God calls us forward, Bishop Robinson says at Integrity Eucharist

Integrity Eucharist preacher Gene Robinson challenged the congregation to prepare to keep moving. “God is always going to be calling us forward,” he said. Photo./Sharon Sheridan

[Episcopal News Service -- Indianapolis] On the day when General Convention affirmed a policy of nondiscrimination against transgender people and the House of Bishops approved provisional use of a liturgy for same-gender blessings, the Episcopal Church’s first openly gay bishop told the LGBT community and its allies to prepare to keep moving.

“Just about the time you get comfortable, God leads you somewhere else,” New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson preached to an estimated 1,400 people at the Integrity Eucharist. “We are never meant to stay only right here. God is always going to be calling us forward.”

Confessing that he himself hated camping, Robinson recalled that “Abraham was asked to live in tents. … They dreamed of a real, honest-to-God city — you know, with foundations and that stayed in the same place all the time. But God asked them to live in tents.”

“You know what?” he asked. “I want some answers to things. I want things to stay where I put them and to stay where I think them, and I don’t like to be asked to move on and then move on again and to move on again. And yet, it seems to be the biblical witness that God means for us to live in tents and to move from place to place and to never finally settle down until we’re all in heaven. We are meant to live, in this world at least, in tents.”

“We have been led in our time to recognize and begin to accept and affirm and celebrate gay and lesbian, bisexual and now transgender people,” he said. “What an astounding time to be alive.”

The Eucharist, sponsored by Integrity USA, is traditionally one of the most well-attended related events that take place during each General Convention. This year’s service took place on the fifth day of convention’s July 5-12 gathering here.

Robinson described attending a dinner July 7 for bishops and their spouses the night the transgender legislation passed their house, and how they all wanted to talk about the issue. “We had little tutorials around the dinner table.”

The Integrity service bulletin listed Robinson’s sermon as a “teaching,” and the bishop said he had some “homework” for his listeners.

“To the transgender people who are here, first of all, thank you,” he said. “You have given us an amazing gift. My challenge to you is: Give more. You’re going to have to.”

“There aren’t enough of you to tell enough stories for us to understand so that we can be … a partner in your liberation. You are so important to us, and the world is so dangerous for you, and our job is to make it not so dangerous so that your transgender brothers and sisters can tell their stories. At the end of the day, it’s only our stories that change hearts and minds.”

Addressing gay, lesbian and bisexual worshipers, he said: “Don’t underestimate your learning curve on this. … We are almost as ignorant about this as anyone else, so pay attention.”

Addressing “straight allies,” he said: “I said a long time ago that I thought one of the reasons that homosexuality was being focused on was [that] it was a magnificent way to divert attention from heterosexuals talking about their own sexuality.

“Your homework is to begin to have those conversations. You need to have those conversations, because we are really talking about the mystery and the beauty of God’s gift of sexuality … There are as many sexualities as there are human beings.”

And ultimately, he said, “we’ll be asked to move on, because even LGBT work can’t be a tent that we live in forever. As soon as we get a real leg up on this thing, God is going to point out somebody else that we haven’t been paying attention to.”

The real issue isn’t sexuality, he said. “This movement is about spreading the good news of Jesus Christ. We just happen to be pretty dramatic examples at the moment of what happens when you dare to believe that the Lord is this good. … This is about evangelism.”


Diocese of Los Angeles Bishop Suffragan Mary Glasspool celebrated the Integrity Eucharist, attended by an estimated 1,400 people. Photo/Sharon Sheridan

Los Angeles Bishop Suffragan Mary Glasspool, the Episcopal Church’s first lesbian bishop, celebrated the Eucharist, whose theme was “Living our Identities through God.” The Rev. Carolyn Woodall, recently ordained as the first transgendered deacon in the Diocese of San Joaquin, served as deacon of the Eucharist, and all transgender clergy and laity were invited to escort the ministers of the Eucharist to the altar platform.

