Sunday, October 21, 2007

Wondrously, Prayerfully made- the Montreal Decision

Old news by now perhaps- the vote at SynodMontreal on the blessing of civil marriages, what I’d like to share here are personal impressions of what can only be described as an incredible experience of God’s Spirit very much alive and working through the hearts of some pretty incredible men and women on a rainy Friday evening.

As a non-delegate, someone who once described himself as an alienated Anglican in an article published in the local diocesan paper, the decision to attend was an incremental conviction which stole over me. As I told one of my dearest who was there with us, if nothing else, I can quietly sit in a corner and do meta practice for all the conscientious suffering going on in the room. And of course- the evening was so much more than that....

Before anything else, it’s important to me that you know what an extraordinary person we’ve been given to be our Bishop in these times. +Barry is one of the most wondrously low-key, unaffected people I know. Following on the heels on his rather dynamic predecessor (understatement there), some people have mistakenly thought him to be a caretaker bishop, and the few grumbles which reached me, were encouraged to ‘just wait and see... Called, the man was called for a time and purpose.’ And in the meantime, +Barry has moved throughout his diocese and people with a pastoral grace which for me personally was awesome to behold, having been rather seriously manhandled in my past in the name of God.

Yes, there’s a very tenuous personal connection. My dear father who was a lifelong Church organist & a consummate musician in his time, counted Barry among his friends and a priest whose ministry he admired long before he become Bishop. Both of my parents treasured the friendship of Leslie’s parents, and of Leslie herself... Yes, there is a Leslie whose life and love informs, nourishes and supports everything +Barry does, and these two radiant beings haven’t faltered in their faith- even when Leslie was stricken cruelly within a few short years of their marriage, by a cruel and debilitating condition.

Friday evening began with a wonderful Holy Eucharist in the Cathedral- Anglicanism at its best. The central aisles of the Cathedral were literally packed, with an interesting overflow on both sides (including yours truly, arrived unaviodably late). My clear sense was a significant number more people were present to pray for our discussions that evening than would later fill Fulford Hall and the visitor’s gallery for the discussions. The liturgy began with a poem- Kate Compston’s ‘I Dream of a Church’ and all of you who know this work already will forgive me for repeating it here- it’s worth repeating

I dream of a church that joins in with God’s laughing
as she rocks in her rapture, enjoying her art;
she’s glad of her world, in its risking and growing;
‘tis the child she has born and hold close to her heart.

I dream of a church that joins in with God’s weeping
as she crouches, wedged down by the sorrow she sees:
she cries for the hostile, the cold and no-hoping,
for she bears in herself our despair and dis-ease.

I dream of a church that joins in with God’s dancing
as she moves like the wind and the wave and the fire:
a church that can pick up its skirts, pirouetting,
with the steps that can signal God’s deepest desire.

I dream of a church that joins in with God’s loving
as she bends to embrace the unlovely and lost,
a church that can free, by its sharing and daring,
the imprisoned and poor, and then shoulder the cost.

God, make us a church that joins in with your living,
as you cherish and challenge, rein in and release,
a church that is winsome, impassioned, inspiring;
lioness for your justice and lamb of your peace.

You don’t need me to blunder at trying to describe what, on so many levels was indescribable beyond the beautiful dance of ritual and faith carried out by +Barry and his priests in the sanctuary.

What made a deep and lasting impression on me was the incredible sense of family there was to this particular Eucharist. All of us present in a difficult, unsettling time and place, but each of part of the Anglican family, yearning to know God’s will in the issue which has been consuming so much time and energy through-out the Communion.
Two other Eucharists came to mind: Tanzania, when some Primates stormed from sanctuary in misogynist rage; and another Eucharist- the radiant, radical opposite of Tanzania: Montreal’s first OUTMass, and those of you who were there know of what I speak.
Sitting in my pew, so aware of the prayerful care embodied in those present, I couldn’t help but wish the Primates could have known the same thing- only one word for it- blessedness.

And no moment expresses the spirit very much alive in the Cathedral more that evening than the exchange of Christ’s peace. Not only did Bishop +Barry personally lead the clergy the full length of the Cathedral, stopping at each pew to meet eye-to-eye each occupant and share the peace of Christ; the congregants circulated in the aisles in a remarkable exercise of goodwill and connection which went on much longer than normal.
Patrick Wedd and the choir were earth-moving as usual- perhaps an unusual choice of words when they strive to be so heavenly, but it was all part of the feel to the evening- something gigantic was in process- something significant was happening.

Sitting in my pew after having received the blessed sacrament from yet another priest with associations with my family- the Rev Sinpo+ Han, I couldn’t help but tear up at the timeless beauty of so many hundred men and women of faith moving - each in their faith and need- to the Sacrament and back to their pews.

Dinner, thanks to the generosity of one of my dearest, Donald Boisvert PhD, was a wonderful time-out with Judy and Jeremy - both post-graduate students of Donald.

Then back to Fulford Hall, which is actually in the rather remarkable sky scraper complex which adjoins & underlays the Cathedral. Once again, the intense attentiveness- the prayerful attentiveness of most of those present in the hall was deeply moving, weaving its way through all the noisy chatter and speculation before +Barry called the room to order.

Scripture, prayers, a hymn... the gears of the evening kicked in as we moved through at least one motion, a memorial, a multi-part presentation by delegates to the recent National Synod. Of course gears and any mechanical metaphor soon fell away in the raw, trembling attentiveness of the moment as +Barry brought us into the sacredness of what was before us- Motion L.

