Thursday, September 18, 2014

Voila! (one parish's rapidly achieved, relatively low key, and profound sign of welcome)

“Do we have a gender neutral bathroom?”

the new gender neutral restroom at
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Salem, OR
“No, though there is the ADA-accessible bathroom by the sacristy.”

“Well, can we make that a gender neutral bathroom?  Can we order a sign this week?  If that’s what people need to feel safe, then that’s what we need to have.  And we need to advertise it.”

And voila.  St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Salem, OR, was going to have a gender neutral bathroom in order to make sure trans folks knew they were welcome in the space.

How did we get here?  Let’s back up. 

I am one of two interim priests serving this good-sized parish in the capitol of Oregon, known throughout the state for the excellence of its music programs.  Worship is traditional, and conversation is lively.  The Very Rev. Lin Knight serves as interim rector.  He asked me to serve as associate beginning January of this year.  I asked him if St. Paul’s was ready for a 34-year-old tattooed lesbian priest, and he laughed.  I heard later he sold me to the staff as a “perky blonde.” 

Lin had served St. Paul’s nearly a decade ago as interim as well.  During this time, the Oregon Supreme Court ratified its Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), prohibiting same-sex marriages in the state of Oregon.  Since St. Paul’s is in the capitol city, and since the Episcopalians had been getting a lot of press about the election of Bishop Gene Robinson, the paper called Lin to get a statement about this decision.  He told them that he believed the church should be in the business of strengthening all committed relationships. 

Well, I wasn’t here, but I heard this caused quite the kerfuffle.  Letters were flying. The senior warden asked that Lin make a public apology and state that he was speaking for himself only, and not the church.  The parking lot was on fire with chatter. Lin held the center with his signature grace, and eventually the parish calmed down, with many coming to him to thank him quietly for his words.

By the time I arrived, the church had settled into the place where I think many – if not most – Episcopal churches stand today.  Generally, most parishioners support full inclusion of cisgender gay and lesbian worshippers and clergy, and support efforts for full civil rights for GLBTQ folks.  They are stronger in understanding cis gay and lesbian issues than trans issues.  They are proud of being able to worship with people who may not be fully accepting of gay and lesbian people as well.

I was warmly welcomed and started the fun part of being an interim, which is getting to shake things up a little.   On occasion, I have been accused of preaching a “political” sermon.  (As has Lin.)  We’ve both been curious about this word, which is used primarily in the church as shorthand for, “What you are talking about makes me uncomfortable.  Please stop talking about it.”  It’s a silencing tactic rather than a meaningful adjective.  We thought we could explore that term in a non-defensive, open way over the summer.  We moved to a summer schedule and left an hour open before services for people to come in and have informal conversation about “political” topics.  We covered Israel and Palestine, Ferguson, immigration, climate change.  And for three weeks, we talked about sex. 

the whiteboard
(note: the term 'transvestite' is crossed out
because it is now considered derogatory) 
In one of those sessions, I did the world’s fastest Queer/Trans 101.  We defined terms, and moved quickly into talking about “queer” and “trans” as umbrella terms for a variety of identities.  (Many of them grew up hearing “queer” as a slur, and were very hesitant asking about it.  I said to not use it if it still carried negative connotations for them, but also explained how we need a word for, really, “everyone who gets beat up” as a result of sexual or gender identity.)  I made sure they knew that the vast majority of violence against queer folks happens to trans women of color. 

The white board with all the notes from this quick overview was left up all week, in the main meeting room of the church.  All the regular groups who meet there saw it, and it provoked a good deal of discussion on its own.  At staff meeting, on Wednesday, the parish administrator said that she had heard lots of people talking about it.  A few staff members chimed in and said they were curious, too.  I volunteered to answer any questions they might have, and off we went.  Eventually the conversation turned to welcoming queer folks at St. Paul’s, and we arrived at the conversation at the beginning of this post.  I had mentioned that one of the most contested issues for trans people is bathrooms, and our liturgical co-ordinator asked the opening question of this post. 

And there we were.  That part of staff meeting – from “So people have been noticing the white board…” to ordering a sign for the bathroom – took approximately ten minutes.   No mess, no months of agonized debate. 

Here’s what I think led to this easy ten-minute no-struggle conversation:

1. Calm clergy leadership, relaxed and committed to their values
2. Thoughtful, inquisitive adult faith formation unafraid of difficult topics
3. Most importantly, the laity’s absolute commitment to good manners and intentional welcome, even in a new situation where not everyone understands what the issues are

I think we forget about manners in the conversation about justice a lot.  Give me  staunch Christians with good home training any day when we’re faced with questions about how to be places of radical welcome.  By “manners” I mean that quality of a well-trained hostess, whose first priority is ensuring that her guests are comfortable and having a good time.  She may not appreciate someone’s taste, or personality, but as long as they are in her house, they will be made comfortable to the best of her ability.  It means the basic willingness to put another person’s needs before your own.  The St. Paul’s staff was still learning basic language and many of them have never knowingly met a trans person.  And yet – their number one concern was that people feel welcome in the space.  No questions on that front.  This is what someone needs to feel safe here?  We will provide it. 

