By Louie Crew,
Founder of Integrity
Chair of the Newark Deputation to General Convention
If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.Note: John Worrell accepted this on November 20, 1996, for publication in his delightful and controversial Nevertheless, an occasional journal in the Diocese of Texas. He has apparently never used it, and he has refused to reply to over half a dozen queries over 32 months. Nevertheless, it now appears in cyberspace, unsuppressed. Soon after Father Worrell accepted the essay, the rector of St. [X]'s was a candidate in an episcopal election, and lost.
I mentioned in a public cyber forum that I would be visiting a city in the Diocese of Texas, and a leader in the diocese advised me:
I am sorry that I will not be able to join you [there]. The Episcopal Church often has a unique role since [the city] is unofficially the center of Southern Baptists of Texas. If you have time, you would find St. [X]'s services meaningful and the folks there will give you a warm Texas welcome no matter what your attire.
His note arrived after I returned, but I did indeed attend St. [X]'s. The parish struck me, as it did when I first visited as a freshman in 1954, as a place which italicizes "the first shall be first and the last shall be last." Even the color-coding of sexton and congregation remains exactly the way it was then, though the city's lesbigay bar is literally across the street, and the parish is surrounded by the homes of African Americans.
It was "Visitor Sunday" at St. [X]'s. A friend and I both signed the parish guest book on entering, filled out the visitor card in the pew, and wore the visitor label on our coats. We were seated in the middle of the nave, yet in the long, slow treck out, only one person spoke to me, another to him. Our suits did not differ noticeably from the attire of others. I got the impression that any visitor would have been ignored in much the same way.
I was the beneficiary of glorious Texas hospitality all weekend, so I do know whereof my advisor spoke, but St. [X]'s was not noticeably hospitable except in the ways over which it had no control. For example, the NT lesson talked about the welcome of prostitutes before the welcome of the Religious. "Maybe God is a lesbian," I whispered to my companion, "and knew you and I were coming to visit St. [X]'s when She issued the invitation and inspired the choice of today's Gospel."
I enjoyed the service immensely. The ministers did a superb job substituting for the sermon an instructional version of communion, with excellent explanations interspersed at all major junctures in the Eucharist. I hope to promote that variation in many other congregations.
During the two days earlier, I talked with over 150 local lesbians and gays in the city, plus many of their family members, who courageously walked on Saturday in the city's first lesbigay march. Protesters held signs supporting "FAMLIES" and complained that we were destroying the image of a progressive city. Several young men toted a confederate flag and shouted "FAGGOTS! PERVERTS!...." I wonder if it was just to us sissies and lesbians that these appeared far more ominous than any of us the marchers in the reports of three channels of the evening news.
Before the march, I spoke at an interfaith service and at an event planned by PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). PFLAG honored local ministers from several from other denominations, and honored the newspaper for its fairness in covering some of the abuse faced lesbians and gays. Two Baylor students risked the stigma to participate in the public march, but nary an Episcopal priest. I checked out several with collars, but not one person wearing one was an Episcopalian.
I met well over a dozen Episcopal lay persons at these venues, however, among them the couple who were my host family, who rarely go to church any more. The church is not present with them in their efforts to build a spiritual support community for their son and for other parents and friends of lesbians and gays.
"Why should I bother with the church?" at least five persons asked me with anguish in private conversation during my visit. How would should I have answered them?
Next Sunday St. [X]'s will bless the pets--"anything except your snakes, since I'm afraid of those," teased the rector. "Maybe we folks from the parade would be welcome for a blessing as animals," I said to the psychologist, who was my local friend visiting. Maybe, but I suspect a snake has better odds.
This reminded me of another speaker at the lbg interfaith service, who told the story of a woman who brought a dog to her minister to be blessed.
"This is an Episcopal Church and we don't do things like that," her rector exhorted, adding with an air of condecension. "but the Methodists down the street do."
"Thank you," she replied; "and what honorarium would be appropriate for the Methodist minister in thanksgiving for his blessing my dog--$500, $600?"
"You didn't tell me that you have an Episcopal Dog!; we'll be glad to bless it!"" the rector replied.
I look forward to the day, surely not far off, when the priests and the levites of the Episcopal Diocese of Texas and throughout the entire Anglican Communion will be present during the tribulations of those treated as the least of God's sisters and brothers.
ECUSA need not even try to alter by one jot or tittle all that Jesus had to say about Respectability--at Calvary. God wants to offer the Diocese of Texas, indeed, offer to all the world, a huge blessing. "If my people who are called 'little Christs' will humble themselves...." Humble derives from humus, 'dirt.' Walk with us. Walk with us as does the One who always wants to bring joy to absolutely everybody!
Let this mindset be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who did not treat his equality with God as a thing to be exploited, but humbled himself and took on the form of a slave. Be servants among my people, dear pilgrims.
Amy Lowell on visiting the same city early in the 20th century wrote: