The Episcopal Church Welcomes You

Dottie Fuller and Gil Grady had been together for nine years before they came out to members of their church.  Their deacon told them,

‘We really need you
to come out, so others
will feel safe here…’

 In the 1970’s – even in San Francisco – gay and lesbian visitors were asking, ‘Is it OK for me to come to church here?’  Dottie says, ‘We may be the only people that the church ever asked to come out.’

Today Dottie remembers other members of the Episcopal Church who led the way:

“It always takes one person to start a movement. Dr. Louie Crew Clay was born in the mid 1930’s,  into a Caucasian Episcopal family in Alabama.  Louie became a well-respected scholar, English professor and a writer.  In 1974 he entered a life partnership with an African-American man, Ernest Clay.

“That same year, Louie started networking.  He placed an advertisement in the Episcopalian, the church’s national newspaper, asking other gay and lesbian Episcopalians to subscribe to a newsletter,  Integrity: Gay Episcopalian Forum.  Louie also made a practice of inviting people – especially those on the other side of the issue – to lunch.  Over these lunches, he shared his own life experience, and he began encouraging other gays and lesbians to do the same.

“From the Church’s point of view, the questions about homosexual issues started in 1967.  That year, General Convention (GC) called for the first dialogue and study of the theology and psychological aspects of homosexuality.  Nine years later, at GC 1976, came the first resolution – written by Louie Crew and other Integrity members – which stated:

‘Homosexual persons
are children of God
who have a full and equal claim
upon the love, acceptance, and
pastoral concern and care
of the Church.’

“The resolution gave us hope that we could be honest and open about who we are, in our church if not in society.  It was also the first inkling that GC was the way forward for gays and lesbians in the Episcopal Church.

“An early question was:  Should we work toward blessings of our relationships or ordination? Interestingly, Paul Moore, Bishop of New York, had quietly ordained Ellen Barrett a deacon in 1975.  A feminist and gay activist, Ellen Barrett had an M.Div. from General Seminary and was highly recommended by its faculty. After years of discussion, Bishop Moore and the Standing Committee of the Diocese of New York took a giant leap and proceeded with the ordination.  Amazingly, there was no publicity about the ordination.

“All that changed when Ellen was ordained priest in 1977.  (David Bird, now the Dean of our own cathedral in San Jose, was a presenter.) Photographers from four national TV networks stood in the back of the church, and the San Francisco Examiner had Ellen’s picture on the front page under the headline ‘Lesbian ordained priest.’  At dinner with Ellen and her partner Kathy after the ordination, we saw a 2-foot stack of negative letters next to a 2-inch stack of positive letters.  Friends were helping them by answering the telephone and opening and sorting letters for them.

“With Ellen’s ordination, there was no longer a question about whether we should work toward the church blessing our relationships or ordaining us.  Ordination was now on the front burner.  But in 1979 General Convention passed a resolution stating that it was not appropriate to ordain a practicing homosexual.

 

GENERAL CONVENTION, 1985 – ANAHEIM

“This was the first major organized presence of Integrity at Convention, and also our own first Convention. There were 20 volunteers maintaining a booth, hospitality room, legislative team, and tech support staff to follow resolutions.  Our goals were to distribute accurate AIDS information (this was at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic); to help the church understand that gays and lesbians are not ‘they’ but ‘we’ – that is, we were already members of the church; and to try to get sexual orientation added to the two ‘anti discrimination’ canons:

  •  No one shall be denied rights or status in this church because of race, color, ethnic origin, gender, physical handicap or age…
  • No one shall be denied access to the ordination process…

“We left Convention believing that both measures had passed, only to find out there had been a clerical error: the House of Bishops’ resolution did not have the exact wording as the House of Deputies. (General Convention has two houses: the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, which includes clergy and lay members.)

“The failure of this resolution was one of our greatest disappointments.  However, our greatest joy was the election of Edmond Browning as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, who said in his opening address, ‘In this church there will be no outcasts.’

 

GENERAL CONVENTION, 1988 – DETROIT

“This convention passed a resolution asking gays and lesbians to speak out in the church, telling the stories of their lives.  Many gained the courage to speak in their own parishes and in their diocesan conventions.  We shared our own story with a Standing Commission of General Convention, meeting at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.

