Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Wellspring - December 2010


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In This Edition:

  • Bishop Beckwith, Bishop Christopher Senyonjo Discuss LGBT Crisis in Uganda
  • Integrity NYC-Metro is Born, Partnering with The OASIS
  • The OASIS & Integrity at Diocesan Convention
  • World AIDS Day Observances

Bishop Beckwith, Bishop Christopher Senyonjo Discuss LGBT Crisis in Uganda

On Saturday, December 18th, the Right Rev. Mark Beckwith, Bishop of Newark, and a small group met with the Right Rev. Christopher Senyonjo, the retired Bishop of Western Buganda in the Anglican province of Uganda, about the implications of a proposed new law commonly known as "The Bahati Bill" or the "Kill the Gays Bill" on the lives of LGBT people in his country. 
The bill, which may come up for a vote after the Ugandan elections in February, would impose sentences of life imprisonment and, in some cases, the death penalty for people in the East African country who engage in consensual sex with someone of the same sex.

Bishop Christopher, 78, is soft-spoken and engaging, and hardly comes across as a threat. He's also married to a woman and has children and grandchildren.  However, because he counsels LGBT people and is unwilling to tell them they are sinful and must change, he has been singled out as one of the "top 100 homos" by a vigilante newspaper ironically known as The Rolling Stone (no relation to the music magazine in the USA) and has been a regular target of harassment and threats.
Bishop Christopher has spent the last few months touring the United States in an effort to raise awareness of the dire situation for LGBT Ugandans and raise funds for the St. Paul's Center for Reconciliation and Equality, a facility he opened to minister to a host of marginalized and disadvantaged communities.  IntegrityUSA, the national organization by and for LGBT Episcopalians and their allies, has sponsored Bishop Christopher's tour, and he has been accompanied by The Rev. Canon Albert Ogle, Integrity's Vice-President for International Affairs.

The author of the Ugandan bill, David Bahati, recently visited the Washington DC area and was interviewed by Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, calling his handiwork "a beautiful piece of legislation" that will protect children and families.  He asserted that US $15 million has been invested in Uganda for the purpose of "recruiting children" into same-sex activity but would produce no evidence to back his claims.

While he was in New York, Bishop Christopher met with members of the United Nations about a resolution on extra-judicial killings, from which LGBT people as a group were recently removed as a protected class.  Happily, a new vote this week reversed that decision.
The day after meeting with us, Bishop Christopher preached at the Episcopal Church of St. Luke in the Fields in New York and hosted a question-and-answer period about his work.

The meeting in Newark was the subject of an article in the Star-Ledger on Sunday, December 19th.

Anyone who would like to contribute to Bishop Christopher's ongoing work in Uganda may do so c/o the Episcopal Church of St. Luke in the Fields, 487 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014. Please put "Bishop Christopher" in the memo.

(From left) Mr. Michael Petti (Warden, Christ Church: Belleville); Mr. Christian Paolino (Diocesan Coordinator for Newark, IntegrityUSA, and commissioner of The OASIS ), The Rev. Canon Dr. Sandye Wilson (Rector, St. Andrew & Holy Communion, South Orange); Mr. Michael Francaviglia (Secretary to Convention & Diocesan Council); Bill Lorentz, Esq. (St. George's, Maplewood); The Right Rev. Christopher Senyonjo (Bishop of Western Buganda - Retired, and Chair of the St. Paul's Center for Reconciliation & Equality); Matthew Piermatti, Esq. (St. Paul's: Montvale, Civil Union Task Force member); The Right Rev. Mark Beckwith (Bishop of Newark); The Rev. Karen Rezach (Priest Associate, Christ Church: Short Hills and commissioner of The OASIS)

Integrity NYC-Metro is Born, Partnering with The OASIS

Once known -- as was The OASIS -- as a shelter for LGBT Episcopalians in a largely hostile environment, Integrity, the national LGBT organization of the Episcopal Church, is also adapting to the changes in the church and the country.  Executive Director
Max Niedzwiecki, Ph.D., installed in October, outlined an exciting new vision for the organization.
Locally, a once-dormant Integrity chapter has spread its wings.  Based in New York City but now known as Integrity NYC-Metro, the group is intentionally reaching out to congregations and groups in northern New Jersey, downstate New York and Long Island and working to boost local ministries to the LGBT community.  The Chapter Convener, Mary O'Shaughnessy, has already made it a point to learn about our diocese and how Integrity and The OASIS can work together, and in fact the two organizations partnered on an Episcopal presence at Hudson Pride in Jersey City this August and have a number of events already planned for 2011. 