Integrity founder Louie Crew receives the President’s Award from current Integrity President Caroline Hall at the start of the July 9 Integrity Eucharist at General Convention. Photo/Sharon Sheridan

The service began with a presentation of Integrity’s President’s Award to the organization’s founder and first president, Louis Crew of the Diocese of Newark. At a reception before the Eucharist, two longtime friends of his from the diocese paid him tribute.

“I think Louis Crew is perhaps one of the best Christians that I have ever known,” said the Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton. He also is perhaps the most generous and joyful, she added.

“He’s a man who can take insults and persecution and hardships and say, ‘Joy, anyway,’” Kaeton said.

The source of his Christianity, generosity and joy “is a heart that is absolutely brimful with gratitude,” she said. “He’s so grateful for what Jesus has done in his life … for the people Jesus has brought into his life.”

Kim Byham described encounters with Margaret Mead and Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town Desmond Tutu, telling the audience, “Most of the famous people I have met since I graduated from college have been through the Episcopal Church.”

He called Crew “the greatest person that I have ever met in the Episcopal Church and someone that I’ve come to know extremely well and, other than my husband, is my dearest and best friend. He is the epitome of truth for me.”

– Sharon Sheridan is a member of the Episcopal News Service team at General Convention.

Comments

  1. martha knight says:

    This is such a long time in coming. Let us continue to be the prophetic voice for the church.

  2. Michael Neal says:

    I’m afraid the exodus will continue…………..TEC (a church that I loved) has left me, the TRUE Gospel has been abandoned, perversion has prevailed, Lord have mercy on TEC and may your TRUTH prevail throughout the rest of the Anglican communion…………press on…………

    • Jeannie Lyons Gunn says:

      Yes, I agree….such a sad day! I love my dear church. Too bad the church did not take a stand against this lifestyle.

    • @Michael: I also left the church of my birth because I no longer felt at home there, so I sympathize with you. However the Episcopal Church and its evolving stance on sexuality has been the salvation of me and many others who have remained faithful to her during this tortuously long journey. If you could have witnessed the joy and relief on their faces at this service, perhaps your heart would make room for them. I met an Army chaplain who survived combat in Iraq and watched several of her comrades die, only to be told by her diocese she was unfit for pastoral work. And yet she was at our convention as a volunteer, working for you.

      If you look at studies of why people are leaving church, more of them (and critically more YOUNG people) do so because the church is too harsh in its stance on sexuality than too lenient. We are becoming the church of the next generation, as we must if we are to survive at all.

      @Jeannie: Sexual orientation and gender identity are not “lifestyles” … they are as core to your identity as the color of your eyes. If you don’t believe me, try to change yours.

      I’m very sorry that you both see this as such bad news. May God help you find peace with it.

  3. @Michael Neal: Sorry you feel that way. That’s how I felt in my former church (an Evangelical mega church)…I felt that they had left me and that their view of the Gospel had abandoned the true message of Jesus…to welcome all regardless of who they are. I am so blessed and happy to have found a home in the Episcopal Church. I hope that you find a place where you feel at home as well! May the Holy Spirit guide you on your journey!

  4. Growing up in the south I was unaware of segregation while immersed in it. I came to see the evil of that “separate” existence through the example of an Episcopal priest. Then I was blind to the exclusion of people who expressed their love in a different way. Again a priest of the Episcopal Church opened my eyes. I thank God for this fearless denomination and am proud to be an Episcopalian. But I stand in fear of the truth spoken by Bishop Robinson. “As soon as we get a real leg up on this thing, God is going to point out somebody else that we haven’t been paying attention to.” God grant me the gift of yet more spiritual heroes who will lead me further in my acceptance of those of your children who I now blindly pass without embracing as my brothers and sisters in Christ.

