Wednesday, August 27, 2008

‘A Canterbury Tale’

is the title of a 1944 film written, produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, starring Eric Portman, Sheila Sim, Dennis Price and Sergeant John Sweet (U.S. Army) who plays an American soldier. Sweet’s character, who is brash and cheery - a stereotypical English view of Americans at that time - works with the English, a gentle sergeant and an attractive land army girl, to track down the ‘glue man’ (who under stealth of night and the blackout tips glue over the hair of young women), and their collaboration is playfully observed.

At Lambeth 2008 the Inclusive Church Network was a coalition of African, American and English organisations which was not without its tensions as people played up to and defied the stereotypes. One example of the cultural differences between England and America that I observed, as I compared what I was experiencing with the accounts in various blogs, was the way that people’s openness becomes so heavily politicised in the US, while LGBT clergy (and bishops) are rendered almost invisible in the UK. Perhaps it has something to do with the vehemence of the conflict between ‘conservatives’ and ‘liberals’ (sorry, I know that the labels are crude, but they will have to do) in the US compared to here in the UK. I realise that things can get nasty here, but British pragmatism - some would argue duplicity or hypocrisy – often takes the heat out of the controversy, and also, sadly, the passion.

Such differences are both fascinating and troubling; add to them the very different cultures and ethos of the other continents and provinces of the Anglican Communion and it is easy to appreciate why the search for unity is proving so long and hard. At Lambeth, the Inclusive Church network organisations, together in one place for three weeks, had to wrestle with the ‘principalities and powers’ that could easily have undermined their co-operation, but like the characters in A Canterbury Tale they remained united in their task.

In the film the English and the American unite to expose the identity of the ‘glue man’, but when they solve the mystery they are confronted, not with a monster, but a local worthy, Thomas Colpepper J. P., who is keen to hand-on the cultural heritage to the next generation (of men); a good person in many respects, but with a complex relationship to women. Sound familiar? We keep being told that (partnered) gay bishops and same-sex blessings are only ‘the presenting issues’, and that the real controversy is over the interpretation of Scripture; but the fault-lines exposed by the recent vote in favour of women bishops in the Church of England, and the relatively tiny number of women bishops in the Anglican Communion, suggests that ‘the woman issue’, like the scope of biblical criticism, is as troubling today as it was for Victorian Anglicanism.

Sitting in the Cathedral, at the Eucharist on the second Sunday of the Conference, when the Dean preached, I wondered how such a genteel religion, moderated by English compromise and diplomacy, could have spawned the factious Communion we know today; then I recalled how the missionary societies had transported the fierce religious divisions and controversies of the Victorian era to those parts of the globe that were once marked in pink to denote their membership of the British Empire. Again, we will miss the complexity of the current Anglican dynamic if we neglect the history and impact of colonialism.

The real star of A Canterbury Tale, as has often been noted, is Canterbury Cathedral itself – the interior had to be faithfully recreated in the studio, due to wartime restrictions – where the happy outcomes to the hopes and longings of the young characters, their lives dislocated by war, are celebrated. Early on in the film there is a flashback to Chaucer’s pilgrims wending their way to Canterbury ‘the holy blissful martyr [St Thomas á Becket] for to seek’, and although I did not visit the actual shrine, I was conscious of its proximity that morning in the Cathedral, which, as the Dean reiterated, was a place of hospitality, where people have always been made welcome and at home. Presumably he intended this description as an image of how the Communion should see itself, and Lambeth 2008 was a place where it was possible to believe that this might happen, despite high security fences and tight protocols. As Colpepper says in the film, ‘pilgrims to Canterbury often receive blessings.’

The day before this service, lured by the panpipes of the Melanesian Brotherhood, I had made my way over to the lawn where the bishops were gathering for their group photo, and took the opportunity to meet and talk with conservative bishops; just as, in the afternoon, in the marketplace, I visited the stalls of the more conservative organisations, and spoke with their representatives. It’s easy to demonise one another on a blog, or from another side of the globe, but not when we to meet person-to-person, as the bishops discovered in their indaba groups. But the most moving moment of the Conference for me, and the most blesséd, came a few days later, when I returned to the campus to meet someone who had lodged with me for a month in 1980, and is now a bishop in West Africa. We had not set eyes on each other for twenty-eight years, and what happened when we met is another Canterbury tale, but far too personal to be told here.

