Category Archives: Pastoral Ministry

Women Bishops: Canada, Ireland

Just as the Church of Ireland was consecrating its first female bishop, the Anglican Church in Canada was electing a woman bishop of its own.

(The Telegraph report of the Irish consecration of Bishop Pat Storey referred to her as the “first Anglican woman bishop”. This is not strictly correct. She is the first woman bishop in the UK or Ireland, but there have been several more in other provinces of the Anglican communion, including some recently appointed in South Africa and India, for example).

More women bishops

The Diocese of New Westminster in the Anglican Church of Canada elected the Reverend Canon Melissa Skelton to be its ninth bishop on Saturday.

Press reports include:

Huffington Post Canada: Rev. Melissa Skelton Elected Bishop Of New Westminster

Douglas Todd Vancouver: Sun Rev. Melissa Skelton elected bishop of Vancouver-area Anglican diocese

Paul Sullivan Matro [Canada]: Anglican bishop brings branding skills

By coincidence the election took place on the same day as the Consecration Of The Revd Pat Storey As Bishop Of Meath & Kildare. Patrick Comerford, a Canon at Christ Church Cathedral, where the service took place, describes the occasion in detail: A Memorable Afternoon at the Consecration of Bishop Pat Storey in Christ Church Cathedral.

via Thinking Anglicans

Churches and Sexuality – Finding Common Ground

In the heated debates over sexuality, sin and the Christian response, is there a possibility that the churches find common ground? A new report by Savitri Hensman for the religious think tank Ekklesia thinks there is :

Think-tank proposes different approach to church sexuality row

Churches with different views in heated debates about sexuality actually share common ground and can move forward despite their differences, says a new paper from the Christian think-tank Ekklesia.

The research paper, ‘Church views on sexuality: recovering the middle ground’, by Savitri Hensman, rejects the popular idea that there are two warring blocks that may be labelled ‘traditionalists’ and ‘revisionists’. This is simplistic and can be misleading as well as unhelpful, it says.

In the new paper, Ekklesia identifies seven widely held viewpoints on sexuality within churches of different denominations and traditions. It shows that those with supposedly diametrically opposing positions often have more in common than they may at first think – even though they may presently disagree about same-sex relationships, for example.

Equally, it argues, coexistence among those sharing a ‘middle ground’ is not about weak compromise, but instead reflects an approach both deeply rooted in Bible and tradition and open to change as a living community led by the Spirit.

– full news release at Ekklesia.

The abstract for the published paper gives:

Abstract:
It is clear that Christians hold a spectrum of views on sexuality and marriage. However, the popular idea that there are two warring blocks that may be labelled  ‘traditionalists’ and ‘revisionists’ is simplistic and can be misleading as well as unhelpful. Current tensions could be reduced and reframed significantly if more church leaders acknowledged the extent of common ground in the middle of this continuum, allowed limited flexibility of practice, and enabled their communities to develop practices of discernment oriented towards the “grace and truth” (John 1.13- 15) that lies at the heart of the Christian message. In this paper, Ekklesia associate Savitri Hensman identifies seven widely held positions on sexuality. She suggests that those with supposedly diametrically opposing views often have more in common than they may at first think. Equally, she argues, in Christian terms, that coexistence among those sharing a ‘middle ground’ is not about weak compromise, but instead reflects an approach both deeply rooted in Bible and tradition and open to change as a living community led by the Spirit.

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Pope Francis’ World AIDS Day prayer:

This year, World AIDS Day conincided with the First Sunday of Advent. Pope Francis paid attention to both, in his Angelus message. The scriptural message for the first reading yesterday concerned an end to war (“turning swords into ploughshares”), and Francis looked forward to a time when nations will co-exist in peace. But for World Aids Day, he also included an expression of “solidarity” for all those affected by AIDS, and a hope that they will all have access to the healthcare that they need.

English: The Red ribbon is a symbol for solida...