Be it resolved that this Synod request that the Bishop grant permission for clergy, whose conscience permits, to bless duly solemnized and registered civil marriages, including marriages between same-sex couples, where at least one party is baptized; and hat the Bishop authorize an appropriate rite and make regulations for its use in supportive parishes.

Cannon Paul Jennings was so radiantly articulate when he spoke to the motion he was proposing, and he was only the first of many in the course of that evening.

Memory of course is a very personal and imperfect medium, but two over-riding impressions:

the deep articulate care and attentive grace of so many of the men and women who spoke for the motion, often literally moving me to tears of deep gratitude.

the surprising sadness and sympathy I felt for those I hae formerly called the bullies of the patriarchy, as the ineffectively mis-represented scripture and manhandled tradition. Perhaps the saddest was to see one individual, still in his twenties actually resort to Ecclesiastes injunction to wives to submit to their husbands as heads of the household and God’s representative- as if bore any relation to the lives God finds us living. No bullies in the room that night- only frightened brothers and sister, clinging desperately...

Earlier, at the end of his (slightly overlong) Bishop’s Charge +Barry firmly set the tone for the evening with a prayer by Betty Radford Turcott

Loving God, we strive to be your church in our world but we need to recognize that there is diversity in our midst. We have different ways to express our love for you in our worship. As your people we have different needs and expectations. Our hopes and our dreams, our backgrounds and our visions are not always the same. Grant that we may find and create ways to work together in community. Help us to hear each other in love. Help us to be open to the needs of others. Give us the will to find excitement in our individuality, harmony in our discord and unity in our diversity. Grant that all we do, we do out of love for you and for humankind.

The gracious caring in the room was remarkable, each testimony received in respectful silence- neither applause nor groaning and (audible) gnashing of teeth.
Only once, did +Barry have to intervene- to ask he room if he were to allow an individual to continue with their presentation- and he did- continue without even appreciating the good grace which had been granted him, childishly repeating the same offensive phrase which had interrupted proceedings initially.

So many wondrous men and women of faith touched me so deeply.

A gentleman clearly in his late seventies, speaking from the heart for the motion,

A theologian speaking simply but so powerfully of how it is in the startling newness and complexity of life where Christ most powerfully present.

Another priest speaking of her initial resistence and of her conviction that this was the only Christ-like thing to do.

A priest who brought the Sacrament to my father’s hospital bed, speaking of that first OUTMASS, the near-packed Cathedral resonating with lived faith.

Tim+ Smart’s sublime parable on hetero-socksuality.

There was one moment, when the testimonies went on and on, I literally ached with prayer for one brother or sister to stand and speak from the great awesome truth of being created a gay or lesbian child of God. And I have to admit it came from the most unexpected quarter- a man who literally moved me to tears- Archdeacon Canon Edward+ Symington, OGS who identified himself as ‘Christ’s Gay Eunuch’ being the only ordered priest in the diocese.

+Karen Chalk

The confident, unconditional smile of Letty+ James glimpsed ‘across a crowd room.’

Two speakers, right near the end just ‘capped the blessedness for me-‘ Judy Oatway, (remember that name) one of Donald’s theology students succinctly dismantled the arguments of the patriarchy in her usual ‘feisty’ directness. And Mark+ Rogers spoke for me when he spoke to the real issue; when he reminded the room that what is really at stake goes well beyond civil rights and had direct bearing on the lives and vocation of each and every Christian ie baptism,

Knowing there is no way I could possibly represent the testimony of the patriarchy, I won’t even try to. I would however mention three of their tactical manoeuvres- one to amend the motion (Failed); to have a written secret vote (Failed); and to vote by houses (Passed).

Once again, before the vote +Barry lead us in prayer and spoke from his heart before the actual vote.

The slightly raw, breathless openness in the room was unforgettable as our Bishop called each house to stand- for and against.

The marshals' care in counting and recounting each contingency was only a reflection of the seriousness of our undertaking.

Then back to our Bishop, who, once again speaking from his heart, reminded us

we are indeed the living Body of Christ, and we will continue to be nothing less after the outcome of that evening’s vote

that each and every one of us are essential to the life and welfare of that Body

that perhaps never before had he been so very deeply conscious of what extraordinary people we have in this diocese

Clergy 44-25 for the motion

Laity 59-32 for the motion.

Barely a sound in the room- hugs, some tears- whole conversations in eye contact.

+Barry, with great pastoral care, once again went over the significance (ie: the final decision and responsibility is his) and the context (ie. the request is for the blessing of civil marriages where one party is baptized), and assured us that nothing would be undertaken lightly, without much prayer and study, or without consulting with his fellow Canadian Bishops who meet in London ON next week.

Scripture, prayers and one last hymn- then out into the late evening downpour... Donald calling love to the three of us on the far side of the metro platform, the griminess of steep stairs up to street level, tumbling Judy into a cab to carry her home, the blessedness of my own tiny house and the unconditional enthusiasm of dear Willie, our late night walk in the downpour, very little sleep and a deeply grateful day of silence and practice Saturday, loving e-mails from two giants in the faith in response to the news- only one word for it all- blessedness.

Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ.
Amen, and again Amen

For God’s Greatest Blessing to God’s Greater Glory- unconditionally- always!

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