By Jim Naughton
Last night I wrote in haste, so this morning I hope to reflect at something like leisure. We are sitting in Giles’ office at the church going through the morning papers and perusing the news web sites one last time. The protester who disrupted Bishop Gene’s sermon last night is in just about every paper, even the Sun, which features “Gay bishop’s ear-bashing” just a few pages beyond the topless “Page 3 girl.” I learned just this morning that the sermon was deemed of such importance that the BBC carried the entire sermon live on its 24-hour news channel.
The ubiquity of the event made the 10-minute stroll from Giles’ home to the church a real pleasure. People kept stopping us on the high street (Why don’t we have high streets in the U. S? Can anything be done about this? A new political party, perhaps?) to congratulate their vicar and tell him how well things had gone. I didn’t realize it, but Giles had planned for a potential disturbance, and had even chosen the hymn the congregation sang to drown out the protester. My favorite moment on the high street (I am resolved to use this phrase as frequently as possible) occurred when Jim Madden, a 6-foot-5 inch former constable and Conservative member of the Putney council embraced Giles and said that he was glad he wasn’t seated near the protester because he wasn’t sure he would have treated him as gently as the situation required.
When we arrived at the church and Renu, Giles’ administrative assistant, and Rob, St. Mary’s indefatigable sexton were already in the office. Renu, a slight Indian woman who helped out with arrangement, security and media wrangling yesterday, told us that her sister asked her whether she got to wear a bullet-proof vest. “I told her all I had was my Marks and Spencer under wire bra,” Renu said.
Renu and Pria, a BBC’s producer who is also slight, personable and Indian, were constantly being mistaken for one another as they scurried around the church yesterday. “The one day you get two Indian women in the church and no one can tell them apart,” Renu said.
Anyway, about the papers, at first I was concerned that the protest had displaced the sermon (and all of those laboriously arranged interviews that I wrote about yesterday) as the story. But it was probably the protest that pushed the story towards the top of the news. And anyone who watched film of the protest, saw how gently it was handled, and how Gene resumed his sermon by asking the congregation to pray for the protester. More importantly, stories that boil down to dueling opinions eventually fade from view–or, at the very least, they fail to progress. The protest gave the story a sense of movement. Something happened. It wasn’t much–there had been one protester outside before the Eucharist, there was one inside during–but it conveyed a sense that this momentous message that Gene was bringing to the English church was being absorbed and that people were responding.
Coming on the heels of the story about the gay blessing service at St. Bartholomew’s Church in London, the extravagant publicity garnered by Gene’s appearances here, makes it increasingly untenable for an English bishop to argue, as Tom Wright does, that the controversy over the morality of gay relationships is a North American concern. The veil that the English church has drawn to hide its gay clergy and obscure the tolerant practices of many of its bishops has been pulled back, at least for the moment. Rowan Williams may continue to speak about the American churches divergence from “the mind of the Communion,” but his listeners will be aware that he isn’t necessarily in touch with the mind of his own church.
Meanwhile…. There are a couple of bits of information floating loose in the world this morning, and I wanted to say a bit about them.
1. It is true that many people in the Episcopal Church would like to get us out from under Resolution B033, the legislation passed on the last day of our 2006 General Convention which calls upon “Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.“ This isn’t a secret. Numerous dioceses have already submitted resolutions to next year’s General Convention asking that the legislation be repealed, or superseded. If this legislation passes (a big if–I am not sure there are enough votes in the House of Bishops to get the job done) a gay candidate would have a better chance of being elected and confirmed. The notion that if the legislation passed we’d immediately elect another gay bishop is speculative. The notion that we’d suddenly have five or six is hallucinatory. At this point, it is not even possible to know for which dioceses will be electing bishops, which priests would be chosen as candidates, or how the internal dynamics of the dioceses would affect the elections. (I have gone on about this at some length because I have had calls from three reporters about this story this morning.)
2. Integrity has not provided cell phones for all of the Episcopal bishops attending the Lambeth Conference–or even for those sympathetic to its agenda. The Episcopal Church has provided cell phones for all its bishops–and their spouses, too, I believe.
It seems likely to me that the level of misinformation and disinformation about the Episcopal Church is likely to increase in the next few weeks.
Video of Gene’s sermon is here.
UPDATE: From the Daily Telegraph:
Today Mandrake can name [the heckler] as Graham Maxwell, a freelance photographer who, it emerges, has been employed by the London Fire Brigade to cover its participation in two Gay Pride marches in London.
Maxwell declined to comment when Mandrake asked whether he saw any incongruity in the protest that he made and what he has done for a living.