“The Episcopal Church welcomes you.” I was buried in my thoughts as I strode swiftly in my usual way down Sheridan Road. Somehow, those simple words affixed to a simple sign instantly awoke me from my daydream. Intrigued, I followed the small arrow on the sign to the corner of Kenmore and Ardmore. I had arrived at Church of the Atonement.
The timing could not have been better. Just a few days earlier, my heart had plummeted into a deep abyss. I was hurt. I felt vulnerable. I was alone. I had spiraled into spiritual desolation as I continued to read and study the “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons.” Though I realized in my deep down smart place – at the very core of my innermost being – that I was okay, this conviction did not erase the pain of feeling misunderstood, of being rejected at the very core by a church I had grown to love.
“Alright,” I thought to myself, “I’ll see if this community really lives up to what it advertises.” The following Sunday, my stride slowed as I gingerly stepped around drifts of snow, but as the church bells began to peal, my pace quickened. I had hoped to go unnoticed, to be invisible, to explore the liturgy and the community from a distance – but within minutes, I was shaking the rector’s hand. My plans of being an elusive explorer were foiled; I was overwhelmed by the extravagant welcome I had received. Here was a church that embodied what it advertised. For me, it was a place to rest; a place where all of me was accepted unconditionally. In my ten years of exploring different churches, it was most importantly a place where I was not diagnosed at the outset as having “a disordered inclination oriented toward evil.”
Over the past few days, followers of Christ have been challenged by some of the decisions made by those present at the 77th General Convention of The Episcopal Church. Impelled by the Holy Spirit, The Episcopal Church is bravely blazing a path by following in the footsteps of Jesus. It is evident that God’s call to ordained ministry transcends sex, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, race, class, and every other distinction imposed on the human person, whether it be biological or socially constructed. “Gender identity and expression” are now added to the “non discrimination canons” of The Episcopal Church, which protects transgender people from discrimination upon discerning a call to ordained ministry. Moreover, advances have been made in support of the creation of a provisional same-gender blessing liturgy for use within The Episcopal Church.
Far from perfect and flawed though it is, The Episcopal Church is a holy, bold church. These Christians have aligned themselves on the right side of history. And I do believe, in my deep down smart place, that this group of Christians will one day be admired by all of Christendom for getting it right — for taking the risky, unpopular stance in order to embrace, affirm, and enable the full-flourishing of all God’s creation. And yet, what gives me so much hope is not the achievements of this General Convention, but rather the way in which the days of the triennial gathering unfolded. While I followed the daily and sometimes hourly developments in Indianapolis from my perch in Boston via Twitter, the plentitude of space provided for discernment and dialogue was palpable. Discernment and dialogue fuel the movement of the Holy Spirit – movement that is very much alive in The Episcopal Church. And this movement is crucial for the survival and healthy flourishing of any church. A church that has no space for discernment and dialogue – that is, for the movement of the Holy Spirit – will surely fade into irrelevance.
I pray that movement continues to be sparked by the same spirit that animated the following words which first led to my arrival at Church of the Atonement in Chicago and which later led to my arrival at Emmanuel Church in Boston: “The Episcopal Church welcomes you.”
Yes, even you.
CMJ graduated in 2011 from Loyola University Chicago and is currently a graduate student at Boston College pursuing the master of theological studies degree. When he is not in school, he is at his office – a.k.a the coffee shop, where many prophetic conversations and ideas have been sketched out on napkins (made from recycled paper, of course). Having recently completed his first 5K, Chet’s next goal is to complete a 10K. Follow Chet on Twitter @chetmjechura.