This is the best of who we can be.  And on one sunny, sleepy, summer afternoon in Oregon, it meant a shift toward wholeness, and grace, for one community.  It meant marking one more little plot of land in this vast world as safe, as home. 

The Reverend Shelly Fayette, formerly the Interim Associate Rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Salem, Oregon, is the new Rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Seattle, WA.  Congratulations, Shelly! 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Moving our work to the next level

Dear Friends:

In the last seven years, TransEpiscopal has achieved a number of remarkable successes. We have supported trans people throughout The Episcopal Church, brought trans people into the foreground of the church’s national conversation, built strong alliances with other progressive groups both within The Episcopal Church and in other denominations, and driven the passage of pro-transgender legislation at two General Conventions and in a number of diocesan conventions.

We have achieved all of this while remaining a small, informal, unincorporated organization without officers or formal rules. Our ability to do this has depended on the generosity of our members and friends, who have given unstintingly of their time, talent and treasure to keep us going.

We are now at a moment when we need to start building the material foundation that will hopefully take us to the next level. We currently have a few hundred dollars in our account with Integrity; against that, we owe $800 in dues to the Consultation, the umbrella group of progressive Episcopal organizations, covering last year as well as 2014. Beyond that, General Convention 2015 is only about 15 months away, and we still have much to do.

  • We need to encourage the church to fully assimilate and internalize the measures that it has already passed, particularly concerning nondiscrimination in access to ordained ministry and in the rights of the laity; 
  • We need to familiarize the church with non-binary gender identities, and help church leaders understand and welcome genderqueer people; 
  • We need to persuade the church to drop transgender health insurance exclusions for clergy and other employees, which remain a substantial barrier to trans people’s full participation in the life of the church; 
  • We need to help develop liturgy that will celebrate the experience of trans people. 

To do all this, we need to start rebuilding our finances soon and so we're asking for your help. Please go to TransEpiscopal’s Web site,, look for the donate button on the left side of the page, and make a contribution.

With your help, TransEpiscopal can continue to do God’s work.

Donna Cartwright

Monday, March 3, 2014

Transfiguration & Transformation: to repair with gold

Sharing a sermon preached by one of our members, Kori Pacyniak for Transfiguration Sunday / Last Sunday of the Epiphany. Preached on Wednesday, 26 February 2014 at Diocesan House, Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut.

[Exodus 24:12-18]
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9

 As Episcopalians, we’re fortunate enough to get to celebrate the Transfiguration twice in our liturgical year - once on the last Sunday before Lent, often known as Transfiguration Sunday, and then again on August 6, the Feast of the Transfiguration.  It’s nice today to think about August – about long summer days and even sweltering heat as we feel the brunt of another ‘polar vortex’, but there is something peculiar, and special about Transfiguration Sunday.

Today’s transfiguration comes at the end of the season of the epiphany, at the end of a long and particularly arduous winter, on the threshold of lent. This year, Christmas and Epiphany seem like long forgotten memories, buried under the snow and ice that have been a near constant presence. There is a hope that spring lurks just around a corner, but on a day like today, spring shows no sign of hurrying. Liturgically, we are at a threshold, or, as one of my priests calls it, a hinge day. A hinge between the seasons of epiphany and lent, but more than that, a hinge between heaven and earth. That’s what we glimpse at the transfiguration, a disruption of the norm and a supernatural event that causes fear in the disciples.

 In the icons of the transfiguration, Jesus is usually depicted standing between Moses and Elijah, enshrined in gold and light on the mountaintop with rays of light emanating force, piercing the disciples. In contrast, Peter, James and John are shown lying down or with their faces turned away. We glimpse a moment of liminal space, a moment of transition and transformation and we become acutely aware that something is happening. Something is happening and we are invited to be transformed.

 In the first reading, we are called to be attentive to the prophetic message, “as a lamp shining in a dark place” until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts. There is a feeling of waiting, of expectation, of hope in spite of the darkness. Peter, James, and John needed this hope. Six days earlier, Jesus had told his disciples that he would be handed over to the chief priests, killed and raised up on the third day. Difficult news for anyone to swallow. It is not difficult to imagine the sort of darkness the disciples were living in – having to come to grips with the revelation that their beloved teacher would be taken from them and killed. At the same time Jesus was asking them to take up their cross and follow him. We can imagine the feelings of fear, hopelessness, betrayal…through this, Jesus asks his disciples for acceptance of what is to come.

 And now, Jesus takes Peter, James and John with him up on a mountain, apart from the others and is transfigured before them – as if they didn’t have enough to deal with. But this clearly supernatural event only gets better. Out of nowhere, Moses and Elijah appear, talking with Jesus and then a voice emerges from the heavens, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased, listen to him.” The disciples naturally fall to the ground in fear and it is Jesus who rouses them, reassuring them and telling them to not be afraid. It might not be only fear that causes the disciples to fall down and turn away, but the knowledge and awareness that they are participating in something greater, something beyond their wildest imagination. They know they are being invited into transformation.

