Friday, May 22, 2015

The Case for Marriage

Claiming the Blessing (CTB) was convened in 2002 as "an intentional collaborative of organizations and individuals within the Episcopal Church advocating for full inclusion of all the baptized in all sacraments of the church."

In 2002 a CTB Theology Statement was distributed to all bishops and deputies prior to General Convention in 2003 making the case for the blessing of same-sex relationships. That resource remains available online here

As we head toward #GC78 CTB has created "Claiming the Blessing 2015: The Case for Marriage" - which is available online here  and will be available in print onsite at General Convention in Salt Lake City.

The content includes:
*  Introduction to the Marriage Task Force Blue Book Report
*  Q&A re: the Marriage Task Force Report
*  Summary of SCLM liturgical proposals
*  Legislative history timeline
*  Michael Hopkins' essay "Recognized Holiness" making the case for marriage.

And what a deep delight it has been to receive the outpouring of response to our request for photos from weddings of same-sex couples around the church. The avalanche of joyful pictures representing just the tip of the iceberg of the couples in this church in in this country longing to make that profound commitment to love, honor and cherish the love of their life  as long as they both shall live was a reminder of the tremendous impact our work together in Salt Lake City will have on the lives of those we will never know.

Will we be a church that continues to travel forward on that arc of history that bends toward inclusion? Or will we reduce these precious lives, loves and relationships to "an issue" we continue to study and argue about?

With tremendous gratitude for all who have brought us thus far on the way -- and with thanks for the privilege of continuing the work -- it is time to let our "yes be yes." (Matthew 5:37) It is time to Reimagine the Episcopal Church with Marriage Equality.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Comment on Baby Jack, Baptism and the Bishop of Central Florida

If you missed the memo, there's a very sad situation down in the Diocese of Central Florida wherein Baby Jack was denied the sacrament of baptism because Baby Jack happened to have two dads. Their story is here ... and we were deeply moved by the way Jack's dad Rich began his account of their story: "My hope in sharing our story is to raise awareness to our community, and to offer perspective to a reticent institution."

He has accomplished both.

The Faithful America online petition that had a goal of 15,000 signatures is up to nearly 24,000 as I write. Clearly awareness has been raised in the community that no matter how optimistic we are about the Supreme Court and the movement toward marriage equality, the battle against homophobia is far from won.

And he has also gotten the attention of "a reticent institution."Barraged by emails, Facebook comments and secular media attention, On May 7th Central Florida Bishop Greg Brewer met with the family because, according to the Orlando Sentinel: “Whether they are active in the church and Christians in the community is far more important than whether they are gay or straight.”

So our expectation would be that from now on Bishop Brewer will be meeting personally with each and every baptismal family in the Diocese of Central Florida to discern whether or not the parents are active in the church and Christians in the community. Otherwise he will be guilty in 2015 of singling out LGBT parents seeking the sacrament of baptism for their children for the same kind of heightened scrutiny African American voters were subjected to when seeking the constitutional right to vote before the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That kind of systemic bigotry had no place in our nation fifty years ago and it has no place in our church today.

And so the only thing that Bishop Brewer should say to Jack's parents is how profoundly sorry he is for the fact that he failed as the chief pastor and shepherd of the flock in his diocese to protect his LGBT sheep from the assault of systemic homophobia that raised its ugly head and disrupted their plans to baptize their child into the Body of Christ.

We remain ever hopeful that this sad episode can be used by the Holy Spirit for the good of breaking down any barriers between the full inclusion of LGBT people in the work and witness of the Diocese of Central Florida. It certainly has the potential to be a Syrophoenician Woman Moment -- reminiscent of the story from Matthew's gospel where Jesus himself changed his mind about healing the daughter of the woman his tradition and his disciples told him was unworthy.

WWJD? He'd baptize Jack, of course. Let's fix this, people. And not just for Jack -- but for all the babies coming after him. We not only can do better than this -- we have to.

Friday, March 20, 2015

CTB Shout Out to the SCLM

The SCLM (Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music) has released its Report the to the 78th General Convention. You can read the 32 page report here ... but these specific proposals deserve a CTB a "shout out" for offering liturgical resources that would end the defacto sacramental apartheid of "separate but unequal" liturgies for same-sex couples/marriages in the Episcopal Church.
The Commission is therefore proposing four liturgies for authorization by General Convention 2015:

1) a revision of “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant,” taking into account specific feedback received from those who have used the text;

2) “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Marriage,” an adaptation of the revised rite for use by any couple who can be married according to civil law;

3) a gender-neutral adaptation of “The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage” from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer; and

4) “The Form of Solemnization of Matrimony,” a gender-neutral adaptation of the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, providing same-sex couples with an option similar to that available to different-sex couples who use the 1928 BCP marriage rite by following “An Order for Marriage” (BCP 1979, pp. 435-36).
An email from the General Convention Office added:"The liturgy documents mentioned as appendices, however, are still being translated. Those will be published in a supplementary file later this Spring. We are planning to have all reports, including this supplemental file, posted by the first week of May, 2015."