Continue reading Pope Francis’ World AIDS Day prayer:

Pope Francis' World AIDS Day prayer:

This year, World AIDS Day conincided with the First Sunday of Advent. Pope Francis paid attention to both, in his Angelus message. The scriptural message for the first reading yesterday concerned an end to war (“turning swords into ploughshares”), and Francis looked forward to a time when nations will co-exist in peace. But for World Aids Day, he also included an expression of “solidarity” for all those affected by AIDS, and a hope that they will all have access to the healthcare that they need.

English: The Red ribbon is a symbol for solida...

Continue reading Pope Francis' World AIDS Day prayer:

Two More Women Bishops – in Africa.

Opponents of women or gay men as bishops in the Anglican communion, argue that while these might be acceptable to Western “liberals”, they would never be accepted by Christians in the growth regions of the church, in Africa and Asia. This claim totally overlooks the historical fact that in both Africa and Asia, same – sex relationships were part of traditional culture in many parts of both continents before the arrival of Western missionaries – and that before the widely publicized election of Gene Robinson as the first openly gay man elected to the episcopacy in North America, at least two openly gay bishops had been selected in both Africa (Mervyn Castle, in False Bay, Cape Town), and in the Soloman Isles, in the Pacific region.

Similarly, there have been four women recently named as bishops, but only one, from Ireland, has been widely reported. Yet Rt Revd Ellinah Wamukoya was consecrated Bishop of Swaziland in November 2012 and the Rt Revd Margaret Vertue, for False Bay (adjoining Cape Town in South Africa) in January 2013, and more recently, Rev. Eggoni Pushpalalitha in South India

The Rt Revd Margaret Vertue ( False Bay) and the Rt Revd Ellinah Wamukoya ( Swaziland)and)

 In addition, the Wikipedia entry on women bishops in the Anglican communion reports that women bishops have been approved, but not yet appointed, in Bangladesh, Brazil, Central America, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, North India, Philippines, Scotland, Sudan, Uganda. and Ugnada. With so many countries from Africa, Asia and Latin America accepting of women bishops, the claim that the “rest of the world” is not ready, simply does not hold water.

A report from Anglican News noted that the recent provincial synod for Southern Africa, attended by the two new women bishops, devoted considerable attention to remaining problems of gender imbalance.

Anglicans Welcome Women Bishops and Wrestle with Gender Justice within the Church

While the Anglican Church of Southern Africa had two women Bishops at its Provincial Synod for the first time, it also passed a motion pressing for better gender balance in its meetings and structures.

The Rt Revd Ellinah Wamukoya was consecrated Bishop of Swaziland in November 2012 and the Rt Revd Margaret Vertue in January 2013, and were among eight new bishops at the Synod, which has been meeting this week in Benoni, South Africa.

In his address to the opening session of the Synod, Archbishop Makgoba recalled his words at the previous meeting of Synod, ‘Those of you who were here three years ago will remember me admitting I dreamed of consecrating a woman bishop for our Province – by the grace of God, we now have two!’

Nonetheless, participants in the meeting noted that among Synod members, men outnumbered women by more than three to one, and so a motion was passed calling on steps to be taken to work towards a more equal balance particularly in key bodies of the Church.

via Anglicannews.org

The Gay Catholic Quest for Dignity, Integrity

For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.
– Matt 18:20

That’s any two or three – including two or three gay and lesbian people.

Catholic teaching on LGBT people is crystal clear: we are to be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity, should be free of any unjust discrimination, and must be protected from any malice or actual violence, in speech or in action. It also includes, as Pope Francis recently reminded us, that it is not up to anybody else, even for himself, to judge others – including gay and lesbian people.

Francis, Who Am I to Judge

The experience of far too many gay and lesbian Catholics sadly, is that very many ordinary Catholics, and some priests and even bishops, simply ignore these compassionate elements of teaching  to focus exclusively on the best known part of Vatican doctrine – that all genital acts outside of marriage and not open to procreation, are prohibited. That prohibition of course, applies equally to everybody – but those who rant and rail so frequently against homosexuals in the Church, are usually strangely silent on that.

