Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Where There Is Love, Hope Sometimes Follows: The OASIS at 25


Twenty-five years ago, the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, under the leadership of the Right Rev. John Shelby Spong, made church history when it created the first official diocesan ministry for gay and lesbian people. That milestone was remembered Sunday at Trinity & St. Philip’s Cathedral in Newark, where current and former leaders of The OASIS gathered with family and friends for a joyous Eucharist and reception, to look back and also to think about what God might be calling us to do next.

The Right Rev. Mark Beckwith, our present bishop, celebrated a Eucharist seasoned with jazz hymns and readings and prayers focused on love and justice. He was joined on the altar by the Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton and the Rev. Rose Hassan, both former OASIS missioners, as well as the Rev. Daniel D. Lennox, Rector of All Saints: Hoboken, which hosted the first OASIS office and events back in 1989. The Rev. Deacon Eric Solwedel assisted Bishop Beckwith with the Eucharist.

The Rev. Harry Knox, President and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, offered the sermon. Knox served previously as interim Executive Director of Integrity, the Episcopal Church’s principal organization for LGBT people and their allies, as well as with Georgia Equality, a secular LGBT organizing body. In 2009 he was appointed by President Barack Obama to the President’s Council on Faith-based & Neighborhood Partnerships.

In his sermon, Knox revealed that -- when The OASIS was formed -- he was facing a profoundly discouraging time, as neither his native United Methodist Church nor the United Church of Christ would not recognize his vocation for ministry. Hearing that there was a place where church leadership was beginning to include gay and lesbian people in its mission was a source of comfort to him. At that time, providing a safe space for gay and lesbian people to worship and be themselves was a key pastoral need they could not count on in their parishes. In fact, Knox went on to be ordained in the Metropolitan Community Church, a denomination created specifically to minister to gay and lesbian people.

Describing those difficult days, Knox said, “LGBT folks sought to love their God completely, with their whole heart, mind and strength. Our opponents sought to discredit the heart, and make our identities all about sex; discount our minds, and act as if we had no souls. They didn’t count on our strength.” He quoted author Janisse Ray, who said in her recent book The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food, “Why doesn't anybody ever talk about love as motivation to act? I may not have a lot of hope but I have plenty of love, which gives me fight.” Knox added, “Where there is love, hope sometimes follows.”

Touching on his present work, Knox posited that much of the resistance toward LGBT people has misogyny, intentional or inherited, at its roots. When one starts with the premise that it’s “just a little better to be male,” he stated that it stands to reason that men and women who don’t conform to the behavior and roles one was taught to expect from them will present a challenge. He invited all supporters of The OASIS to open their hearts a little wider to make room for whomever else might be getting relegated to the sidelines.

Back to today, as we are flush with victory: our state recently granted access to civil marriage to its citizens, and a new state seems to follow every week. Our bishop has interpreted the 2009 General Convention resolution calling for a “generous pastoral response” to same-gender couples by authorizing the provisional rite created by the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music for blessing their relationships, and by permitting clergy who feel called to act as agents of the state in civil marriages when they were legalized in late 2013.

Quoting Yale religious historian Roland Bainton, Knox cautioned us that “Nothing helps the Church like a little persecution, and nothing kills a movement like a little success.” Indeed, several states have attempted to create new roadblocks to equality using “religious convictions” as an acceptable rationale for unfair treatment of LGBT people.

In his remarks, current OASIS Chair John Simonelli cited a general sense of “mission accomplished” from our constituency as presenting the organization with a challenge in recent years. He offered a number of the issues upon which the missioners will be focusing on in the days ahead:
  • Congregational Welcome - Encouraging parishes to be more visibly and intentionally inclusive, taking the time to view themselves as an outsider might (through continued adoption of the Believe Out Loud Episcopal Congregations program)

  • Transgender Education - Overcoming a lack of understanding of the experience of trans and gender variant people, even among gay and lesbian leaders

  • Youth and Young Adults - Combating homelessness and insecurity (A reported 40% of the 500,000 homeless people under 21 identify as LGBT), supporting expanded campus outreach, and better understanding the next generation’s perceptions about sexual orientation and gender identity

  • Immigration and Asylum Issues - Particularly for bi-national same-gender couples and refugees

  • International Concerns - Educating the church, offering prayer and advocacy for LGBT persons abroad who face discrimination and violence
After consulting with the Bishop in recent months, the current OASIS commissioners agreed that more people are needed to accomplish this work, and Simonelli announced the return to a board format and a plan to recruit additional members.

