"With God's help!" I quickly added, in a last desperate plea to God. "Bishop, what's your favorite hymn?" He said it usually is the last one he hears on Sunday, which having done the traditional blessing of the animals was, "All Things Wise and Wonderful."
"What's yours?" he asked. So I told him it was "God is working his purpose out." And he hummed a few bars. I launched into a much abbreviated version of my spiritual autobiography, talking about how I had the proverbial Hymnfest in my head when my father died. I talked about those final days with my dad, how I'd had an experience of God when I let my father know that he could die, and it would all be OK. I admitted that I had had very little interest in the church during that time, and, in fact, had blown it off. But shortly after that day in October, I heard "St. Patrick's Breastplate" over and over. Then it was, "For All the Saints" and "Crown Him with Many Crowns" and "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." But more than any it was "God is Working His Purpose Out." I talked about the command to "Show up" and then hearing in all of the liturgy, "You are loved. You always have been loved. You always will be loved." This led to meeting with Mtr. Lee Shafer, which then led to EfM, which then led to me becoming a co-mentor in EfM.
"You've had many spiritual experiences, what about your call?"
I mentioned serving as a Eucharistic Minister and what it is like to serve the chalice to someone and have that one-on-one connection at the rail. And I shared about my experiences of more people coming to me with spiritual issues, the blog....
My rector, who had been pretty quiet, jumped in to talk about the Circle of Hope, a ministry that I started to assist the spirits of those who were going to be laid off or affected by massive state government lay-offs. My rector said it was my initiative and perception of need that made him realize that I was a priest in the making. That seemed to make an impression on the bishop.
Then the bishop posed a question to me:
"Who is Jesus Christ?"
In my head, I thought, "Did he just ask me this?" But I couldn't help smiling as I said what was true in my heart.
"Jesus Christ is the greatest liberator from oppression ever!" I talked about him as part of the Trinity, how he is the part that knows me and what I've been through the best because he is the one who knows me through and through.
As a lesbian and an Episcopalian, this was the best answer I could give. Because it is the truest answer to my experience of Christ: he is a liberator. He is the one who went to the cross, died and rose again for the purposes of setting me free from all sins. In my life, the sin he destroys routinely is the sin of homophobia and heterosexism. And because he has set me free, I can not be destroyed by the evil others want to do unto me with their anti-gay twisting of the Bible or the lies they have told about God to my community to make them feel as they are the unwanted and unloved abandoned sheep. Not true! It is because of the lies that have scattered the LGBT sheep that I believe God is tapping me so hard on the head to get out there as a visible representative of the grace bestowed upon me, the least and the lost, and make God "real" for those who are like me.
It has already been happening. After that forum in March, I had a person contact me who wanted to meet and talk some more about how in the world I could be Christian and queer. This was a person who won't be pinned down into any one spiritual path. She sees the misogyny quite clearly in the Bible, especially in Paul's writings in the New Testament. How, she wondered, could I square my lesbian self with all of that? I smiled, and talked about the Gospel. And then I added that part that I say makes me so unpopular with feminists: I don't hate Paul. I used to hate Paul. But then I read the story of his conversion, and found it to be the most beautiful demonstration of how two sides who hate each other so much are thrown together by God, and they have to work it out. A follower of the Way must restore Paul (Saul's) sight; Paul drops to his knees in awe and wonder of the power of Christ. It's one of the best stories in the Book of Acts. By the time this conversation ended, this woman had a new appreciation of how one can view Christ through queer eyes. Would she come to church? I didn't know. But now she knew there was a church, the Episcopal Church, which would welcome her.
And my coming out as one who is called took another step forward.
The bishop asked me other questions of theology from the catechism. He wanted to know about my prayer life. But in the end, he remained unmoved on ordaining openly LGBT people who are in relationships. What he did offer was that he would talk to me again, after I'd met with my rector and studied the catechism. Then, he would be an advocate for me to go to another diocese. It was what I had expected, and the best I could possibly ask for in this diocese.
Apparently, from what my rector said, my answer of who Jesus Christ is was good. If I had said, Jesus Christ is My Lord and Savior; that would have been excellent.
If only these folks were gay, they would have known that calling Jesus, "the greatest liberator from oppression ever," is saying that very sentiment.