Christina Beardsley
25th August 2008

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Transgender Africans Speak of God

Some of the most inspiring words I heard at the Lambeth Conference came from Viktor Juliet Mukasa, a transgender activist who heads up the group Sexual Minorities Uganda. Only, Viktor was not at Lambeth. Not in body anyway, but most certainly in spirit along with LGBT comrades from several African countries whose voices rang out in the film Voices of Witness: Africa, a preview of which was shown at Lambeth on July 23 and 28. I first heard of Mukasa last summer, when I read and blogged about a press conference organized by Sexual Minorities Uganda, a group he founded. Group members wore colorful masks to dramatize what it is like to be a sexual minority in Uganda right now.

In Voices of Witness: Africa, Mukasa and others (including Mia Nikasimo, a transwoman and lesbian from Nigeria who posted to this blog last week) talk about a number of topics, but what struck me the most was the impassioned way they talk about their relationship with God. Mukasa recalls, “at some point I just felt that I was free, I was reconciled. I knew that God was not mad at me. I knew that he loves me and he delights in me… because I used to see him as a lion, a lion that is going to eat me up all the time… I was scared of facing God so many times. And now I see a friend who just brings me peace.”

Another transgender Ugandan in the film, Pepe Julien Onziema, speaks of “Prayer. Prayer keeps my head up. I pray to God in the morning, I pray when I’m receiving my meals — I pray all day, yeah? For me it’s prayer, I thank God for everything that I have.”

In response to the question, “what do you want to say to the church?” an animated Mukasa responds, “ask me how I live! Talk to me and I’ll tell you! How do I relate to my God, the God that you talk about so much — how do I relate with him?!-- before you go proclaiming me a sinner, you know? I think the fathers of this world should really go back to God, too, the way they ask everyone to go back to God? They should continuously go back to God and seek his wisdom about homosexuality.”

Mukasa’s words ring with that much more power because of the hell that Christian churches of various denominations have put him through. According to the New Internationalist article “Trial By Fire” (which wrongly uses female pronouns for Mukasa), he went through a horrific ordeal at a Ugandan Pentecostal church in which ministers stripped him and abusively laid hands on him in an attempt at “healing.” This experience, among others, convinced him that “the church in Uganda plays a big role in the oppression of people belonging to sexual minorities. ‘They are violating the human rights of many without anybody raising a finger. I feel they have diverted from what they were called to do, because if you take me through something like that you’re making me sad, humiliated, making me hate myself. This is not what God wants – as a practising Christian, even if I do not go to churches, I know God’s attributes of love, patience and tolerance.’”

In an essay posted on the International Lesbian and Gay Association's website, Mukasa further explains, "Some people, like myself, are born with a sense of ourselves as male in some ways, even though we are biologically female. As a transgender person, I am constantly demanded to explain and justify why I am not fitting into other people's idea of what a woman or a man should be. As a Human Rights Defender, I am working to protect the space for people to exist freely without facing harassment, threat, or violence for not fitting into traditional gender categories."

Back in Voices of Witness: Africa, Onziema adds, “I hope, at this meeting [the Lambeth Conference], I hope there will be some changes. I know my country is boycotting it, but that is not going to stop us from believing in God and from continuing in our struggle.” And on that eloquent note, the film preview ends.

I thank God for all transgender Africans, and particularly for the witness of Mukasa and Onziema: for the clear distinction they articulate between church and God, and for their willingness as trans people to speak of God and their respective relationships with God even in the wake of horrific, religiously-based oppression. I pray that they would keep seeking and proclaiming their truth, that they might know how important it is for others to hear their experience, and that they might be empowered to keep walking forward, knowing that people around the world hear and stand with them.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Lambeth: a Look Backward - and Forward- from the Fringe

by the Rev. Vicki Gray

Now more than a week after its closing Eucharist, I remain hesitant to write about the results of Lambeth, primarily because the nature of those results remains so unclear from a perspective of someone still very much on the fringe. I hope, therefore, that you will accept what follows as the very personal reflections of one pilgrim on a continued journey.

In Canterbury, the nature of that fringe was quite literal, with “fringe events” being listed as such at the end of the official program and most often being held away from the University of Kent campus where the bishops met daily under a blue circus tent and in smaller Indaba groups. The fringe event on sexuality and mission that I spoke at with South Africa’s Nomfundo Walaza, for example, was held at St. Stephen’s, Hackington, a lovely parish church a few miles away.