Please visit for details. If you are interested in participating in outreach to the diocese and church-seeking LGBT people, please contact the chapter at  There is also a mailing list and a Facebook group if you would like to be kept informed.


The OASIS & Integrity at Convention 

137th Annual Convention of the Diocese of Newark will be held on Friday, January 28 and Saturday, January 29, 2011 at the Hilton Hotel, Parsippany.  OASIS and Integrity-NYC Metro will be sponsoring an information table and a reception on Friday night.  Please watch for updates as Convention approaches and stop by to say hello and find out what we're up to!

World AIDS Day Observances

Ministering to those affected by HIV/AIDS remains a focus for the Episcopal Church.  Out Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev.
Katharine Jefferts Schori, offered this statement on World AIDS Day, December 1st.  Locally, there were three Episcopal observances of World AIDS Day in the area.

  • At St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Clifton, The Rev. Peter DeFranco led a prayer service beneath a panel of the AIDS Memorial Quilt.  Mr. Gary Paul Wright, a stalwart of the HIV/AIDS response in New Jersey and founder/chairman of the African American Office of Gay Concerns, gave the keynote address.  Members of The OASIS and an HIV/AIDS support group known as Positive Connection were in attendance.
  • At the Church of the Annunciation in Oradell, the Rev. Dr. J. Barrington Bates and the Rev. Dr. Allison Moore (Rector at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Fort Lee) officiated at an interfaith worship service followed by a buffet dinner and musical program in community with Friends for Life, an HIV/AIDS support organization that moved to Annunciation after eighteen years in residency at Good Shepherd.
  • Finally, the Episcopal Church of St. Luke in the Fields in Greenwich Village was the setting for the annual World AIDS Day Eucharist sponsored by Episcopal Response to AIDS, an organization that writes grants to parish-based and diocesan HIV/AIDS-related ministries in the area.  The Rev. Hugh M. Grant celebrated the Eucharist and the Rev. Mary Foulke, both resident at St. Luke's, offered the Sermon.  At the reception afterwards, ERA announced its 2011 grant recipients.
The Rev. Peter DeFranco at the World AIDS Day Observance at  St. Peter's Episcopal Church: Clifton

AIDS Walk New York: Never Too Soon

Episcopal Response to AIDS
is a direct recipient of funds raised at AIDS Walk New York and stages one of the largest teams in the event, preceded by a Eucharist in Central Park.   As New Jersey programs receive ERA grants, Diocese of Newark congregations and individuals are encouraged to join the ERA Team for the march on May 15, 2011.  You may still march as a parish and wear your own shirts, but in fellowship with other Episcopalians and while raising money for our church's programs.  If there is interest in traveling to the walk from New Jersey as a group, please contact The OASIS.

Keep in touch!
If you are not on the OASIS email list and would like to be, please click here to sign up, and/or join our Facebook page.

Thank you and have a blessed Christmas!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Jersey City Pride

For the past ten years, gay and lesbian organizations in and around Jersey City have staged their own Pride festival on the last weekend in August. This nicely brackets the summer and allows them to avoid competing with the statewide celebration in Asbury Park and the original commemoration of the Stonewall riots in New York, both of which take place in June.

A seventeen-month-old Long Island boy was beaten to death by his mother's boyfriend because he "acted like a girl". Tinky-Winky aside, do we really expect a toddler to be aware of rigid gender roles, much less adhere to them??
This event centers around three blocks or so of Exchange Place, a street that ends at the Hudson River in the heart of the city's financial district. As the surrounding office towers are mostly abandoned on weekends, the streets can be closed with a minimum of disruption, and there's plenty of parking to be had. For the first time, this year's celebration also included a short parade from City Hall a little bit further inland.