  5. Chris Lummus says:

    I find it interesting that Mr. Robinson focuses on sexuality to the virtual exclusion of traditional Christian teachings. It seems his world revolves around the culture of “ME” rather than serving his fellow human beings regardless of their personal characteristics. Apparently those the Episcopal Church welcomed with open arms have now hijacked the Church for their own personal agendas. There are several bishops and dioceses that welcome all people in the sense of loving one another just because it’s the right thing to do but are not in favor of flaunting one’s sexuality in a manner that is just not sensitive towards all in this Church. I believe that if I had offended as many people as have been offended by Mr. Robinson, or precipitated the withdrawal of entire dioceses as has Mr. Robinson, I would resign my position and try to just be a Christian rather than a disciple of the label of one’s sexuality. It seems that this has gone far enough and it’s time to return to the Bible for guidance. Those who speak of God’s Will usually mean their own will. I do not believe that a person’s sexuality is in any way a “perversion” but I do believe that it is their own business. As a mainline Church we need to move on. There are things like poverty, disease, ignorance, etc that need to be addressed….personal labels aren’t what is important, the people behind those labels are important just as are those original, conservative Churchmen that welcomed female acolytes, deacons, priests, and bishops, and didn’t label but did accept those whose sexuality left them ostracized by other religious groups. By flaunting the labels and putting those labels into the headlines our Episcopal Church in the USA is unnecessarily endangering Anglicans in those areas such as the middle East or Africa where Islam and various tribal cultures interface with Christianity.

    • John Clemens says:

      I don’t know what your childish definition of “flaunting” is but if you mean standing alongside Rosa Parks and refusing to give up our seat (at the table) then so be it. If you believe that being in a long term monogamous relationship is flaunting sexuality I would suggest you re-examine your own narrow views and heterosexual hypocrisy and return to the discussion when you can confess the sin of the hatred you foment and pain you bring to so many others.

    • Chris, two points on that:

      LGBT people would very much enjoy the luxury of having their identities not be the topic of conversation with people they don’t even know. The best way to accomplish this is for those in positions of power to stop using orientation or identity as a reason to thwart someone’s full participation of the church. And if being able to sit with your family and receive the same pastoral nourishment as the rest of the congregation constitutes “flaunting” sorry you’ll have to get used to it, because we’re not going back there.

      Furthermore, raising the concerns that Christians in other countries may face violence as a result of our church’s actions this week, how is their individual safety any more important than that of LGBT folks, both here and in the countries mentioned, who are placed in danger by the hatred and paranoia spread by members of our Communion and others in the name of Christ?

  6. Victoria Salter says:

    Now let’s get back to our true work, what God has called us to do. Love one another as we love ourselves! This is a long time coming!

  7. I second Kim on Louie Crew. He is up there with HH The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu, both of whom I have met in my wanderings at the Cathedral and at peace marches and demonstrations. One of the treasures of the ECUSA.

  8. Grace Burson says:

    Chris, as one of Bishop Robinson’s priests in the Diocese of New Hampshire, I assure you that in his actual role as a diocesan bishop (which is all he ever wanted to be; he never asked to be a global spokesperson for LGBT issues) he is acutely aware of the Church’s obligation to fight poverty, disease and ignorance in Christ’s name.

    • Chris Lummus says:

      Thanks Rev. Grace…I appreciate your response and I’m sure it is true. There are many Bishops and Priests striving to do the same in this Church. If we can get beyond labels and the negative focus they bring upon our work in the Church we can make some progress. There are many conservative Bishops and Priests also continuing to welcome all comers to the Church and to accomplish our Great Commission to bring all people to know of Christ’s love.

  9. One small correction: when the initial attendance estimate was made, it was made on the assumption of the number of chairs we had ordered for the banquet hall. I later learned that the convention center had offered to set up more chairs for us – enough to fill the room. So the total number that the hall was set up to hold was 2,400. With that new information, we have revised our estimated attendance to be 2,200 – the largest Integrity Eucharist ever!

    The Rev. Jon M. Richardson
    Vice President for National Affairs, IntegrityUSA

  10. Tonye Willie-Pepple says:

    Please read 1st Corinthians 6 verse 9 and 1st Timothy 1 verses 8-10. I pray for God to Guide us aright even at sad times like this,when we want to make our own free thoughts replace the truth of Gods word.

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