Sunday, July 30, 2006

Diocesan De-Briefing

Our Bishop & some Deputies held one of their post-Columbus debriefings at my parish this week. They’re holding four of them around the diocese.

I had been fairly anxious in advance of this meeting, especially because my parish has never discussed The Gay Issue. Yes, that’s right: Never. Not once. When GC03 consented to +VGR, our beloved priest of (then) some 34 years preached an awesome, supportive sermon. But now he has resigned, and we have an Interim Rector who has not spoken of the issue. In the absence of leadership, I’m not sure where my parish stands. I'm not sure where I stand in this parish.

I worried this Diocesan debriefing might be a “fireworks session” – that I might hear a lot of ugliness that I had never known was living “below the radar” in my parish.

There was some basis for anxiety on my part. Although I have been “on sabbatical” from TEC since GC, I did hear reports of what happened on the first Sunday after GC. Our bishop wrote
this pastoral letter to be read in all parishes after Columbus. Reportedly, when the reading came to this section – “To our lesbian and gay sisters and brothers, I say: Do not despair. I continue to support your full inclusion in the life of this Church.” – one couple that’s been heavily involved in our parish stood in their places and marched out of church in protest.

I feared that couple was merely the tip of the iceberg, and that this debriefing session would reveal all the homophobia and hatred lying just below the surface in this Midwestern, small parish.

But – fortunately -- it did not turn out that way at all in the Diocesan de-briefing we hosted.

We had a pretty good turn-out – about 40 folks in our convocation turned up for the meeting. Most were members of my parish. But there were no fireworks. The diocesan group had come up with a clever controlling strategy: asking people to write their questions on Post It notes before the discussion, and thus carefully discouraging actual discussion.

Very few people bothered to post questions. Maybe they were just there to listen and observe. I don’t know. I do know that most of the attendees were our senior citizens. But -- thank heavens! -- there were no fireworks.

I’ve kept a very low profile in my parish. I have not been “out” or “political” with them. I love those folks! and have often felt nurtured and embraced by them.

I think that’s one of the things that made me angry about B033 and all the publicity attending it. I had been a low-profile lesbian, just going about my life and work in my parish. I had never made a big deal about being gay, and they had dealt with me in a typically Episcopalian way – with that “don’t ask, don’t tell” that we’re so good at.

Maybe, if I’d been in this parish over the past many years and decades of all those battles over gay-related GC resolutions, I would have faced this issue before. But I had not. I had only been a quiet, passive pew-sitter before GC06.

So … to me … it felt like this diocesan “debriefing” was going to be a make-or-break moment. It was nothing of the sort.

The Bishop and Deputies addressed written submissions on topics covering the gamut of GC06 – from how the new Ministry canons will affect people currently in the discernment process … to what it means to begin exploring Eucharistic sharing with the Methodists … to how it felt to be on the floor when +Katharine was elected PB … and so on.

I think I was the only one who wrote a question related to B033. My question (as near as I can recall it) was something like: “Given that GC consented to the election of a woman as PB and consented to the consecration of a thrice-married man as a bishop, exactly whose ‘manner of life’ does TEC intend to be a bar to consecration as a bishop?” Yep! It was a rather polemical rant-masquerading-as-a-question. But the way they structured the session, they did not just read the questions as written. They had a fellow who “redacted” the questions and asked them as he saw fit. So he redacted mine to: “In B033, what does ‘manner of life’ mean?” Obviously, much got lost in that redaction.

I think the Bishop & Deputies must have spent about 10-15 minutes deconstructing that question and dancing around answers to it. But a few things did come out of their answers.

But before I talk about their responses, you also need to know that this is a diocese that – despite being in the generally-conservative Midwest – did give unanimous consent in GC03 to the consecration of then-Canon Gene Robinson to the episcopate and to same-sex blessings. These are not Neanderthals. Most of them would aptly be characterized as “straight but not narrow.” They lean to the left of the Episcopal spectrum.

Answering my question, one Deputy led the group through the whole process that had led to the defeat of A161, then the debate on and eventual passage of B033. He followed the line that so many have expressed – about how the “diverse center” had finally triumphed over the “extremes” of GC. Others echoed his “take” on things.

Finally, I pulled up my big-girl panties and took ownership of my question, and asked them how gay and lesbian folks could possibly see this as anything but a sell-out.

Another Deputy answered the question somewhat more passionately. I happen to know that she’s the mother of a gay man, the priest of an inclusive parish, and an Oasis member. She explained the conflict that she and others felt when confronted with ++Griswold’s and ++~Schori Jefferts’ pleas, saying that she felt this was what she needed to offer to the Anglican Communion at this time. But, she said, she’s firm that if this doesn’t mollify the people like ++Akinola, then they can just go **** themselves next time ‘round. [No, she didn’t use a four-letter word, but it sure felt implicit in what she expressed.] When I followed up, asking how she felt when ++Akinola hours later described TEC as a “cancerous lump” that needs to be excised from the Anglican Communion, she just hung her head in what looked like genuine, profound grief.

One Deputy’s reply infuriated me. He gave the sell-out party line, concluding with something about how this is going to require blah and blah and blah [I can't remember which hollow words he used] and “sacrifice” from all of us.

Later, I had a chance to talk with him and the other Deputies after the official session concluded. With barely controlled rage, I asked this straight white guy, “Just exactly whose sacrifice is going to be required? Certainly not yours! Whose???” The poor guy didn’t have any answer.

There was much visiting and milling-about after the session ended. To my surprise, many of my fellow parishioners were aware of the “sabbatical” I had declared Since Columbus. Many folks approached me with what seemed genuine concern – even distress – asking me to come back. This was surprising to me. I thought I had made my retreat quite quietly. I certainly had tried to do so! But I guess folks had noticed. These exchanges led to some pretty intense exchanges – even passionate ones. By the time it was all over, I did feel ready to go back to my parish. There are people there whom I love and who love me. I need to be back with them.

The sabbatical is over.


Blogger ... said...

This probably explains why that same guy (cargo pants and sandals, right?) avoided me at the reporting session on Thursday and at the Sacred Union reception he and I both attended on Saturday.

7/31/2006 10:38 AM  
Blogger Lisa said...

No, there were no cargo pants & sandals at our session. The guy I talked with was wearing a collar.

7/31/2006 10:56 PM  

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