St. Stephen’s, by the way, was home to the two dozen LGBT organizations that made up the Inclusive Church Network at Lambeth. From its parish hall, our communications center, the Network produced a very professional daily newsletter, The Lambeth Witness, that was much in evidence on the Kent campus. Speaking of witness, our hosts at St. Stephen’s deserve our special thanks and blessings, having received a flood of hostile messages for their hospitality.

Adding to the sense of marginalization were the fences and police presence that cordoned off the blue tent. Then there were the color-coded lanyards that restricted access to that and other venues. Lacking an official one and feeling playful, I bought a multi-colored lanyard at the Lindisfarne booth in the “Marketplace.” It bore the message “A Christ Centered Life.” That, however, proved insufficient to gain admittance to the closing Eucharist at Canterbury Cathedral. Having journeyed six thousand miles for the occasion, I was almost moved to tears as the Cathedral’s massive West Gate was slammed shut before me. I stood more than a few minutes in the drizzle, contemplating the huge green copper Christ above the gate, his face and out-stretched hands seeming to say “I did the best I could.”

To be sure, a degree of security is always necessary at such events and the bishops needed and deserved the opportunity to get to know each other in peace and quiet. Still, the panoply of barriers bespoke symbolically of the exclusion felt not just by members of the LGBT community, but by the laity in general. I for one felt very uneasy…like an object rather than a subject. Having one’s life in the church discussed without a voice or without even being privy to the discussions is alien to being an Episcopalian.

But we were there to witness, to convey to the bishops and anyone else who would listen to the lived experience of being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered in an Anglican Communion that continues to judge us harshly. The opportunities to do so were limited, the venues often imperfect, the responses sometimes hostile. But we did the best we could and I am satisfied that our voice – however faint – was heard…especially in one-on-one conversations that are the stuff of relationship.

During my week on Lambeth’s fringes, I had several such conversations with bishops from Africa, Canada, England, and, yes, other dioceses in the United States. And, despite the complaints of folks like Egypt’s Bishop Mouneer Anis, we did not “chase” or “shout” at anyone. We engaged others quietly - in Bible studies on John that paralleled the bishops’, around the Marketplace, and on walks around the campus. On one such walk I observed more than one bishop intently reading our Lambeth Witness. On another I was pleasantly amused when a young woman, spying my collar and rainbow ribbon, urged me to “keep up the fight,” adding, as she strode off, “There are a lot of ‘normal’ people behind you.” But I knew that. Kate Salinaro was there with us; Geoff Diamond sent special greetings; and your prayers were felt.

As my bishop, Marc Andrus of the Diocese of California, and other bishops have already attested, perhaps the greatest gift of Lambeth was the opportunity to build face-to-face relationships, to put a face, hopefully Christ’s, on an otherwise abstract issue. For my part, I left Lambeth with wonderful new relationships and old ones renewed. And I found new strength in solidarity with LGBT sisters and brothers from around the world, gaining immeasurably from their experience in places that are not always as hospitable as the Bay Area and sometimes downright dangerous.

How good to hug Davis Mac-Iyalla of Nigeria upon learning that he had just won asylum in Britain; to bask in the quiet courage of Kenya’s Michael Kamindu; to take communion bread from Uganda’s Bishop Christopher Senyonjo; to hear the fresh perspectives of New Zealand’s Jenny Te Paa; to stand in witness with Nomfundo Walaza;. to share poetic insights with England’s Nicola Slee; and to renew acquaintances with old friends like South Africa’s Bishop Rowan Smith, who shared my amusement about lanyards, and Cameron Partridge, a transgendered priest from Massachusetts who has done so much to expand the space for transgendered people within the church and within the LGBT community.

But what of substance? We have to ask: Have we moved forward or backward or sideways on those issues of sexuality that have so divided the Communion? More importantly, can we feel the Spirit moving in our midst? Do we know where that Spirit, blowing ever stronger, is moving us?