Several organizations of the Episcopal Church have taken part in these events at various times. The OASIS, the LGBT ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, has sponsored a table where area parishes are invited to give out information and meet community members. This year the OASIS, as well as the NYC-area chapter of the its national equivalent (Integrity) and the Episcopal Response to AIDS all shared the time and expense for this outreach. It also gave us the opportunity to discuss plans for some future collaboration.

What none of us had really given much thought to was the possibility of any conflict. Surely we were past this; our immediate area has become pretty comfortable with LGBT issues, with the majority of the population even supporting marriage equality even if the governor and legislature do not agree.

So I was somewhat surprised when -- dispatched to the pharmacy for twine and duct tape to keep our rented canopy grounded against the fresh breeze coming off the river -- I saw a handful of people with placards and a bullhorn organizing themselves on a street corner a block or so from the festivities.

Truth be told, they've been there before. They showed up several years ago and walked up and down the sidewalks on the perimeter of the event using a bullhorn to bray their various threats of hellfire and damnation at the passing crowd. After a quick ecumenical "Situation Room" discussion, the various church groups responded in a way that we knew would probably infuriate them, but could not be labeled as combative or even really acknowledging their hateful rhetoric: We followed the same path up and down the street, just INSIDE the event, and sang hymns, loudly. Hymns such as "Jesus Loves Me, This I Know", "God Loves All the Little Children" and so forth, in an effort to counter their efforts.

Don't leave home without it!
The only problem is, we quickly discovered that we didn't collectively know much beyond the first verse of anything, and in some cases the Methodists knew one version that might be different than what the Episcopalians or Lutherans remembered. Thus was born one of my bright ideas, that -- as is typical -- gets immediately forgotten until the next time it would come in pretty darn handy. I had made up my mind that I would put together a handful of common, public-domain hymns that suited the occasion and have copies of the lyrics ready to facilitate the singing.

Then, for the next few years, the protesters didn't come, and I forgot about it. But I can see that -- maybe as a hallmark of the progress we've made with the general public mindset -- this event is back on their radar. And apparently, once they figured out where the church tables were, they parked on the nearest corner and kept the commentary up all afternoon. Interestingly, there were two "groups" of them this year... the hellfire gang were joined by one or two people from a more "compassionate" crowd: they represented an "ex-gay ministry" ... something the American Psychological Association and most other credible witnesses describe as pointless and more likely harmful. When it was that guy's turn with the bullhorn he kept telling us how we didn't have to be this way, we could change like him, etc. I recently met a young man who endured eight years of this "therapy" only to realize that sexual orientation is not something that can be "cured", and luckily today he is learning to celebrate and live into the identity he is meant to have.

One event-goer was apparently either prepared or resourceful, because he appeared with a sign that said "I'm with stupid" and an arrow and followed the protesters up and down the street.

Truth be told, with a few exceptions nobody was really paying very much attention to them, and everyone -- even the cops -- were getting annoyed with the bullhorn after a while. We were too busy networking and trying to keep our tent from blowing away to "gracefully engage" them, let alone regale them with ecumenical hymnody.

As the afternoon wore on, the commentary got more random and dejected, wandering between taxes, the speaker's kids and Lady Gaga. I'm not really sure what they were trying to accomplish, but I don't think they won over any supporters, and the tone was in stark contrast to the merriment going on all around them. Nobody present seemed to be experiencing the shame and misery they kept insisting are part and parcel to same-sex attraction.

Would that everybody would be so lucky. In the weeks since, news (and by news I mean blogs and the independent press, since these stories never seem to make the papers) broke of yet another teenager who committed suicide after enduring years of bullying. This follows on the heels of another case, this one in Minnesota, in which the mother reports she had been asking the school to intervene for years. They are hardly alone, as a recent survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network shows that nearly nine out of ten LGBT teens endure harassment at school.