Louie Crew Scholarship & Grant Awards

In 2012, The OASIS launched the Louie Crew Scholarship and OASIS Grant. Named for Dr. Louie Crew (now Clay), founder of Integrity, who is a longtime resident and leader in the Diocese, this program annually helps people with scholarly and missional work “at the intersection of sexuality and faith”.

This year’s recipients were:

The Louie Crew Scholarship was awarded to the Rev. Elizabeth Edman, to assist her with the writing of her book, Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know About Life and Love and Why Christians Should Care. Edman gave an animated and engaging description of the unique gift our community can offer the church.

The OASIS Grant was awarded to the Montclair Protestant Chaplaincy, supporting the work of the Rev. Diana Wilcox at Montclair State University. In addition to an LGBT-inclusive faith community called the Web of Life (which became the first official on-campus Believe Out Loud congregation), Wilcox -- who was recently requested as faculty advisor to a fraternity! -- shepherds students through all the challenges of college life and has helped them cope with everything from homesickness to coming out and the suicide of friends.

Fortified with a nice meal and inspiring words, the day’s participants left with a sense of accomplishment but an appetite for the work ahead.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Hudson Pride - Saturday, August 18th in Jersey City

On Saturday, August 18th, the OASIS will take part in the Hudson Pride Festival, a community event located in Jersey City's Exchange Place, from noon to 7pm.

This event, celebrating its 12th anniversary, provides an opportunity for members of the LGBT population in New Jersey's Hudson waterfront communities to network and celebrate who we are. Organizations, merchants and food and drink vendors will line Montgomery Street between Washington & Hudson streets, and the main stage is located at Exchange Place & Hudson Street.

The OASIS will share the Episcopal presence at the event with Integrity NYC-Metro. We will have an information table and celebrate a Street Eucharist.

NJ Transit to Hoboken Station, Hudson-Bergen Light Rail to Exchange Place
PATH World Trade Center-Newark line to Exchange Place

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

PRIDE SERMONS: Stacy Graffam at St. Mark's: Teaneck

Stacy Graffam, a member of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Teaneck, N.J., gave a reflection at the parish's Pride Service on Sunday, June 24th. Stacy blogs about her life with wife Donna and their two kids at Out In Suburbia and has also written for Gay Parent magazine.

PRIDE SERMONS: Michael Petti at St. Peter's: Clifton

Mr. Michael Petti, a long-time advocate of LGBT inclusion and former commission member of The OASIS, the LGBT Ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, has shared with us the text of a reflection he gave at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Clifton on Sunday June 24th, when the parish observed its patronal festival and celebrated Pride Sunday using the readings for the Feast of St. Peter & St. Paul, which fell later in the week.

Michael compares Jesus' seemingly nagging Peter by repeatedly asking "do you love me?" to the distrust many LGBT people have for the institutional church, in light of how religious institutions have historically treated them. This is a distrust we, the church, have earned, and Michael urges us all to strive towards a place of welcome upon which our brothers and sisters can count.

Newark Teen Deputy Gibson Oakley Cites LGBT Inclusion as Convention Priority

Gibson Oakley made no bones about what will be on his mind as he heads to General Convention this week. One of two teenagers who will be part of the lay deputation representing the Diocese of Newark, Gibson told those who would be voting for him that the church needs to be a welcoming haven for LGBT youth who encounter hostility on a daily basis.

 "Over eighty-five percent of LGBT students have experienced some form of harassment at school," Gibson told those at an elections meeting at Newark's Diocesan Convention in January of 2011, when he was just 16. "Many of these teens feel that they have nowhere to turn and some, unfortunately, kill themselves. I believe that our own churches should be places where gay teens may turn in times of trouble."

Oakley also thinks the church should proceed with blessing same-sex relationships as marriages. “As a gay man,” he added, “I would like to walk down the aisle in a church and hear the celebrant utter the words 'I now pronounce you husbands'.”

Oakley's comments were met with a resounding cheer. And then, after several rounds of voting, he won. “When they put the results on the screen, I looked up but it didn't register. Then my friend said, 'You got it'. But it really struck me when Kai (Alston, diocesan Director of Youth & Young Adult Ministries) came over and gave me a big hug. I realized that what I had worked for was really coming true.”

