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posted Friday, January 22, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 04
Reflections on the recent gathering of the Anglican Communion
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Reflections on the recent gathering of the Anglican Communion

Rev. Jeff Gill - Trinity Parish, Seattle

Epiphany II (Year C) Trinity Parish, Seattle January 17, 2016
Isaiah 62:1-5; Psalm 36:5-10; 1 Corinthians 12:1-11; John 2:1-11


On this Second Sunday after the Epiphany it is appropriate that we see Jesus at a wedding in Cana of Galilee, where he performs his first miracle.

Marriage has been in the news this week. For much of the past week [January 10-16] the 38 Presiding or Archbishops of the Anglican Communion (Primates in Anglican-speak) were gathered in Canterbury, England, for conversation and consultation on, yes, marriage - more specifically, same-sex marriage.

Issues around homosexuality have been hotly debated in church circles for many years. It was in 2003 that the consecration of Gene Robinson as the first openly gay Bishop in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion took place. I was there for the occasion. There were many throughout the Anglican Communion who reacted to this consecration in an angry and hostile manner. Just six months later I was at a clergy conference in Menlo Park, California, when on our final day together the news came that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court had issued a ruling making it illegal to discriminate against same sex couples in granting marriage licenses in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. As a priest in Massachusetts at the time, I returned home and within days was asked by our bishop to be part of a small task force of clergy, theologians, and lawyers to look at formulating our diocesan response to the issue of whether the clergy could now officiate at the marriage of same sex couples. Based on our recommendations, the bishop decided that clergy could conduct blessings of same sex marriages that had been civilly constituted, even though our marriage rite in the Book of Common Prayer still defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

Marriage equality progressively gained traction in church and society. Parishes like this one publically identified themselves as Open and Affirming of LGBT persons. By 2012, just days after I began my ministry here at Trinity, the Washington state ballot initiative calling for the rights of gays and lesbians to marry was certified (remember Prop. 74?). Since that time marriage equality has spread across the country, and last summer the Supreme Court of the United States struck down all obstacles to same sex marriage throughout the entire United States of America.

Attitudes have changed substantially and a majority of Americans now believe in the right of all people to marry the person they love. And churches are gradually changing too. Studies show that even a majority of younger evangelical Christians also support marriage equality.

Just this past summer, the General Convention of The Episcopal Church approved new rites for the blessing of same sex marriages allowing clergy throughout the Episcopal Church to perform marriages of same sex couples. We've had the privilege of sharing in many beautiful marriages of same-gender couples right here at Trinity. Marriage is now open to all people in all fifty states, and throughout the Episcopal Church. The barriers seem to be going down everywhere...

Oh, that it were so!

The past twelve years have seen increasing division in our worldwide Anglican Communion, particularly on the part of bishops in the global south, encouraged by breakaway bishops and clergy from the Episcopal Church here in the U.S. Last summer's decision by our General Convention was not received happily in many parts of the Communion. This week's gathering of the heads of the 38 Provinces of the Communion was an opportunity to test whether the Anglican Communion would continue to exist as we have known it, or change in some substantial way, or perhaps even cease to exist.

What happened there this week [the week of January 10-16] came as a great disappointment to all of us who have worked and prayed and longed for the day when all God's children could count on the church to be a place of welcome and inclusion and affirmation, and where the sacraments - all of them - would be open to all without respect to their sexual orientation or identity.

We learned on Friday that The Episcopal Church has been sanctioned by the Primates of the Anglican Communion. Press reports of our being 'suspended' or 'excommunicated' (both of which I have seen) are not only sensationalist, they're inaccurate. The sanctions on our branch of the church are that we may not play a role on any of the ecumenical or interfaith bodies of the Anglican Communion for the next three years, nor be appointed to any of the internal committees on doctrine or polity (a sanction that many, I'm sure, have received with great joy!). We will be at the table, but with no vote on decisions. We, for the sake of unity, will play a second-class role.

Susan Russell of All Saints' Church in Pasadena, speaking of the sanctions, says, 'I'm proud and grateful that being considered second class Anglicans is a price we are willing to pay to treat God's beloved LGBT people as first class Christians.'

Our own Presiding Bishop who represented The Episcopal Church at the meeting in Canterbury gave a statement at the close of the gathering in which he expressed his sadness and disappointment at the way things had turned out. But he did not capitulate.