I have the feeling that, in his last minute insistence on a Covenant and a tri-fold moratorium on same-sex blessings, the ordination of gay clergy, and inter-provincial “invasions,” the Archbishop of Canterbury “seized defeat from the jaws of victory,” ignoring, it seemed, the bishops’ more pastoral Reflections paper and pushing aside the seeming consensus to kick the most troublesome issues down the road another decade. Moreover, by insisting on a meeting of primates within the next several months to consider these matters, he may inadvertently damage the unity we all still seek, perhaps speeding up the birth of what Presiding Bishop Katherine has called “something new, which none of us can yet fully appreciate or understand.” She is right in saying that “the Spirit continues to work in our midst.” And Bishop Marc is right in affirming that, at least in the diocese of California, we cannot turn back on same-sex blessings, and in calling for a “Communion-wide commitment to safeguarding the civil rights and safety of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people." But both are also right in calling for patience, generosity, and a commitment to remaining in conversation “to both understand the position of those to whom that moratorium is important, and to convey the reality of our life together to the world.” As the Communion teeters on the edge of a tipping point, we can do nothing less. God help us all in this crucial period so that, as Katherine put it, “all may more fully know the leading of the Spirit.”

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Stumbling Before I AM

One of the ways that Inclusive Church Network offered our voices to the Bishops gathered at the Lambeth Conference was through our daily newspaper, the Lambeth Witness. Each day, people from across the Communion wrote pieces related to events at Lambeth or to reflect on the bishops' theme of the day. Every morning, volunteers would distribute that paper to as many conference-goers as would take them. This process was neither always easy nor welcome; on more than one occasion, distribution sites got vandalized. But the paper carried on, and it appeared to make an important impact, striking a tone that many Conference- goers considered right on the money.

As part of my effort to help bring trans voices and concerns into Anglican Communion conversation, I wrote two pieces for the Lambeth Witness. The first was an edited version of my earlier post here. It appeared in the Witness on Monday, July 28th. The second piece, reproduced below, appeared in the eleventh edition on Saturday, August 2nd. It emerged out of a conversation I had with my Conference housemate Jon Richardson. We were talking about what my experience incarnating the T in LGBT settings was like-- how, even though "LGBT" often flows trippingly off the tongue in inclusive church parlance, actually saying "I am transgender" can cause people to kind of fall away in shock. As I desdcribed this to him, I mentioned how that reaction reminded me of the reaction of the soldiers in the Gospel of John's version of Jesus' arrest. They come looking for him, but when he says, "I am the one," they fall to the ground. Jon said, "you should write that down!" particularly since the "I AM" statements in the Gospel of John were a subject of reflection for the bishops throughout the Lambeth Conference. It took me a few days, and a number of my own stumblings, before I felt ready to shape my reflection (whose title is inspired, in part, by the documentary Trembling Before G-d).

Eigo eimi: “I am,” “it is I who am,” or “I am the one.” Those words, upon which bishops have focused in their Bible studies this week, thread themselves into key moments of encounter throughout the Gospel of John. In turn, this Greek phrase evokes the Hebrew Tetragrammaton — I am who I am, I was who I was, I will be who I will be -– which in Genesis and Exodus gestures toward the awesome uncontainability of the Holy One. Like Moses before the burning bush, numerous people in the Gospel of John encounter none other than the Living God in Jesus of Nazareth, and sometimes it knocks them to the ground.

In John’s version of Jesus’ arrest, for example, Jesus knowingly asks the soldiers, “For whom are you looking?” When they reply, “Jesus of Nazareth,” and Jesus responds “eigo eimi,” the soliders step back and fall to the ground. The sequence of question and answer then repeats, and Peter manages to cut off someone’s right ear before Jesus is finally led away.

I am curious about what the soldiers’ reaction actually betrays. Their falling to the ground is reminiscent of the prophets’ expressions of fear and awe in the wake of divine summons. But I wonder, how respectful is the soldiers’ fall? Could their fall not be characterized as “stumbling,” an action that Jesus urges his disciples to avoid? I wonder if the soldiers’ fall might truly be a stumbling form of respect.

Indeed, I wonder how many of us here at the Lambeth Conference may have fallen in the wake of a conversation partner’s unique expression of identity and experience. How many of us, when uttering our own eigo eimi — how we encounter the living God in and through the particularity of our humanity – have observed stumbling reactions in our interlocutors? I know I have had that experience here, more than once, upon sharing that I am transgender, here on behalf of TransEpiscopal (transgender and allied Episcopalians and Anglicans) as a representative of the T in LGBT.