 

GENERAL CONVENTION, 1991 –  PHOENIX

“I was an alternate deputy at this Convention.  By now, two more partnered gays had been ordained, but there were no gay and lesbian deputies or bishops who were ‘out.’  We realized we had to get our growing number of allies to submit resolutions and speak on the floor.

Often it is easier
to hear a mother say,
‘My son is gay’ than
to hear the man say,
‘I am gay.’

“Both houses agreed not to discuss sexuality issues until after a public hearing. 3000 people came to the hearing in a large ballroom.  In the women’s room next to the ballroom, lines of women waited for the stalls, chattering and some giggling with excitement over the debate.  (But for some of us in the line, it was our own lives that were being discussed.)

“In the hearing, two bishops spoke, followed by two speakers each from Integrity and Episcopalians United.  170 people signed up to speak after the formal speeches, and 20 were able to speak. One was Pat Waddell from St. Luke’s, Los Gatos.  Later in that same convention Pat was on the floor and able to speak to the House of Deputies.  Pat and the Rev. Stina Pope were the first to say they were speaking as openly gay and lesbian deputies.  This was a huge step forward for us.

 

GENERAL CONVENTION, 1994 – INDIANAPOLIS

“Again, I was an alternate deputy.  This time both of the anti-discrimination canons that had failed in 1985 passed easily, plus several that supported gay civil rights and the funding of the National AIDS Coalition.   The Standing Committee on Liturgy and the House of Bishops Committee on Theology were ask to study the issue of same-sex blessings but forbidden to develop actual rites.

“Our diocese, El Camino Real, had submitted a resolution asking that domestic partners be included in church insurance policies.  Jim Godell, a member of All Saints Palo Alto who was employed in Silicon Valley had appealed to Diocesan Council to include domestic partners in insurance coverage, but Council refused.  Integrity then submitted a resolution to the Diocesan Convention, where it passed and was sent on to General Convention.  At the GC hearing, the Church Pension Group argued against it, and the resolution failed.

‘In 1995, between General Conventions, ten diocesan bishops brought a presentment for heresy (teaching contrary to the faith) against the Rt. Rev. Walter Righter, retired Bishop of Iowa, for ordaining a partnered gay man to the diaconate in the Diocese of Newark.  The whole issue of bishops ordaining non-celibate gays and lesbians was at stake.  In May, 1996, and eight-bishop court ruled (7-1) that ‘There is no core doctrine prohibiting the ordination of homosexuals living in faithful and committed sexual relationship with a person of the same sex..’

 

GENERAL CONVENTION, 1997 – PHILADELPHIA

“In all, I would attend nine conventions; this was my first time as deputy.

“The resolution on health insurance for domestic partners was resubmitted, and passed; this time the Church Pension Group supported the resolution, and it passed.

“Another resolution asked for the development of a rite of blessing.  It failed to pass by one deputation in the House of Deputies.  All were shocked that the vote was so close, and discussion switched from asking if a rite would be developed to when.  One conservative bishop said, 

‘How am I going to explain this
to my people at home?’

 

GENERAL CONVENTION, 2000 – DENVER

“Many resolutions on sexuality were submitted to this Convention.  ‘Committee 25’  was a committee which combined bishops and deputies, with a co-chair from each House.  One member of ‘Committee 25’ was Rebecca Snow, known for her ability to listen well and help groups reach compromises. (Rebecca is the sister of Frank Snow of St. Jude’s, Cupertino.)  ‘Committee 25’ combined the multiple resolutions into one with eight ‘Resolves’, which recognized what GC had already done and proposed further steps forward.

“The first seven ‘Resolves’ passed in both houses.  To us, the most important ‘Resolve’ was:  ‘There are currently couples in the Body of Christ and in this Church who are living in marriage and couples in the Body of Christ and in this Church who are living in other life-long committed relationships.’   The Church had recognized that our relationships existed, and in another ‘Resolve’ said all couples deserved pastoral support

“In the House of Deputies ‘Resolve 8’, calling for the development of blessing rites, passed in the clergy order but failed in the lay order by three votes.

“My vision of the task
before the Church
was of a thick brick wall,
with people digging a small hole
through the middle of the wall…
but the hole was getting bigger
as the years went on.”


