Thursday, November 28, 2019

Claiming the Blessing Celebrates Louie Crew Clay

It's hard to know where to even start to celebrate the life of the inimitable Louie Crew Clay. Teacher, preacher, poet, mentor, friend, husband, son and prophet, Louie was quite literally an icon of the integrity he named the LGBTQ advocacy group he founded in 1974. He died peacefully on Thanksgiving Eve with Ernest -- his husband of nearly 45 years -- at his side and with a great cloud of witnesses surrounding him with prayers, love and light.

This montage is but the tip of the iceberg of photos representing untold hours, months and years of his life at work in the fields of the Lord -- striving for love, justice and compassion for the human family in general and for God's LGBTQ beloved in particular.

There will be many more stories to tell, many more tears to be shed and much more to be learned from the legacy of this extraordinary leader as we celebrate his life and mourn his passing from this realm to the next.

In this moment, Claiming the Blessing (CTB) simply joins with all of those throughout the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion -- and indeed the wider human family -- in marking the loss of this giant of justice. We give thanks for his commitment to the mantra "Joy Anyway" which inspired and invigorated the struggle for the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the work and witness of the Episcopal Church and beyond. And we pray for the strength, courage and wisdom to continue the work yet to be done to make that vision a reality.

A founding member of Claiming the Blessing, Louie was a seminal force in pulling together both individuals and organizations from around the church to form our collaborative ministry committed to "promoting wholeness in human relationships, abolishing prejudice and oppression, and healing the rift between sexuality and spirituality in the Church."

While that work is far from done, it is inarguable that Louie's inspiration, leadership and mentorship was a primary force in moving the Episcopal Church closer to that goal. We simply would not be where we are today without his vision, his courage and his grace-filled tenacity.

In 2015, CTB convener Susan Russell collaborated with Integrity USA to produce this video tribute to Louie's work and witness. Edited by Vic Vinson, it debuted at the Integrity Eucharist in Salt Lake City where Louie received the House of Deputies medal from President Gay Clark Jennings. We commend it to you.

Rest in peace and power, dear one. There is so much more love in the world because of you. May we be given the grace to be wise stewards of your legacy and ... as you would want it ... find "Joy Anyway" as we move forward into God's future.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Bishop Tom Ely Recognized with Voices of Witness Award

As Tom Ely concludes his tenure as the 10th Bishop of Vermont, Claiming the Blessing gives thanks for his work, witness and leadership.

During the eighteen years of his episcopate, Bishop Ely has been a valiant champion of the Gospel values of love, justice and compassion in general and of LGBTQ inclusion in specific. He has stood with us – in good times and in bad – as we have worked together to live into the dream of a church where there will be no outcasts and where all who come seeking God’s love are fully included in the Beloved Community.

Tom Ely was a stalwart champion of civil unions and then marriage equality in the civic arena in Vermont. In 2003 he stood with Bishop Gene Robinson during his election and consent process, was a supporter of our Inclusive Communion witness at the 2008 Lambeth Conference and was a leader in the Chicago Consultation ... supporting the full inclusion of LGBTQ Christians in the Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion. He served as a member of the Blessings Project Task Force from 2009-2012, the Marriage Task Force from 2012-2018 and is currently serving as a member of the Communion Across Difference Task Force.

"When the story of the movement for the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the Episcopal Church is written, Bishop Tom Ely will inarguably be one of its heroes," said Susan Russell, convener of the Claiming the Blessing Steering Committee. "It is impossible to overstate the impact of the gifts he brought to this struggle as a keen strategic thinker, a doggedly committed ally and a deeply compassionate pastor."

With gratitude for his vision, compassion and persistence Claiming the Blessing recognizes his years of prophetic ministry with the inaugural "Voice of Witness" Award — given in recognition of decades of tireless work proclaiming the Good News of God’s inclusive love.

A guiding text for the work of Claiming the Blessing since its establishment in 2002 has been Genesis 12:2 ... "I will bless you so that you will be a blessing." Bishop Tom Ely has been a blessing not only to LGBTQ Episcopalians but to the whole church. We are closer to being a church where the full inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments is not just a goal to which we aspire but a reality we live because of his ministry -- and Claiming the Blessing is honored to celebrate Bishop Ely and his legacy today with this award.