But I have also observed myself unintentionally stumbling before the particularity of others. So vast and unexpected can the gaps between us be, that we may indeed fall as we seek to approach one another. And, as with the soldiers, our actions can be read in more ways than one: are we stumbling with respect, or falling away in dismay? As this Conference draws to a close and its intensity increases, we should not expect our stumbling to lessen, nor should we necessarily see it as a sign of failure. We are, it seems to me, bound to stumble as we continue to seek encounter with one another. As we look for the living God in and through the unique humanity with which each of us is gifted, we cannot but be overwhelmed. They key is not to become suspicious of that encounter and, having stumbled, arrest it.


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

From Nia Nikasimo: We Are Transgender and We Are Proud

My name is Mia Nikasimo. As a volunteer for Changing Attitude at the Lambeth Conference I found myself in an opportune position to reflect from a translesbian (i.e. a transsexual woman who identifies as a lesbian not to be confused with above or beyond “lesbians,” or a transgender man) standpoint on the Anglican Communion and attempts to exclude the LGBT. I have purposely mentioned my trans status here because “transgender,” as an umbrella term (for transsexual female, male, sister, brother, mothers, fathers, any of whom might choose to cross dress, are intersexed, queer, kings, drag queens and more), can easily lose its identity in the mix. I also specify this identity because I can only share this reflection as a translesbian in the full awareness that some, like my LGBT African brothers, sisters and the rest of us, cannot. As the founder of an online support group called Transafro (which can be found on Facebook), I aim to give voice to our various narratives, Anglicans or otherwise, to promote, empower and raise consciousness in Africa, the Diaspora and allies.

Transgender, contrary to what is often believed to be the case, is not about sexual orientation. Rather it is about gender identity, as, for instance, in the case of transsexuals (i.e. who identify as female or male). Sexual orientation is something that happens gradually for transpeople, who understand it far more than heterosexuals are able to fathom. Even some transsexual people do not fully understand this distinction so I am not surprised that most members of the lesbian, gay, and bisexual community do not understand the “T” or transgender enough to change their attitudes towards us never mind the wider Anglican Communion, which is why education, dialogue and reflection is important.

I am particularly grateful to Katie Sherrod and Rev. Dr. Cynthia Black of Integrity U.S.A., Davis Mac Iyalla and Colin Coward of Changing Attitude, and their voices of witness… Christina Beardsley, ‘…the conversation should not be about gay men at the expense of women, Lesbians, Bisexuals and transgender people…’ Cameron Partridge, ‘…the situation for transpeople in the US is not as dire as in Nigeria. Transgender people are becoming more visible than ever…’ Stephen, ‘…transgenderism is not fixable…’ Stephanie, ‘…I always knew and the church helped me realise who I am…’ and I, Mia Nikasimo, ‘…transgender people exists everywhere, and Africa is no exception: murder, violent attack, torture, rape or slurs against our names will not erase our experience…’ We are all ready to take on the responsibility of sharing our very unique transgender voices with Changing Attitude, with all our allies within the communion, and beyond with compassion, love and understanding. The consensus will always be that: WE DO EXIST, WE ARE TRANSGENDER AND WE ARE PROUD!!!

Primarily, in conjunction with members of Changing Attitude, this stance is saying that I am here, a transsexual woman and a lesbian of African origin (Nigerian, in my case) but also as a member of the wider lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community here to reaffirm our identity in the face of attempts to erase our presence from the Anglican Communion. However, the organisation’s mission statement which states that we are: ‘working for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender affirmation in the Anglican Communion’ is well intentioned we need to be proactive in our efforts.

On reflection, I have found that one significant question in particular seemed to manage to escape our attention. Although we have raised the stakes immensely in changing the bishops' attitudes, what are we as attitude changers doing to bring the same rigour to bear on ourselves? Before we can change attitudes among the bishops we have a lot of education, dialogue and reflection work to in our community (i.e. the LGBT) especially with regard to bisexual (although I cannot speak for them I am aware that they have little or no representation) and transgender people. Simple definitions (such as "what is a transsexual woman/lesbian?") still manage to confuse some lesbian and gay men who then amusingly or otherwise call a transwoman or a translesbian a gay man robbing her of her trans identity and of her sexual orientation simultaneously just for a laugh. Likewise, referring to a transgender/transsexual man as a woman denies him his status as a man. Attitudes within the Anglican Communion cannot be changed in an atmosphere of homophobia or transphobia because of deep rooted fear which is why there is a call for more education, dialogue and reflection.