He spoke to his fellow Primates just before their final vote on the sanctions and said:

'Our commitment [in The Episcopal Church] to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all. While I understand that many disagree with us, our decision regarding marriage is based on the belief that the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians are true for the church today: All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ.'

'For so many who are committed to following Jesus in the way of love and being a church that lives that love, this decision will bring real pain,' he said. 'For fellow disciples of Jesus in our church who are gay or lesbian, this will bring more pain. For many who have felt and been rejected by the church because of who they are, for many who have felt and been rejected by families and communities, our church opening itself in love was a sign of hope. And this will add pain on top of pain.'

Bishop Curry addressed those who were about to vote on the sanctions, many of whom were from the African Provinces of the Communion. He said, 'I stand before you as your brother. I stand before you as a descendant of African slaves, stolen from their native land, enslaved in a bitter bondage, and then even after emancipation, segregated and excluded in church and society. And this conjures that up again, and brings pain.

'The pain for many will be real,' he said. 'But God is greater than anything. I love Jesus and I love the church. I am a Christian in the Anglican way. And like you, as we have said in this meeting, I am committed to 'walking together' with you as fellow primates in the Anglican family.'

Some in our church might say, O why bother with the Anglican Communion anyway if they're going to be this way and if they're not going to affirm our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters? After all, this is a big step backwards, and it sends a terrible message to the world that the church would further marginalize people who already suffer not only discrimination but the threat of imprisonment in many countries, and even death.

And that, I would suggest, might be precisely the reason for us to stay in this Communion - yes, even as second-class citizens - to continue to bear witness to the truth of God's all-embracing love, to stand alongside gay, lesbian, transgender, queer folk in places like Uganda and Kenya and Nigeria and other parts of the world where just being who they are is dangerous, and where the church is often behind the laws that persecute them and cast them to the margins. We have a role to play, to be a voice speaking on their behalf, and to be Christ's arms stretched wide to embrace them in sacrificial love.

There is work for us to do. We may take pride in our Open and Affirming stance here at Trinity, but we cannot sit back and say we have done our part. There is still much work to do, yes, even here in our own city where violence against LGBTQ people has been on the rise in recent times.

As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we celebrate this weekend said, 'no one is free until all of us are free.' He also famously said, 'The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.' It may not always feel that way, and our faith may have been put to the test in the events of this week, but remember that 'faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.' (Hebrews 11:1)

Bishop Curry said this week, 'It's important to remember that the Anglican Communion is not a matter of structure and organization. The Anglican Communion is a network of relationships that have been built on mission partnerships, relationships that are grounded in a common faith [relationships we have been privileged to take part in with the church in places like Rwanda, South Sudan, and Kenya right here at Trinity]... relationships that are profoundly committed to following the way of Jesus of Nazareth by helping the poorest of the poor, and helping this world to be a place where no child goes to bed hungry ever. That's what the Anglican Communion is, and that Communion continues and moves forward.'

My brothers and sisters, all of us, straight and gay, black, brown, white, pink, or green - whoever you are - it's time for us to be strong, to stand firm, and to keep doing the work that God calls us to do. The Episcopal Church will not be going back on its commitment, and neither will this parish.

At the wedding in Cana, it came to Mary's attention that they had run out of wine, and so she said to Jesus, 'They have no wine!' The implication was, 'do something!' Jesus' first response was a kind of shy one. I always imagine him saying under his breath to her, 'Mother! It's none of our business! Let them take care of it.' And then (shyly), 'And besides, my time has not yet come.' Mary went to the helpers anyway and said to them, pointing to Jesus, 'Do whatever he tells you.' He told them to fill the jars with water, then take them to the wine steward. And when the steward tasted it, it was wine, and it was better than the first wine they had served.

I think the message in this story for us today is for us to get over the shyness and do something! Jesus made something good out of a bad situation. We can do the same. I'm thinking about getting some badges printed up that say, 'Proud to be a second-class Anglican.' Now that'll be a conversation starter!

So, pray for our Anglican Communion. Pray for all those who have not heard just how much God loves them, whoever they are. Pray for all of us that we may not rest until ALL have known the surpassing love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Courtesy of Rev. Jeff Gill and Trinity Parish, Seattle.

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