Hardly a one-issue candidate, Oakley also cites domestic violence, volunteerism, and the environment as areas of personal focus. He and fellow deputy Caroline Christie worked with Integrity founder Dr. Louie Crew in advance of the election. As a long-time member of the Executive Committee and fixture at General Convention, Dr. Crew helped prepare the young candidates for the election and what will follow. Read more about Gibson & Caroline's election at the Diocese of Newark's special convention coverage site:

Monday, June 4, 2012

Love Free or Die Screening at St. James': Hackettstown

On Friday, June 29th at 7 p.m., there will be a screening of Love Free or Diethe award-winning biography of Bishop Gene Robinson, at St. James' Episcopal Church, Hackettstown.

The screening will be free.  A freewill offering will be taken to support further promotion of the film.  A discussion will follow the screening and refreshments will be available.  

Winner of a special jury prize at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, Love Free or Die is "compelling storytelling, even for those familiar with the outlines of Robinson’s story: his 2003 consecration as a bishop, the backlash from conservatives within the U.S. and global church, and the Episcopal Church’s decision at its 2009 general convention to continue to ordain gay bishops and to develop blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples," as reviewed by Peter Montgomery in Religion Dispatch.

Others in the church - both for and against Bishop Robinson's ordination - are interviewed, including the Right Rev. Otis Charles, who came out and married his partner after retiring as bishop of Utah; the Right Rev. Barbara Harris, the first female bishop in the Anglican Communion; and a Ugandan woman living with HIV.

Footage from some of the major public events in Bishop Robinson's episcopacy are featured, including a dramatic confrontation with a heckler while preaching in England.

St. James' Church is located at  214 Washington Street, Hackettstown.


The OASIS honors Louie Crew , Awards Grant & Scholarship

The OASIS, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, honored Dr. Louie Crew for a lifetime of justice ministry at a reception Friday, and presented its first annual scholarship and grant awards.

The Right Rev.  Mark Beckwith, Bishop of Newark, and OASIS Commission Chair John Simonelli presented Dr. Crew with a hand-illumined certificate of appreciation and announced the first recipients of the scholarship and grant created in his honor.

Dr. Crew founded Integrity, the national organization for LGBT Episcopalians, in 1974. A retired professor of English (most recently at Rutgers University) he served on the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church from 2000-2006 and represented the Diocese of Newark as a member of the House of Deputies  from 1993-2011, among many other acts of service to the church.  He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Alabama, Doctorates of Divinity from the Episcopal Divinity School and General Theological Seminary, and a Doctorate of Human Letters from the Divinity School of the Pacific. Dr. Crew is extensively published, on matters of English composition, social justice, faith, and poetry.  Dr. Crew is a three-time recipient of the National Endowment for Humanities, was honored by the Ragdale Foundation and the Wurlitzer Foundation, and received the Bishop’s Cross from the Diocese of Newark.

The first Louie Crew scholarship was presented to Darnell L. Moore, a writer and activist who is currently the Associate Director of the Newark Schools Research Collaborative (NSRC) and an Affiliate of the Institute on Education Law and Policy (IELP) both at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey-Newark. He holds a BA in Social & Behavioral Sciences (Seton Hall University), MA in Counseling (Eastern University) and MA in Theological Studies (Princeton Theological Seminary). 
Moore also serves as the Chair of Mayor Cory Booker of Newark’s Advisory Commission on LGBTQ Concerns and Education, Chair of the Newark Pride Alliance, and has served appointments as a Visiting Fellow at Yale Divinity School and Lecturer in the Women & Gender Studies Department at Rutgers-New Brunswick, as well as Visiting Scholar at the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality at New York University.  Moore plans to use the scholarship money to participate in two writing retreats to further his first book, tentatively titled To be Black, Queer and Christian: Essays on the Black church and Sexuality.

The first OASIS Grant was awarded to the Montclair Protestant Chaplaincy, an ecumenical collaborative, to support the work of the Rev. Deacon Diana Wilcox as chaplain at Montclair State University.  A recent graduate of Drew Theological School in Madison, Wilcox provides a progressive Christian presence at the university with weekly prayer services, spiritual counseling and other programming.  Wilcox studied at Montclair State University and Fairleigh Dickinson University before pursuing her Master of Divinity at Drew. Her campus group, the Web of Life Christian Community, became a Believe Out Loud Congregation in 2011, and took part in the response to bias incidents on campus this fall and winter.

The OASIS, founded in 1989, is a justice ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark. Once providing “safe space” worship and spiritual counseling, the organization has evolved into an educational and advocacy role.  The Louie Crew Scholarship and Oasis Grant, which were first announced at the 2012 Diocesan Convention, will be awarded annually at the Oasis anniversary in June to individuals and groups working “at the intersection of sexuality and faith.”