Although my mother is an Anglican, which meant I could easily have chosen Christianity, I opted for Buddhism and this is not to say that Buddhists are without similar conditioning as the Anglicans but because it was a religion I chose with a full understanding of what I was doing. Rather than the impositions and guilt ridden disposition of the Anglican Communion towards gender identity (i.e. as a transsexual woman) and sexuality (i.e. as a lesbian), I left Christianity and became a Buddhist and found peace of mind, albeit formative. With a committed and concentrated practise of meditation, I was more able to get on with my life. This suited me. I read broadly about Buddhism, finding solace in the stories of practitioners like Tenzin Palmo and Milarepa, to mention just two. With meditation practise I also found a sort of peace of mind that meant I could let go of hatred, guilt and fear and approach the world from a position of compassion, love and understanding. I even wanted to become a Buddhist nun and spend the rest of my life in spiritual contemplation in a cave out in the wild somewhere, but I quickly realised that that would be indulging my desire to escape it all. Somehow, the city became my cave practise based on Plato’s Cave allegory. I began to see anew and in seeing saw the Anglican Communion and the human condition as both locked horns. I wondered where all the compassion, love and understanding had gone. At the Lambeth Conference, I followed the Anglican Communion-- as it observed its rituals, I did mine with Buddhist ones evoking the essence of compassion, Tara and/ or the Boddhisattva of fearlessness, Amoghasiddhi, and shared the experience at every opportunity in social engagement.

On a final note, I feel the service of the bishops is not about celebrity or notoriety. Rather their service is about the cultivation of the seeds of compassion, love and understanding in all the Anglican Communion and not just some of its parts. This must include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people too or the shepherd fails in his duty to all his flock of sheep. But this mantle is not for them to bear alone. We have our part to play in the affirmation of the LGBT without excluding the “T” as can happen and continues to.

Mia Nikasimo / July 2008.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Beyond the Fringe

I’d been looking forward to the Lambeth Conference and our seminar ‘Listening to Trans people’. Months ago now Colin Coward, Director of Changing Attitude, encouraged me to apply to the Conference Fringe organisers to include the seminar in its programme and we were delighted when they agreed, though somewhat surprised to find ourselves among just a handful of LGBT events. Perhaps we were included because Trans voices had not been heard at a pan-Anglican conference before. Whatever the reason our participation caught the imagination of journalists, some of whom attended the seminar, though the event was not widely reported – presumably because there have been bigger issues to cover.

In his latest post Cameron has described the incredible range of meetings that took place at Lambeth. Once the Bishops’ programme was published on the internet I began to realise that we would be very fortunate indeed if any bishops were to turn up at our seminar as their official day seemed packed and relentless. In addition, the bishops were faced with the Self-Select options, at 16.00 each day, a choice of one from about ten topics, many of them dealing with the Listening Process, though none, as Cam rightly says, appeared to involve actual listening to real LGBT people, which was confined to the Fringe, so we were extremely grateful to those bishops who made the time to attend our seminar and other Inclusive Network events.

The concept of the Conference ‘Fringe’ seemed to be based on major arts festivals in the UK, like the Edinburgh Festival, or the Brighton Festival,where there is a main programme of concerts, theatre, ballet, and opera with world-class performers, and a fringe programme that is more experimental and alternative, and a show-case for new talent. When one of the Lambeth Conference Fringe organisers wrote to me afterwards for feedback he thanked me for arranging a ‘colourful’ event – a word that revealed a perception of Trans (or LGBT?) as exotic, or experimental, like a performance artist at an arts festival fringe. Often though a show or performer from a festival fringe will transfer to the West End stage in London, and what was once considered avant-garde becomes accepted as mainstream; so I replied to the organiser that our seminar ought to have been one of the Self-Select groups, and he conceded that the programme had not enabled many bishops to engage with an important topic such as ours.

Archbishop Rowan has called for a focus on ‘the centre’ but often, a centre implies that there is also an edge, or fringe, and when it comes to church politics, even LGBT church politics, Trans people can sometimes find themselves on the margins, or at the edge, but what an exciting, creative, and yes, ‘colourful’ place that can be; and from it we can move to the centre, and to the sides, and back again to the fringes: to wherever, in fact, God would have us be. Yesterday was LGBT Pride in Brighton. I can remember when it was attended by a handful of people; nowadays it is mainstream, a family day out that attracts many thousands. After Lambeth it felt good to be at Pride, enjoying the colour, the whacky costumes, the music, the festivity, and the sense that the movement for our inclusion is quite unstoppable.