To add your thanks, memories or photos to our tribute to Bishop Ely, join the Bishop Tom Ely: Voice of Witness Facebook group.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Still Claiming Blessings After All These Years

Claiming the Blessing marked its 16th Anniversary on August 1, 2018 with this reflective piece by CTB Convener Susan Russell: Sixteen Years Later/Still Claiming Blessings

Sixteen years ago today I moved into the corner cubicle in the "temporary building" in the north driveway on the campus of All Saints Church in Pasadena to begin a new chapter in my ministry as Executive Director of something called Claiming the Blessing (CTB). It was from that "corner office" I would spend the next 18 months traveling around the church giving more parish halls presentations, attending more strategy meetings and logging more travel miles than you could shake a stick at. (Case in point this moment from the Anglican Consultative Council "command appearance" in Nottingham in 2005.)

Claiming the Blessing 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. 

Those were our official marching orders.

We were also convened by some very smart equality activists -- LGBTQ and straight allies -- who not only recognized the truth that we were wasting precious energy competing with each other from our different "silo" organizations and ministries ... and that the way we were going to make a difference was to [a] tell the truth about that [b] work to come up with achievable goals and then [c] collaborate on strategies to achieve them.

Since 2002, our advocacy has included liturgies for the blessing of same-sex relationships, equal access to all orders of ministry by qualified gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender candidates and supporting civil and sacramental marriage equality.

I could tell lots and lots of stories about how that journey has played out over the last 16 years. Some of them can be found on our website. Others you're going to have to wait for the book. 

But suffice to say it is absolutely a true thing that the course of the history of the Episcopal Church ... and I would be so bold as to say the wider movement for LGBTQ equality ... was influenced by the decisions made at those first round table meetings at Vails Gate and the College of Preachers. 

By the willingness of leaders to tell the truth to each other in order to triumph over turf wars and to forge partnerships and friendships that have stood the test of time. And the test of General Conventions. And the test of Lambeth Conference. And ... 

Well, you get the drift.

There are a boatload of pictures here. They end at General Convention 2015 in Salt Lake City where the Supreme Court made marriage for all legal in our nation and our General Convention changed the marriage canons and authorized liturgies for marriage for all couples. 

No the work isn't done yet. But today -- August 1, 2018 -- I'm remembering showing up at All Saints Church with a couple of plastic crates of files and letterhead in my car and the warnings of some of my clergy colleagues in my ears that I was making a terrible mistake ... that if I stepped out of parish ministry I'd never get back in ... that I'd be marginalized as an "activist" and never get to exercise pastoral ministry ... that I was limiting my options and ...

Well, you the drift.

I'm delighted they were wrong. I'm delighted that sixteen years at All Saints have given me more opportunities and challenges than I could ever have "asked for or imagined." And most of all I'm delighted at the extraordinary privilege of being able to do this gospel work with a truly amazing cloud of witnesses over the year.

Ed BaconKatie SherrodJim White,  Sandye A Wilson,  Elizabeth KaetonMichael HopkinsJohn Clinton BradleyChristine Mackey-Mason,  Joseph Lane,  Rosa Lee Harden,  Kevin Jones, Peggy Adams, Cynthia Black,  John Kirkley,  Louie Clay,  Kim Byham,  Jason Samuel, Mike Clark, Bishop Gene Robinson ... OMG .. this is like an Oscar speech ... who am I forgetting?

La lucha continua -- the struggle continues ... that's the truth.

But so do the blessings, my friends. So do the blessings!

Noting that anniversary, it seemed a good time to post an update on the work leading up to and the results of the 79th General Convention -- held in Austin, Texas in July 2018.

April 7, 2018: Making Full and Equal Claim Full and Equal - Background on the work of the Episcopal Church's Task Force on the Study of Marriage -- including links to their Blue Book Report and FAQ sheet -- by CTB Convener Susan Russell

June 2018: Claiming the Blessing 2018: Full & Equal Means Full & Equal - Third in the series of CTB resources published to inform the work of General Convention on the full inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments.