In 1976 the 65th General Convention resolved that its LGBT member deserved "full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance and pastoral concern and care of the Church. Claiming the Blessing looks forward to working with our allies in the House of Bishops and Deputies at the 78th General Convention as we continue the work of making that resolution a reality with equal protection and equal blessing for all couples called into the vocation of marriage in the Episcopal Church.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Claiming the Blessing comment on Integrity workforce reduction

We received with sadness the news that the Integrity Board is reducing its workforce as it works to align and manage limited resources in the ongoing work of advocacy and inclusion. The 2015 financial climate makes downsizing a sad reality for nonprofits in general -- and for faith organizations in particular. And there is deep grief at having to make hard decisions that directly impact the livelihood of those we’ve worked with and care about as colleagues and friends. We hold Vivian Taylor and Sam Peterson particularly in our prayers as they look for new positions to use their gifts and talents in meaningful and productive ways.

Like the Episcopal Church at large, Integrity is in the process of reimagining itself for the next scope of its work – and as difficult as that process is, we support the Integrity leadership in that challenge. We speak as an organization that went through our own restructuring back in 2004 when Claiming the Blessing transitioned from having a full time Executive Director to being an all-volunteer collaborative network of groups and individuals.

That transition -- from an institutional model with full time, program staff to a movement model of volunteers -- has continued to serve our work and witness for inclusion, as a leadership voice in the work for the full inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments in the Episcopal Church AND as an advocate for LGBTQ equality in the civic arena.

Claiming the Blessing will be working at General Convention this summer in collaboration with our Integrity allies and hand in hand with TransEpiscopal to advance a robust legislative agenda that includes marriage equality as an important -- but not exclusive -- focus.

We are committed to continue the work we began in 2002: promoting wholeness in human relationships, abolishing prejudice and oppression, and healing the rift between sexuality and spirituality in the Church. We look forward to working with Integrity – one of our founding organizational members – as we continue that work together in Salt Lake City and beyond. We join with all who give thanks for over 40 years of prophetic witness Integrity has offered to the church and to the world -- and we hold their leadership in our prayers as they embrace the challenge of reimagining that work into God's future.

Because the arc of the moral universe is long. And it does bend toward justice. And it's not there yet.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

"Blessing Claimed! Now What?"

"We have seen the case for inclusion we were making from the fringes of the Church become a commitment to inclusion coming from the center of the Church."

A sermon celebrating 10 years of incremental victories by "Claiming the Blessing" and calling for a new set of audacious new goals for the future preached by Susan Russell on August 5, 2012 at All Saints Church in Pasadena.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Decade of Claiming the Blessing: 100+ Pictures Worth 1000+ Words!

Marking a decade of work and witness, the Claiming the Blessing community has been going through photo archives and pulling out pictures of the milestones of the last ten years. With more to come -- both work and pictures! -- here's a look at what it takes to "claim the blessing:"

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Celebrating 10 Years of Claiming the Blessing!

by CTB Convenor Susan Russell

CLAIMING the BLESSING was officially launched when the newly appointed CTB Executive Director (that would be ME!) set up shop in the southeast cubicle of the multipurpose "temporary" office space in the north driveway of All Saints Church in Pasadena on August 1, 2002.

CTB was convened as an intentional collaborative ministry of leading Episcopal justice organizations (including Integrity, Oasis, Beyond Inclusion and the Episcopal Women's Caucus) in partnership with the Witness magazine and other individual leaders in the Episcopal Church focused on: promoting wholeness in human relationships, abolishing prejudice and oppression, and healing the rift between sexuality and spirituality in the Church. Other posts on this blogsite give a great overview of the work and witness of the last decade ... but here's the Clif Notes version:

Our initial commitment was obtaining approval of a liturgical blessing of the faithful, monogamous relationship between two adults of any gender at General Convention 2003. Toward that end we convened a national conference -- Claiming the Blessing 2002 -- in St. Louis, Missouri. Three days of workshops, worship and the introduction of the draft CTB Theology Statement ... and we were off and running!

Then on June 7, 2003 -- when Canon Gene Robinson was elected by the Diocese of New Hampshire to be their 9th bishop -- our agenda expanded to include securing consents to his election. The results were history making. Between November 2002 and July 2003 the CTB Theology Statement was distributed to every bishop and deputy to the 74th General Convention of the Episcopal Church in preparation for legislation moving forward to authorize the blessing of same-sex relationships when they met in Minneapolis.

We left Minneapolis having met both of those goals: a new bishop for New Hampshire and having taken another step forward on blessings in a resolution “recognizing that local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions."

In preparation for the 2006 General Convention, Claiming the Blessing continued to “tell our stories” by commissioning VOICES OF WITNESS as a video gift to the Episcopal Church. From the project summary: We believe that telling these stories, sharing these witnesses, is a gift we have to offer – and we believe that there has never been a more important time for us to commit ourselves to offering that gift in a way it can be the most widely received throughout the church and the communion. We believed that then and we continue to believe it now.