Another important element of Catholic teaching applicable to people of any orientation and spelled out clearly in the Catechism is that sexuality is an important part of our human make – up, which needs to be integrated into our personalities.

“Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity.” (2333)

and

“Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another” (2337)

Continue reading The Gay Catholic Quest for Dignity, Integrity

After 40 Years, Entry into the Promised Land?

LGBT writers on affirmative readings of Scripture have frequently used the story of Exodus and the escape from Egypt as an analogy for our journey from bondage to freedom, just as African Americans had previously done (for example, in the Negro spiritual “Let My People Go”). But when I began reading the excellent “Queer Bible Commentary”, it occurred to me that a more relevant story is what comes next: the forty years of wandering in the desert. (Allowing for some flexibility for poetic licence, it’s roughly forty years since Stonewall, one marker of the birth of the gay liberation movement). It was entirely appropriate therefore,  that the theme for our fortieth anniversary conference was “From Wasteland to Promised Land”, which was described by guest speaker Daniel O’Leary not as a journey, but as a “blossoming”.

Desert in bloom with everlasting daisies
Desert in bloom with everlasting daisies

Continue reading After 40 Years, Entry into the Promised Land?

Pope Francis' Gay Outreach

Last week I noted that in his visit to Brazil for World Youth Day, Pope Francis had not a word to say about gay marriage – even though this year alone, marriage equality has been approved in five countries, four states in the USA, (with more to come) and six in Brazil. Some bishops are warning that this represents the end of civilization as we know it – but it is clear from his silence that Pope Francis is not unduly concerned about it. There are far more important issues, more authentically Catholic concerns, that he believes we should be paying attention to. .

Today, he has delivered some thoughts which are more explicitly favourable, insisting that gays should be integrated into society, must not be marginalized or discriminated against, and should be welcomed into the priesthood.  Welcome words indeed. There is in fact absolutely nothing new in this – it’s all absolutely standard, orthodox Catholic doctrine, which contains two parts. There is a compassionate side, directing that we should be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity, and protected from unjust discrimination, and from violence or malice, in words or in deeds. Then there’s the harsh side, denying absolutely any hope of physical expression of our loves in genital acts. The problem has been that many bishops, and the previous two popes, have ignored or directly flouted the compassionate parts of teaching, focusing exclusively on the harshest bits. Francis is not in any way signalling a shift in actual teaching – but he is introducing some sorely needed balance. That alone is welcome.

There’s a way to go yet to introduce sanity into the Catholic Church approach to human sexuality, for people of any orientation, but this is a great start.

Pope Francis: ‘Integrate gays into society’

Pope Francis, Scotsman

POPE Francis, in some of the most compassionate words from any pontiff on gays, said they should not be judged or marginalised and should be integrated into society, but he reaffirmed Church teaching that homosexual acts are a sin. Continue reading Pope Francis' Gay Outreach

Marianne T. Duddy-Burke: Is the Catholic Church Unfriendly to LGBT People?

A new Pew Research Center survey of American LGBT people and their responses to religion deserves close reading, for its extensive analysis of our community’s experience of the churches, and how it has influenced our responses to religion.

For Catholics for example, the study of 1,197 LGBT adults found that 79 percent of those questioned rated Catholicism as “unfriendly” to LGBT people. In a commentary at Huffington Post, the executive director of Dignity, Marianne Duddy – Burke, described the parallel finding that  only 4 percent view our church as “friendly” as providing an “abysmal assessment of the Catholic Church”. Nevertheless, she continues, it is inaccurate to describe the church as a whole as unfriendly. In sharp contrast to the notoriously tone – deaf statements and actions of some bishops, the situation on the ground, as shown by direct support by Catholic politicians, experience in many parishes, and findings from other surveys, is quite different. The real problem with the Catholic Church, she says, is its “split personality”.