July 6, 2018: Dear #GC79 - Open letter to Convention urging adoption of marriage for all.

July 13, 2018: Resolution B012 as concurred by the House of Deputies. (The vote was: Clergy: 99 yes, 3 no, 4 divided | Lay: 101 yes, 5 no, 1 divided)

July 13, 2018: Convention lets its "yes be yes" on marriage liturgies - Episcopal News Service article on adoption of B012

July 13, 2018: Episcopal Church Says "We Do." Susan Russell's blog from GC79 on historic vote.

August 15, 2018: Some same-sex couples will still face hurdles. Mary Frances Schjonberg's excellent follow up ENS feature on the roadblocks being put up for couples in some dioceses in spite of the overwhelming support church wide for equal access to marriage liturgies for all couples. 

The saga continues as does the struggle. As Rachel would say: Watch this space!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Clergy as Agents of the State? A Question for Discernment

In preparation for the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, the Task Force on the Study of Marriage issued a lengthy Blue Book Report — which included (on page 565) this essay on the issue of whether or not clergy should continue to act as agents of the state in solemnizing civil marriages. We’re reprinting it here to facilitate dialogue and discussion this aspect of the how the Episcopal Church continues to evolve on the multi-faceted issue of marriage.

Over the last decade, as Episcopalians have discussed our theology of marriage and the place of marriage in the life of the Church, the role of clergy as agents of the state in solemnizing civil marriages has come under consideration. Increasingly, the question has emerged, “Should we be in the marriage business?” Usually when this question is raised, the question is not whether we should perform Christian marriages in our churches.

Rather, the question is whether in these celebrations clergy should also legally solemnize civil marriages as agents of the state. That is, should clergy sign marriage licenses and return them to the town clerk? In the United States this is the action that renders a couple legally married in the eyes of the state, regardless of the vows they make in church.

1. Invisible/Visible

In the life of many congregations, this interface with civil marriage may be nearly invisible. The signing of the marriage license may take place off to the side, perhaps in a sacristy. Many people may not realize that clergy routinely perform double duty when they officiate at marriages, acting as agents of both church and state. In contrast, in states with marriage equality and in which congregations have permission to officiate at same-sex weddings, the signing of the marriage license may well take a place of honor. And indeed, due to this new attention to the role of clergy in signing marriage licenses, some may be newly aware of this double duty.

2. Strategic Disengagement
Some congregations have sought to pause or eliminate this double duty, however. In dioceses where same-sex and different-sex couples might experience legal or ecclesial discrepancies in access to marriage, some congregations have taken up a new policy. They require the marriages of all couples to be solemnized by a civil official before being blessed in the course of the church liturgy. Here the concern is to treat all couples equally, regardless of sexual orientation. Such congregations are emulating, in their own way, some

European countries (for example, France), where couples have historically married first at a courthouse or mayor’s office and then later joined their communities at their places of worship.

Some have further argued from a position of support for same-sex couples that even where marriage equality is legal and there are no discrepancies of access between civil and ecclesial marriage, clergy in The Episcopal Church still should no longer legally solemnize any marriages. At the same time, others are beginning to urge a similar practice of strategic disengagement to critique the expansion of marriage to include same-sex couples. Here the concern is to stand apart from understandings of marriage that are not strictly heterosexual. Both of these perspectives express concern about how serving as agents of the state may compromise their ability to bear authentic witness to their understandings of Christian marriage, and perhaps even of the gospel itself.

3. Pastoral Concerns

Not surprisingly, Episcopalians have varieties of responses to these practices of strategic disengagement.

While many proponents of marriage equality prefer having a civil official sign the marriage license, other proponents have wondered why the Church might question its role as an agent of the state in marriage at a time when more dioceses may be prepared to extend that practice to same-sex couples. People of various perspectives have further wondered about the pastoral impact that might be felt by couples and families across the Church if we were to require all couples to engage a civil official as well as a clergyperson as part of “how we do marriage.” It may well be that in France, such duality of practice is widespread, this line of reasoning explains, but in the United States a shift to this model could simply feel alienating in our congregations.

4. Whether and/or How

On this question, therefore, it seems clear that we have some discernment in which to engage as a church.

