A living history of ministry for the LGBTQ+ community — Part 17: Change, witness, and the next generation

Posted on June 13, 2017

When Bishop Marc was elected and installed as Diocesan Bishop of the Diocese of California in 2006, it was still illegal for marriage licenses to be issued to people of the same sex in this state. When the Knight Initiative was overturned in a court ruling on June 16, 2008, the joy and the equality for access to marriage for same-sex couples was short lived. That November, the infamous ballot initiative known as Proposition 8, or “Prop 8” for short, was passed, and it again made same-sex marriages illegal. Five years later on June 27, 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States would declare Prop 8 to be unconstitutional. While the Supreme Court considered the case, Bishop Marc and diocesan chancellor Christopher Hayes, Esq. wrote a friend of the court (amicus curiae) briefing signed by all but one of the bishops who led dioceses in geographic areas with civil marriage equality.

Back on the General Convention stage in 2009, the Episcopal Church sent mixed messages to the LGBTQ+ community. The Windsor Report was not cited again, so the election of gay and lesbian bishops could resume. Resolution C056 passed, which asked the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) to “develop resources on blessings of same gender relationships” which got the ball rolling on ecclesial marriage equality. That resolution also gave bishops official permission to “provide a pastoral response to the relationships of all Church members.” However, this convention rejected proposed resolution C055 to “add sexual orientation to the list of attributes that cannot be used to deny access to ordination” while passing resolution D025, which recognized “the call of [homosexual persons] to ordained ministry.”

While the author has not confirmed the Diocese of California deputation’s votes on these resolutions, Sarah Lawton — longtime lay delegate to General Convention — remembers that the DioCal deputation was “always very united on [LGBTQ+] issues.” Lawton also remembers that it was at the 2009 General Convention that TransEpiscopal (who worked with and through The Consultation) started coming in larger numbers to General Convention. The Rev. Cameron Partridge — now the rector at St. Aidan’s, San Francisco — remembers how the TransEpiscopal work began in a Yahoo! group online. This group of lay and ordained trans* people began to “look at the legislative work within the canons of the Episcopal Church that we might be able to help change to make it clear that trans* people would be fully welcome in the Episcopal Church.”

The General Convention in 2012 brought a great ecclesial victory to the transgender community. Sarah Lawton authored resolution D002 that called for the addition of “gender identity and expression” in Canon III.1.2, which is the ecclesial law that lists all of the attributes that cannot keep a person from discernment or ordination. Also that year, the SCLM would deliver on 2009’s C056 resolution. The Commission revised “Liturgical Resources I: I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing” which included rites “for the Church’s use in witnessing and blessing…a lifelong covenant in same-sex relationships.” These revisions would be authorized for trial use in 2015 by resolution A054 at the discretion of the ecclesial authority of a given jurisdiction. Basically, 2015-A054 provided ecclesial marriage equality, as long as the bishop in the diocese a couple wishes to be married in gives permission for use of the trial rites (which can be used by couples of any gender configuration). After “insisting that bishops who won’t authorize [the alternative marriage rites] make other provisions for couples to use them,” The Diocese of California’s deputation voted unanimously in favor of this resolution, and someone thought to snap this beautiful photo of the moment.

Summer of 2016 started with a shock to the LGBTQ+ community: America’s deadliest mass shooting occurred on Latin night at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, FL. One person killed 49 people and injured even more. This unthinkable tragedy mobilized many people within the Diocese of California to do something.

Samantha Haycock, former youth minister at Christ Church, Alameda, remembers accompanying her youth and youth from four other congregations (All Souls, Berkeley; St. Stephen’s, Orinda; Resurrection, Pleasant Hill; and St. Timothy’s, Danville) on an immersion trip to the Castro in the weeks following the shooting. “[Going to the Castro] was kind of a floating idea, but Pulse locked it in.” One of the leaders of the trip, Brother Karekin — of the Brotherhood of Saint Gregory — remembers beginning the tour at Twin Peaks bar (the first gay bar with a glass front) and leading the group through the neighborhood’s plaques that have been installed in historic places in sidewalks.

The group eventually got to the GLBT Historical Society museum, where the curator took interest in this group of pre-teens wearing “trucker hats” reading “Make Strangers Neighbors Again.” According to Ethan Lowery, the youth minister at St. Stephen’s, Orinda who helped Haycock plan the day, the curator came outside and “asked who we were, and [when] we said we were a church group on a tour of the Castro, he was visibly stunned.” Eventually, after multiple trips in and out of the museum, asking questions of the group each time, the curator invited the whole group in, free of charge. Brother Karekin remembers the thoughtful questions the youth asked, and how impactful it was that they got to see the jacket Harvey Milk was wearing when he was assassinated after just walking through the streets where he stood on milk cartons with a megaphone, community organizing, which was the theme of the weeklong youth immersion experience.

Another faithful response to the Pulse nightclub shooting is the ongoing weekly vigil held by the Companions of Dorothy the Worker — an ecumenical Christian group that is committed to ministry with the Queer community. Each Friday night, the Rev. Diana Wheeler gathers with the three professed Companions and their two Oblates with community members to remember the 49 people who were killed that night.

Wheeler is the founder of CDW, which is an intentional community that lives “dispersed or under one roof” and has formed organically over the last ten years. Wheeler began this work in the Castro in 2008 with San Francisco Night Ministry, not knowing what her work would become. She engaged theologically with lots of LGBTQ+ folks who had negative experiences with the church, but have a deep dedication to service for others. The relationships she started building then have continued to grow and strengthen over the years, with many of the people she works with now understanding their service and work as a vocational call. Wheeler and those she fostered relationships with have, over the years, annually offered ashes on the sidewalks of the Castro, processed around the neighborhood on Palm Sunday, and more recently created Aunt Dorothy’s talk and text line, “which is not a crisis line, but you can call or text us to talk any night between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.!” After a few slow months in the beginning, now, “we get calls/texts every night,” Wheeler reports.

It seems fitting and holy to conclude this series here, as we have come full circle. This series began with the story of two closeted priests who had an idea. One of the founders of The Parsonage — the outspoken Rev. Bernard Mayes — began what would become the nation’s first suicide hotline number by posting his phone number and a pseudonym on Muni bus stops and on matchbox cards that he handed out in the Tenderloin. From 1980 to the present, the Diocese of California has drawn individuals called to service and worked institutionally to make the church a safer, more welcoming, and more nourishing place for LGBTQ+ people to worship and live together. There is nothing like the power of a community that loves every part of the individuals that come through its doors, and it doesn’t look like DioCal will be slowing down anytime soon.

For more of the living history of ministry for the LGBTQ+ community series, click here.