Catholic Church Unfriendly to LGBT People? No, Living a Split Reality

A new Pew Research Center study provides an abysmal assessment of the Catholic Church for those of us who value LGBT inclusion in our faith communities. In a study of 1,197 LGBT adults released on June 13, 2013, 79 percent of those questioned rated Catholicism as “unfriendly” to LGBT people. Only 4 percent view our church as “friendly.”

This is probably not surprising to many, due to the long list of anti-LGBT statements, actions and positions promoted by leaders of the Catholic Church, both here in the U.S. and across the globe in recent decades. Even as the study was being released, word of Pope Francis’ acknowledgement of a “gay lobby” within the Vatican and his linkage of that phrase with corruption among church leaders raised anxiety among LGBT Catholics. We wonder what it is we’ll be blamed for this time, even as media representatives and others scramble to interpret what the pope meant in his speech.

However, for those of us who identify as Catholic and LGBT, as supportive family members, or simply as ordinary Catholics dismayed by the Pew survey’s findings, it raises at least two key challenges. First, it forces us to question how these numbers can coexist with other national surveys that repeatedly demonstrate that U.S. Catholics support civil rights for LGBT people at levels higher than any other denomination, and that relatively few Catholics view same-sex relationships as sinful. For example, in a March 2011 study by Public Religion Research Institute, 71 percent of Catholics supported civil marriage for same-sex couples, and only 39 percent said homosexual behavior was morally wrong.H

– continue reading at  Huffington Post

Particularly depressing in her description of the bishops’ response, is her statement that since Cardinal Dolan’s highly publicised statement that the Church needs to be more welcoming to LGBT Catholics and his accompanying admission that he does not have any ideas on how to achieve this – he has not even bothered to respond to repeated requests for a meeting.   How on earth can you even hope to extend a real welcome to a  community, if you are not prepared to meet with their representatives?

In addition, we are challenged to revisit episodes like Cardinal Timothy Dolan’s Easter statements that the church needs to be more welcoming to lesbian and gay people. Since his statements to that effect on two national television news shows, the cardinal has failed to respond to invitations from several groups of Catholics involved in ministry with LGBT Catholics and our families to talk about what a more welcoming church might look like.

Dismal as this response is, Catholics must always remember that the Bishops do not in fact represent the Church. They have the titles and hold the offices of leadership, but in practice, real leadership in the Church comes from below. Instead of waiting for a real and authentic welcome from above, we must create our own welcome in our parishes and other faith communities, out and proud as openly gay or lesbian Catholics,. Make our presence known and felt, and in time, even the bishops will follow.

 

Gay Marriage, Civil Unions, and the Church

June is a big month for marriage equality. In the UK, it’s now clear that the House of Lords will approve the Marriage (Same – Sex Partners) Bill, in the USA, the Supreme Court will make two rulings that will most likely further advance the cause (while stopping short of declaring a full right to marriage). The Church of England has accepted that it has now lost the political battle against the gay marriage bill, and will instead concentrate on improving the detail. Already this year, three countries and three US states have legislated for equal marriage, and the Brazilian court has confirmed that even without legislation, gay couples have the right to marriage.

This political progress to full equality, and the fierce opposition that it has encountered, has obscured an even more remarkable movement, of greater significance for queer people of faith – extensive acceptance of civil unions/ civil partnerships, and of our relationships. This chart from the Pew Research Centre illustrates how strong this has been, in the USA. (Similar growth applies elsewhere).

PRC_Legal_Agreements

Polls on gay marriage have become commonplace, especially in the US, done frequently by a wide range of polling firms. The Pew polls are particularly notable, because they’ve been doing it for a long time, and so have a powerful collection of comparable data with robust sample sizes, and also because of their specific interest in religion, as indicated by the name. (“Pew Research Centre” is associated with the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life). For any Pew poll, it is worth digging into the detail, for cross-tabs on religious denomination. This graphic illustrates the results for the question on “allowing gays and lesbians to enter into legal agreements with each other that would give them many of the same rights as married couples?”

