GENERAL CONVENTION 2003
Our True Calling..
A Pastoral Letter By The Right Reverend Catherine M. Waynick,
Bishop, Diocese of Indianapolis
I am writing to you on the Feast of Pentecost; a feast which, at the time of the Apostles, was celebrated by the Jews as an offering of the first fruits to God. For the followers of Jesus that feast took on another meaning---a changed and transformed meaning---which can provide clues to the very nature of the holy gift they received that day.
The community of bewildered disciples became the Church. Those who had been cowardly were transformed into apologists for God's saving work in Jesus the Christ. Those who had huddled fearfully in a locked room now became bold in the living of their lives of witness. It seems the Holy Spirit brings the winds of change..
By the time you read this you will all be aware that the Diocese of New Hampshire has elected the Rev. Canon Gene Robinson as their Bishop Coadjutor. I have known Gene for about ten years; most recently we have served together on the "Abundance Committee" for the Church Pension Fund. I know him to be a person of deep faith, quick wit, intelligence, and possessed of gifts for teaching and preaching. He is a more-than -able administrator and pastor. He has been entrusted with positions of leadership and has proven himself worthy of that trust. In all those respects any member of the Church would be willing to see him seated in the House of Bishops. But some are not willing, because Gene is also a gay man who has been in a same sex partnership for over thirteen years.
This partnership began after Gene and his wife came to a shared decision that he could not honestly remain in their marriage. They went to the Church for a blessing of their parting, and to make certain they would be both supported and held accountable for the shared care of their children and their continued concern and love for each other. Gene, his former wife and his partner have all shared in the raising of the children.
Some in the Church consider that particular passages of scripture prohibit such arrangements in life. I must tell you honestly that what I find condemned in scripture I would also condemn---I believe any of us would. The hate-filled power play of homosexual rape which is described in the story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is one such practice. We would also deplore cultic ritual prostitution of any kind, and the promiscuous and hedonistic revelry condemned by Paul.
What I do not believe scripture addresses at all is the experience of many of our members, who have committed themselves to monogamous, life long partnerships which are neither promiscuous nor exploitative, but have, rather, proven to be enduring and life-giving to them and those around them.
While the heat of condemnation swirls around us, I would like to offer the reminder of our Lord's assurance that no bad tree can bear good fruit---or a good tree bad fruit. I must admit to you that I am rather culturally deprived; the only persons of homosexual orientation I know at all well are members of the Church. I can honestly tell you that on the whole I have experienced them to be faithful, intentional Christians, whose lives are productive and whose relationships are honest and giving. They often use their gifts generously in support of their communities and their Church. Their lives are often characterized by the fruits of the Spirit about which we read on Pentecost---good fruits, which cannot be born of bad trees. Many of them have been clergy, who have served this and other dioceses with skill and grace, and whose lives have provided examples of faithfulness to many.
So what I need to do at this point in our life together is offer the further reminder that we have not been called to agree. We have been called and commanded to love. Jesus did not, as far as we know, call his disciples together and command them to come to agreement upon every issue they would encounter in life. In fact we know they did not agree on several issues that seemed very important to them, including the necessity for circumcision. What Jesus did command is love---not only that we love our neighbors as ourselves but we love as he has loved us---sacrificially and eternally. Some in the Church have issued ultimatums; if a gay man with a partner gains consent for consecration as a bishop they will walk away from the Church.
I must say this. No matter how we may disagree about issues such as abortion, hand gun control, whether or not to go to war, the death penalty, or human sexuality, we are still obligated by our baptism into Christ to love each other. I simply don't know how we can claim to know what love is about if we turn our backs and walk away from each other when disagreements arise. It is no trick to love each other when everything is going smoothly. That's the proverbial piece of cake!
It's when we hit the rough spots, and---for the love of God--- hold on to each other, that we can even begin to learn what truly loving one another is all about. Until we are willing to cling to one another even when we are disappointed and angry we cannot claim to provide a credible witness about love to the world around us. God's love for us has included becoming vulnerable to suspicion and hatred, rejection by friends, false arrest, sham trial, torture, and cruel execution. What will characterize our love for each other?
As a bishop of the Church I must tell you that I don't care whether the world looks at us from the outside and says, "Look at those Episcopalians---they have all the right answers and they completely agree on every important issue!" What I do long for is to have people see us and say, "Those Episcopalians are amazing. They clearly don't agree with each other on some issues, but they also very clearly love each other. And they don't let their disagreements stop them from seeking and serving Christ by feeding the hungry and clothing the naked and housing the homeless. They don't let their disagreements keep them from gathering to praise God and share the sacred meal of Communion in which they know they encounter the Christ whose love transforms and enlivens them. They don't let their disagreements keep them from proclaiming God's love to the world." That's what I want the world to say about us.
Whether or not Canon Robinson gains consent for consecration, the Church will have changed. We must learn to have conversation with each other about all sorts of issues that trouble us. Conversation is not debate; not about winning and losing. It is about coming to deeper understanding of one another, and always carries the possibility of conversion for all who are involved in it. Conversion is change and transformation; a worthy endeavor for people who celebrate the feast of Pentecost, when all became able to understand..
Faithfully in Christ,
Cate Waynick +
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