Does anybody else find it ironic that supposed Christians, trying to portray themselves as "compassionate", would come to a LGBT event and preach conversion to a crowd that is apparently pretty much okay with its sexual identity? The underlying message is, of course, that to be LGBT is to be somehow broken or "less-than", and unfortunately, despite logic, experience and the advice of medical experts, this message continues to imbrue our young people's collective consciousness, courtesy of trusted role-models including preachers, teachers and coaches, and apparently with the tacit approval of parents and other community leaders who refused to stick out their necks when this was pointed out as a problem.

And this abuse does not always wait until a child reaches the age where (s)he even knows what sexual identity is, let alone aware that his or her mannerisms, speech or clothing might be advertising it. In a heartbreaking story this summer that didn't seem to make it past the Huffington Post, a seventeen-month-old Long Island boy was beaten to death by his mother's boyfriend because he "acted like a girl". Seventeen months old. Tinky-Winky aside, do we really expect a toddler to be aware of rigid gender roles, much less adhere to them??

These are sobering reminders of how much work remains to be done, and they stand in sharp contrast to the joyous community gathering I witnessed. I can only hope that -- whatever it was they were trying to accomplish -- the protesters couldn't help but notice that what they were witnessing was not a depraved orgy, nor a gathering of unhappy deviants crying out for help. It was ordinary folks of all persuasions, enjoying the freedom to be who they were and love whom they love. Even if they didn't get to hear us sing.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Are You Ready to Believe Out Loud?

This past weekend, folks from Delaware to Maine attended the Province I & II workshop of Believe Out Loud at St. James' Episcopal Church in Danbury, CT. This workshop was designed to acquaint Integrity diocesan organizers and any other interested parties with the Believe Out Loud program and help them develop an action plan to implement Believe Out Loud in their parish or diocese. It was led by Neil Houghton, the VP of Local Affairs of Integrity; John-Albert Mosley (Province I Coordinator) and Chap James Day (Province II Coordinator).

Believe Out Loud is a cooperative effort among seven major mainline denominations and numerous smaller churches. Its goal is to identify and promote individual faith communities who have taken the steps to be intentionally welcoming, as well as to help additional communities along the road to full inclusion. It dispenses with the 'eighties model of "going to be gay over there" and as such does not promote separate worship or other events for the LGBT community within a congregation or diocese. Rather than a club or committee, it is a mindset not just for the LGBT members, but for the entire parish, that everybody who seeks Christ belongs and is entitled to full participation. There are multiple resources available through the Believe Out Loud program and its partners to help achieve this goal, including educational tools for the areas where the church has historically been not so successful (e.g. transgender issues).

Certainly a large percentage of our parishes (in Newark) are living into this vision or are somewhere on the road to it. The OASIS enjoys the support of some fifty Sponsoring Congregations. Many people feel we have reached the point where LGBT folks can take for granted that they will be welcomed into parish life, and thus we can now say "mission accomplished". However -- as was witnessed at this workshop -- there are many LGBT folks out in the world who are either unchurched or "damaged-churched" and do not believe there is a place for them in a worship community. One of the goals of this program is to counteract that idea with a consistent brand that folks can look for. Another is to provide the educational tools to help parishes be prepared and at ease when LGBT people do visit or seek to join their communities. Even a congregation that is comfortable with gay issues may have less experience with bisexual or transgender people. Materials and resources are available to help overcome assumptions and fears and understand what pastoral needs members of these communities may bring to the table.

In order to officially be called a "Believe Out Loud Congregation" there is a three-phase self-analysis a parish undertakes. Typically the vestry can do this as a group. It can be an eye-opener as one sees one's surroundings through the eyes of a newcomer.

One theme generated a lot of discussion, as it is a common response when the question of being more visibly welcoming is posed: "We're fine with gay people coming here, but we don't want a reputation as 'the gay church' in town." Participants and the program leaders offered a variety of interesting and sometimes humorous ways of addressing this fear.

The Integrity Diocesan Organizer will be available to any congregation that wishes to embark on this process. Some of our parishes will "test out" of the process by demonstrating they are living into the goals of the program already, or take what few steps would be required to bring them to this level. For others the process may take longer, or they may decide they are just not "there" yet.

This was en enriching and invigorating look at the next steps churches can take to live boldly into their baptismal promise: Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of EVERY human being?

It's time to believe out loud!