At the 75th General Convention in Columbus we worked with an extraordinary team of allies and succeeded in orchestrating a legislative strategy rejecting a raft of resolutions that would have turned the clock back on equality in response to “The Windsor Report.” What we were not able to do was to fend off the now infamous “B033” – the resolution calling for a defacto moratorium on consents to the election as bishop of anyone "whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion."

Claiming the Blessing was present at the Lambeth Conference 2008 as part of the Inclusive Communion Witness; produced and distributed "Voices of Witness: Africa" giving voice to the too-often invisible LGBT faithful in Africa and in 2009 worked with allies to reverse B033 and adopt Resolution C056 -- calling for the collection and development of theological and liturgical resources for the blessing of same-gender relationships.

And then in 2012 -- after a decade of commitment -- Claiming the Blessing traveled to Indianapolis to finish the work we started in St. Louis in 2002: obtaining approval of a liturgical blessing of the faithful, monogamous relationship between two adults of any gender. Ten years of work and witness. Tears and tantrums. Theology statements, blog posts, fundraising letters -- and more parish halls, small groups, legislative committee meetings, open hearings and closed-door-meetings than you can shake a stick at. Ten years and "Claiming the Blessing" became "Blessing Claimed!" with the adoption of GC Resolution 2012-A049.

It proved impossible to get everybody in one shot -- given travel schedules and calendar issues ... but between these two photos we just about made it: The Claiming the Blessing Crew ... Ten Years Later!

And then there are my personal highlights ... what we used to call "Kodak Moments" before there were digital cameras and instant uploads: the freeze frame moments in my mental photo album of the Claiming the Blessing years:
  • That January 2002 meeting at the College of Preachers where we came up with "Claiming the Blessing" for the name for our embryonic collaborative -- and Ed Bacon said the Executive Director we were looking for was someone who woke up thinking about this work every morning. And I realized that was me.  
  • The reception room in the St. Louis Cathedral as speakers and particpants were gathering for the November 2002 CTB Conference and looking around to see Louie Crew, Carter Heyward, Marge Christie and Ed Browning -- just to name a few -- and thinking "OMG ... we are actually DOING this!"
  • Another St. Louis moment: Michael Hopkins' face when Ed Bacon pulled up his chair into our early morning conference team planning meeting and said, "I feel an altar call coming on." "Say more about what that would look like," said Michael. And what it looked like was a church full of people filling out pledge cards and then bringing them to the altar while we sang "Just As I Am" -- and raised enough to fund a year of our work.
  • The clandestine meeting at the diocesan office with the bishop who agreed to meet with me and allow me to present the CTB case/theology statement -- as long as nobody knew the meeting was taking place. Parking in the alley -- coming up the freight elevator -- checking to see that the "coast was clear" before going into his office with the Canon to the Ordinary. Never let it be said we didn't do what it took. (And no, we didn't get his support.)
  • Sitting in Michael's office at St. George's in Glen Dale, MD in 2003 with the leadership team from the American Anglican Council and hearing David Anderson explain that the reason blessing same-sex relationships were a deal-breaker was that genital activity was so important to God that He put a fence around it and inside that fence was only a man and a woman within the sacrament of marriage.
  • The National Reconciliation Conversation at St. James in L.A. -- intended to bring together leadership from "both sides" of the divide in the Episcopal Church. The Claiming the Blessing leadership team was there. The American Anglican Council was not. Do the math.
  • The Minneapolis roller coaster that was +Gene's consent process -- the low points of the bogus allegations of misconduct and the high points of the celebration once the votes were in.
  • Watching the expression on Susan Candiotti's face while we were live on CNN and Kendall Harmon responded to her question of why homosexuality was the straw that was going to break the camel's back of the Anglican Communion with the immortal words: "Because it's like trying to put milk in a car. It just doesn't work." (Seriously!)
  • The standing-room-only Columbus screening of "Voices of Witness" -- produced by my brilliant partner Louise Brooks -- and the tears and cheers it inspired.
  • In the depth of the betrayal and despair that was the aftermath of B033 having Vermont Bishop Tom Ely come find us in the hotel basement sit with us in the pain ... just BE there.
  • Nottingham and Lambeth and Plano and Anaheim -- Birmingham and Boston; Nashville, Newark and New Orleans -- more metal detectors, parish halls, power points and round table discussions than I can remember.
Many years ago, then All Saints Pasadena rector George Regas challenged justice activists to "set audacious goals and celebrate incremental victories." For Claiming the Blessing the "Blessing, Claimed!" in Indianapolis -- after ten years of work and witness of the Claiming the Blessing collaborative built on the foundation of decades of prophetic ministry by our various organizations and congregations -- is an incremental victory we're celebrating on the road to our original, audacious goal: promoting wholeness in human relationships, abolishing prejudice and oppression, and healing the rift between sexuality and spirituality in the Church.

Happy 10th Birthday, CTB! La lucha continua!