GENERAL CONVENTION, 2003 – MINNEAPOLIS

“After a long, drawn-out process, this General Convention consented to Gene Robinson’s election as Bishop of New Hampshire.

“From the gay and lesbian point of view, Gene Robinson was the best possible person to become the first partnered gay person to be elected a bishop.  Gene was known for his deep spirituality, his pastoral skills and his ability to resolve conflicts. He was loved by the people of the Diocese of New Hampshire, where he had served for many years as rector and as Canon to the Ordinary.  The Diocese of New Hampshire did not elect a stranger; they elected one of their own.

“At this Convention, Gene and people from his diocese (along with members of Integrity and ‘Beyond Inclusion’) held daily ‘coffees’ for deputies to meet him and enter the conversation.  Gene always responded calmly, no matter what was said.

“In our own diocese Bishop Richard Shimpfky, who had worked with Gene in New Jersey after Gene’s ordination to the priesthood, invited Gene to come to a clergy conference.  Before this conference, Bishop Shimpfky asked me to meet with Gene, who was really nervous, because he had usually been in groups where he knew most of the people.

“Gene’s consecration as a bishop was held in the sports arena of a college campus.

To get into the ceremony, participants had to pass through full ‘airport security’.  Gene Robinson, retiring New Hampshire bishop Doug Thurner, and Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold all wore bullet-proof vests under their vestments.  The altar party, in addition to the regular ministers, included similarly-vested security people, there to keep everyone safe.

 “Before getting into the arena, we passed protesters, including members of the  Westbury (Baptist) Church of Topeka, Kansas, whose pastor was Fred Phelps.  (This is the same church whose members have picketed the funerals of members of the armed forces, because Fred Phelps blames gays for the war.)

“But walking out of the service, we were greeted by students, reaching out to shake our hands and thanking us for our courage.

“At this Convention, I was elected to the Executive Council, which continues the work of GG between Conventions.  I was to be on the Executive Council for six years.


GENERAL CONVENTION, 2006 – COLUMBUS

“At this Convention we elected our first woman Presiding Bishop, Katherine Jefferts-Schori,  who was known for supporting gay inclusion.

“The major issue was the Anglican Communion’s response to our having elected Gene Robinson.  The Anglican Communion had issued the Windsor Report, which asked in part for a moratorium on the consecrations of bishops in same-sex relationships, and on the development of blessing liturgies

“Ultimately, this Convention passed B033, which called on 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…’     BO33 did not mention homosexuality, but the House of Bishops later told the Archbishop that’s what it meant.

“In a striking development, the House of Bishops also cancelled the consecration of all bishops until this issue was resolved by the next General Convention.


GENERAL CONVENTION, 2009 – ANAHEIM AGAIN

“This Convention again opened the ordination of bishops to all qualified persons and called for the development of liturgies of blessing.

“This was our eighth (and last) General Convention.  I was worn out by the 18-hour days, but

… after this Convention I finally felt able
to put that bumper sticker on our car –
‘The Episcopal Church Welcomes You.’

 

GENERAL CONVENTION, 2012

“This Convention passed a Liturgy of Blessing  for trial use, ‘The Witnessing and Blessing of a Life Long Covenant’.

 

THE LONG JOURNEY CONTINUES

“From 1967 (when General Convention first called for the study of homosexuality) until 2012 (when the liturgy of blessing was approved), our church had been on quite a 45-year journey.    Qualified gays and lesbians are now able to be ordained as deacons, priest and bishops; the Blessing Liturgy was finally approved.  In most domestic dioceses, gays and lesbians have an equal place at the table.   General Convention is now working on trans-gender issues.

“As gays – along with women clergy, Gene Robinson, Katherine Jefferts-Schori and others – have taken their seats at the table – many others have left the church.  We didn’t expect people to leave their seats in order for us to come to the table, and the prayerful hope is that many will come back.

“This New Year’s, the rector of our church told us about her own New Year’s resolution, and she asked each member of the congregation to adopt it for themselves: As we wake up each morning and look at ourselves in the mirror, we will say to ourselves,

 “I am God’s child,
deserving love and respect,
and God will use me
to change the world.”

Dottie Fuller

 

 

 

 

Dottie Fuller receives the Bishop’s Cross
from Bishop Mary Gray Reeves, 2011

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