Christina Beardsley

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Returning and Rest

It’s early evening Friday, August 1st, and I’m waiting for my flight in Heathrow airport with a coffee and a pain au chocolat. I took the train over from Canterbury earlier today and had a lunch debrief with Christina Beardsley in London before making my way here.

As I sit here, I feel out of the loop after a week of being more immersed in Anglican Communion politics than I’ve ever been before. Sometimes the sheer intensity of the events and reactions to them got overwhelming, and in that sense it’s a relief to be away. I also found that it took some time to get a feel for the rhythm of the Conference, to figure out how to “plug into” it.

Within this single event, there were several parallel conferences — at least three -- unfolding at once. First, the Bishops had mandatory events — Provincial meetings, addresses by the Archbishop of Canterbury, small group (about 5 people) Bible Studies, larger (about 40 people) "Indaba Groups," and so on. A second track, optional for the bishops, was labeled “Bishop Self-Select,” and consisted of workshops by scholars, discussion sessions on particular topics, and so on. This track included some sessions related to the Anglican Communion’s official Listening Process on human sexuality, but none of those sessions involved listening to actual, living, breathing openly LGBT people. Only in the third track, the “Fringe Events,” was there opportunity for bishops to do that, and they had numerous chances. As already discussed here, the “Listening to Trans People” panel was one such event. There were also viewings of For the Bible Tells Me So, two previews of Voices of Witness: Africa, the previously discussed panel “African Voices,” the hilarious and insightful Peterson Toscano interspersing commentary with excerpts of his play, Doin’ Time in the Homo Nomo House: How I Survived the Ex-Gay Movement, two separate Eucharists that witnessed to the lives and witnesses of LGBT people, afternoon forums at 4pm at St. Stephen’s Church featuring speakers from across the Communion, and a powerful play put on by students from Western Michigan University called Seven Passages, which I saw last night.

In addition, on several evenings some bishops hosted Bishop Gene Robinson (who was not invited to Lambeth and was forbidden from preaching or celebrating the Eucharist in Canterbury during the Conference) so that other bishops and their spouses could have a chance to meet with him. These events were open only to bishops. Bishop Gene was also present at some occasional events, dropping into the Lambeth Marketplace from time to time, signing copies of his book (as did several other authors at the conference), and talking to people. I had a nice conversation with him in the Marketplace on Thursday, during which he inscribed a copy of his book for my mom: “Thank you for loving your son.”

There were also events that took place beyond even the official Fringe, which ranged from gatherings at pubs to protests. I suspect that much important work — the bulk of which was in the building of relationships – took place in those forums.

All of this leaves me with the question of how the Listening Process, and indeed how the fate of the Anglican Communion, may have moved forward during these last three weeks. Certainly the press seems to want signs of definite progress or dissolution (and I suspect there is more interest in the possibility of the latter). But the best outcome, it seems to me, is for the various constituents of the Communion to return to their homes galvanized to take up the Listening Process in ways that emerge, as one speaker articulated it yesterday, from the ground up, and not via institutional fiat. It makes no sense to declare moratoria as a condition for listening. Our interconnections and the differences that come with them are not conditional upon one another’s approval; they take place, and can only truly be understood, in real time.

And yet, moratoria could still be declared. This Conference is not yet quite over: the official end day is Sunday, August 3rd. Many, many times, events like these have seemed to be headed in a helpful direction, with various sides talking with one another, trying to understand their differences without ultimatums, only to have groups sabotage the process at the last minute, when people are tired and vulnerable. That happened at General Convention in 2003 with the infamous B033 resolution which did call for a moratorium on consecrating gay bishops (the language was more annoyingly vague, but that’s what it amounted to). That happened at Dar Es Salaam in 2006. Examples are numerous. And so my prayer is that the spirit in which this Conference was designed and has largely unfolded, would complete its course.

May all of us, heading home from this intense time, and praying that the hopeful progress achieved thus far continues, recall the words of the Isaiah 30:15:

Thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:
In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and trust shall be your strength.