Daily Episcopalian will return on July 6.
by Thomas Luck
From June 14-18 I attended a class at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois, which is on the campus of Northwestern University. I took this class as I continue the flex-sabbatical I began in 2008, when I took courses at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University, in a Doctor of Ministry (DMin) in congregational development program run jointly by Seabury and Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California. My next class will be for a week next January in Berkeley.
The course I took was "Congregations in the Twenty-First Century." The teacher for the class is the Reverend Dr. Susan Harlow. Susan, as she prefers to be called, is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and has taught for 17 years in theological education. A graduate of Hollins University, she earned her Master of Divinity at Andover Newton Theological School and a Master of Theology at Harvard Divinity School. Her doctorate is from Columbia University in its joint program with Union Theological Seminary in Religion and Education. As Susan says, "I'm ordained in the UCC, but in theology and practice I have become an Episcopalian." Susan's life partner, the Reverend Dr. Bonnie A. Perry, is rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Chicago. The Rev. Dr. Perry is one of the "up and coming" younger clergy of the Episcopal Church, who I have heard present before, and she was one of the presenters for our class. A couple of years ago she was nominated for bishop in the Diocese of California. Although she was not elected many think she will become a bishop in the not too distant future. Time and the Holy Spirit will tell.
A bit more about my class; there were eighteen students in the class, ten women and eight men. Among the eight men there were only two other white straight males besides me. There were Hispanic men, people from Canada, an Australian serving in Canada, a white South African working on a Ph.D. in San Diego, and white suburban women; there were six people in the DMin program, and others who are preparing for ordination in the Episcopal Church.
While our class was meeting there was some drama unfolding regarding the relationship of the Episcopal Church with the Anglican Communion. Letters had been exchanged by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. In his letter the Archbishop of Canterbury announces some sanctions removing members of the Episcopal Church from some international bodies since we no longer represent the "faith and order" of the Anglican Communion. This is because the Episcopal Church ordained the Right Reverend Mary Glasspool as Bishop Suffragan in the Diocese of Los Angeles, and Bishop Glasspool is a lesbian in a long-term committed relationship. Shortly after both of these letters, the Presiding Bishop was in England for a long-standing engagement to preach at Southwark Cathedral in London, at the invitation of the Dean. Just before the service the Presiding Bishop was informed by the Archbishop of Canterbury that she would not be allowed to wear her mitre, or any other symbol of the office of Bishop. Cleverly, she carried her mitre in her hands throughout the entire service. This was explained as being necessary because the Church of England is about to vote on whether women can be ordained as bishops, and that if she were allowed to look like a bishop it would be inflammatory. Since that event, it has come out that other women who are bishops have preached in England and been allowed to actually look like bishops. Never mind that the Presiding Bishop is in fact already a bishop and the Primate of the Episcopal Church!
Now in Syracuse. Last week I performed a graveside service for the friend of a parishioner. The parishioner, a woman, has received the Congressional Gold Medal for logging 1,000 hours flying military aircraft in World War II. The people who gathered with her were an amazing group of people! Among them was an elderly couple that particularly caught my attention. One of the women in the couple had a small tattoo on her cheek and bright lime green fingernail polish. The other woman in the couple was wearing ladies sandals, pink socks, a red dress and had long, flowing, fire engine red hair. But as I came closer to the burial plot I realized that the person in the red dress with the long red hair had the face and voice of an elderly man. From my limited knowledge I think that this person is transgendered, someone who is a woman in a man's body. Yet, here they were, a loving couple, and obviously friends of our highly decorated parishioner.
Later we went to the apartment of the parishioner for some refreshment and conversation. Sipping wine and eating cake I heard a number of amazing stories. And then someone asked the person wearing the red dress to tell her tale of the time she almost died in combat in her previous life. Then, with utter seriousness, she talked about fighting the Chinese in face to face combat in a frozen river in Korea. This person was critically wounded and lying helplessly in the river, partially under the ice. She realized that the Chinese were going around and bayoneting to death everyone who was wounded. So she kept her eyes wide open, staring off into space pretending to be dead. It worked, and she was the only person in her platoon to survive. When she was found by medics she could only blink her eyes.
As I was listening to this story I wished that I had a video camera, for the impact of seeing this lady in her dress and long red hair telling this tale of courage and patriotism was extremely profound. I was left speechless. The living room in this apartment was full of patriotism from people whose own lives have often been full of disregard or ridicule. Later on the same day St. Paul's Cathedral hosted the Interfaith Gay Pride service, and people, non-Episcopalians, prayed loud prayers of thanksgiving for the witness of the Episcopal Church, and for their being welcomed in our Cathedral.
On July 4th we will once again celebrate the independence of the United States of America, an independence that was hard fought in the Revolutionary War, and which has continued to be hard fought to our own day. Many of those who have helped preserve our independence over the years have themselves not always been granted the full rights that their citizenship entitles them to receive; from the African Americans who fought for the North, to the Navajo who helped provide the secret code that helped win WWII, to the women who flew military aircraft in that war but did not receive veteran benefits until the 1970's, to people such as this lady, to those who live under "don't ask don't tell" today. America is not only for these people too, it is especially for these people. The United States is the last best hope on earth for the dispossessed, the different, and those who are loathed simply for being who they are. It is why your ancestors and mine came here. And as an Episcopalian who loves the Anglican Communion, I am proud that the Episcopal Church may be the last best hope in Catholic Christianity for the dispossessed, the different and those who are loathed simply for being who they are. There are lesbian, gay, transgender and bi-sexual parishioners at St. Paul's Cathedral, so many we simply could not function without them. They serve on numerous groups. They may not be obvious to all, but we are richer for their presence. This July 4th I bless God for the United States, for the Episcopal Church and for St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral.
The Very Reverend G. Thomas Luck, M.Div., A.L.M., is the Dean and Rector, St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral, in Syracuse, New York.