% in favour of legal unions

Civil Unions, Support 2013

For American White Catholics in particular, these results are remarkable: just more than four out of five support legal recognition – even more than for the “unaffiliated” group (essentially, those with no religion). In the UK, a similar pattern was observed in the House of Lords debate on the equal marriage bill. The interventions by Catholic peers included some from all sides – in support of the bill, in opposition to the substance but in favour of advancing to committee stage debate on detail, and opposition that was so strong as to reject even progressing to a second reading. But in all interventions, there was clear support for the principle of equality and non – discrimination – opposition was based only on concerns about the word “marriage”, and that civil partnerships or similar provided sufficient equality.

It is against this backgrounyd that we must assess recent declarations by Catholic bishops for some form of legal recognition and protection for same – sex couples. As os so often the case with Catholic bishops, like Gilbert and Sullivan’s renowned Duke of Plaza – Toro, they lead their regiments the church from behind, following where ordinary Catholics have already gone. Those speaking up now, are simply catching up with the real church. This catching up, what is more, goes well beyond the simple matter of supporting legal contracts to protect gay couples – it challenges the whole of church teaching on same – sex relationships. The same Pew poll shows it clearly – the majority of American Catholics no longer believe that “engaging in sinful acts” is sinful (once again this is up sharply from ten years ago), and even more now believe that homosexuality should be accepted by society:

However, opinions among Catholics have changed substantially. In 2003, more Catholics said homosexual behavior was a sin than said it was not (49% vs. 37%). Today, a third of Catholics (33%) say it is sin, while 53% disagree.

and

….. wide majorities of Catholics (71%) and white mainline Protestants (65%) say homosexuality should be accepted by society. And those without religious affiliation favor societal acceptance of homosexuality by roughly five-to-one (79% to 16%).

 Pew Research Centre

The Washington Post had a story last week headlined “The political war over gay marriage is over. The culture wars continue” (or something like that). Change “culture” to “religious”, and that’s my position, exactly.

The political wars will take time to reach completion, but it’s only a matter of time. The churches must now deal with the implications, for themselves. The cardinals and bishops who are speaking up publicly are only those will to show their noses. There are many more, just waiting to do likewise. Once they start talking about legal recognition, they will have to start talking also about the inherent value of these relationships – and then, of the need to find some way to recognize and celebrate them, in church congregations. That can’t be done, without accepting that same – sex love in itself, is not intrinsically sinful. Exciting times, ahead.

As the old platitudes for against gay marriage fade away, we need to create a more reasonable, constructive debate about the real meaning and value of marriage – and other forms of relationships. But this needs to look at the realities, not nonsense about labelling opponents as “homophobes” on the one hand, or dire warnings about the destruction of the institution of marriage, on the other. The fact is, that marriage has constantly evolved (been “redefined”) over many centuries, and taken countless forms in different societies. As Mark Jordan observes in his superb  ”Blessing Same-Sex Unions“,  many so – called “traditional” weddings today are far removed from any real religious content,  with the chief presider over ritual no longer a priest or pastor, but the wedding planner – closely followed by the photographer, caterer and the florist. There’s as much of real Christianity in these marriages, as there is in the modern “traditional” Christmas, which has been equally debased by commercial interests.

Our experience as gay and lesbians in loving, committed relationships, without the distortion of these commercial weddings and based on real partnerships, freed from artificial and customary role models and patriarchal assumptions, will be useful in teasing out a new, revitalized understanding of the real value of marriage and other committed relationships  – .useful for the whole church.

A continuing constructive debate about the religious value of marriage, as distinct from the secular protection in law, may well result in further redefinition of marriage – for the better.

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