Having approached Christian marriage through a vocational lens in the paper “Christian Marriage as Vocation,” the question arises as to whether and/or how the Church may be called to serve as an agent of the state in this arena. In God Believes in Love, Bishop V. Gene Robinson describes a fictional scenario in which a church has discerned a call not to have its priest serve as an agent of the state.

Yet how exactly did this congregation embody this distinction? In Robinson’s example, the congregation’s senior warden serves as an agent of the state for all marriages at the parish. The warden signs the marriage license of all couples in the doorway at the back of the Church, embodying quite literally the border of the civil and ecclesial spheres.

While wardens are not clergy, they are members of their parishes. Therefore, although the distinction between church and state is indeed much clearer here than it is when a clergyperson signs the marriage license, the parish as a community is still making a conscious decision to interface with civil marriage in a particular (in this case, spatial) manner. The community might have asked all couples to have their marriage licenses signed someplace outside the Church altogether, for instance. A congregation might choose a path of greater church-state linkage or separation, and it might do so in a number of different ways. Thus the discernment is not only whether a parish might or might not decide to participate in civil marriage, but potentially how.

5. Implications for Discernment: Unjust Structures

Our discernment process should also consider the ways in which our participation in civil marriage may contribute to the status of privilege accorded to marriage in the civil as well as ecclesial spheres. The paper, “Christian Marriage as Vocation” points out that marriage is both a profound vocation in its own right as well as a manner of life to which some (but not all) are called. Our canons further specify that equal access to a “place in the life, worship and governance of this Church” cannot be denied on the basis of marital status (Canon 1.17.5).

Yet a further question to consider is how the Church’s participation in civil marriage may contribute to marriage in the civil sphere more broadly. In what ways might that participation interface with our call to help transform unjust structures in that sphere?42 Our discernment process might consider, for instance, how health insurance and tax benefits are linked to civil marriage, how unevenly civil marriages are recognized by the states at present, and how profoundly that lack of recognition can impact the daily lives and basic needs of those who remain unrecognized. It is one thing for the Church to embrace the widespread discernment of vocations to Christian marriage, but how we interface with its civil recognition is a distinct matter.

6. Implications for Discernment: Ecclesiology and Mission
How we discern our call to interface with civil marriage down the road clearly emerges in important ways from our theology of marriage. Yet further theological considerations should also prompt our reflection.

While our canons currently prohibit the solemnization of marriages that are not considered legal according to the laws of the state (Canon I.18.2), the two Task Force papers on biblical and theological dimensions of marriage suggest that our theology of Christian marriage does not emerge from marriage’s civil status.

Discernment related to this question — of whether and/or how to serve as agents of the state — should arguably flow more fundamentally from our ecclesiology and understanding of mission. How might our theological understanding of the Church, and particularly of its vocation at its interfaces with the civil sphere, inform this discernment? This solemnization question challenges us to clarify how we are called to be agents of the Good News at the borders of the ecclesial and civil. Does our service as agents of the state enable us to be better agents of reconciliation and transformation in the world than we otherwise would be? Does it make us complicit in the furthering of injustices in that world? What if our participation catches us up in both? If that is the case, how might we discern not simply the lesser of two evils but instead the expansion of the greater good?

Whatever we ultimately discern, the clear mandate from our baptism to respect the dignity of every human being (1979 BCP, 305) calls us both now and in the long run to be consistent in our practice, regardless of the sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity and expression of the prospective spouses, just as we already should be with respect to their race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, disability, or age (Canon I.17.5).

Should the General Convention decide in the future, for example, to limit the scope of the Church’s engagement in marriage to its theological, liturgical, and pastoral facets and to canonically decouple Christian marriage from its legal, civil counterpart, we should engage this process with consistency across the demographic particularities of our communities. All of this calls for careful conversation, reflection, and prayer.

Works Cited

Martin, Dale. Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation. Louisville: Westminster, John Knox, 2006.

“Mission – The Five Marks of Mission”at

Radnor, Ephraim, and Christopher Seitz. “The Marriage Pledge.” at

Robinson, V. Gene. God Believes in Love: Straight Talk about Gay Marriage. New York: Vintage, 2013.

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.