 Who are these words from heaven for? In the disciples, they seem to cause more fear than anything. Perhaps it is Jesus himself who needs to hear these words, this reassurance of his father’s love, of approval, of his mission. Despite the supernatural nature of the transfiguration, perhaps this is a moment where we see Jesus’ humanity bleed through. Aware of the task before him, the difficulty of accepting what he is called to do, he takes some of his friends and goes up on a mountaintop to pray. And what is the result? Two of prophets come to speak with him and his father’s voice booming from the heavens. 

We know what comes next. The forty days of lent, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the last supper, the crucifixion and eventually the resurrection. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s take a moment to stand here on the mountaintop, to consider our own selves on the brink of transition – transition into a new liturgical season and transition into a new space for our work. Transition is scary. New things are scary and often hard. Sometimes we don’t feel ready for the change, something we feel that we are incapable of bearing it. We so easily forget that the journey up the mountain, the journey into the wilderness, can carry with it the potential for transformation.

In Japanese, there is a word called kintsukuroi, which means to repair with gold. It was a word that came into mind when I read over today’s Scriptures, a word that refers to the art of repairing broken pottery with gold and silver lacquer and understanding that the pottery is more beautiful for having been broken because it is precisely those broken shards that allow the luminescent gold to show. This fits in with the transfiguration. The disciples were not perfect people. These were ordinary individuals, each with their faults, each asked to take up their cross and follow Jesus. Asked to leave behind their family and their possessions and enter into this journey with Christ. We, too, are invited into that journey, into the moment of the transfiguration. How will we let Christ transform us? How will we let him repair our brokenness with gold so that we are more beautiful for it?

Thursday, February 27, 2014

An Update on the Rev. Gwen Fry

An update to yesterday's statement:

Integrity USA and TransEpiscopal were saddened to learn that the Rev. Gwen Fry is no longer the Priest in Charge of Grace Episcopal Church in Pine Bluff, AR. We pray for healing for the Rev. Fry, for Grace Church, for the Diocese of Arkansas, and the wider LGBT community in the coming days and months.

We remain clear and confident that the wider family of the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas – including the Rt. Rev. Larry Benfield— embraces, supports, and is confident in the leadership of the Rev. Fry. We look forward to hearing about the next ordained position into which she will step in the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas.

The events of this week point to the need for continued conversation and education on transgender leadership throughout the Episcopal Church. To aid in this process, IntegrityUSA and TransEpiscopal stand ready to offer a wide range of resources, including the short film Voices of Witness: Out of the Box.

This weekend Transfiguration Sunday will be observed across The Episcopal Church. We will hear the story of how Jesus walked up a mountain and was transfigured beside Moses and Elijah before three bewildered disciples. Only in Matthew’s gospel does Jesus bend down, touch them, and say, “Get up, and do not be afraid.”

This message could not be more timely today. As we stand together on God’s holy mountain, may we be strengthened to walk together through the challenges that lie before us, confident that in the process we will be changed into Christ’s likeness from glory to glory.

For further information/comment, please contact:

for IntegrityUSA
Mel Soriano,

for TransEpiscopal
The Rev. Dr. Cameron Partridge,
Ms. Donna Cartwright,

IntegrityUSA & TransEpiscopal's original statement can be found here, including a statement from the Rev. Gwen Fry.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

IntegrityUSA and TransEpiscopal Joint Statement on the Rev. Gwen Fry

IntegrityUSA and TransEpiscopal stand behind the leadership, courage, and integrity of the Rev. Gwen Fry, Priest in Charge of Grace Episcopal Church in Pine Bluff, AR, who last weekend came out to her congregation as a transgender woman.  We also recognize and applaud the support offered to the Rev. Fry and to Grace Church by her bishop, the Right Rev. Larry Benfield.

The Episcopal Church is committed to the full incorporation and equality of transgender and gender nonconforming people. As the Right Rev. Benfield noted, at its 2012 General Convention, The Episcopal Church passed resolution D019, which stated "that no one shall be denied rights, status or access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of the Episcopal Church" on the basis of gender identity and expression.  It also passed resolution D002 which barred discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression in access to the ordination process.  As a church we have declared, as Presiding Bishop Edmund Browning once said, that "there will be no outcasts."

In her own statement (printed below), the Rev. Fry notes that this moment is "an amazing opportunity to learn, to grow, to seek out and find the risen Christ in one another in ways we might never have expected."  We hope that Grace Episcopal Church will seize this moment as an opportunity to learn, to be vulnerable, to know one another more authentically, to deepen their membership in Christ's body.

As our Church continues in the ongoing process of learning and exploring what it means to have transgender people in community and in leadership, Integrity is proud to offer a wide range of educational resources, including the short film Voices of Witness: Out of the Box.

The Rev. Fry's commitment to living honestly, to letting her light shine, to growing into her full stature as a member of Christ's body stands as a beacon of inspiration to all of us as we seek and serve Christ in all people, loving our neighbors as ourselves.

For further information, please contact:

for IntegrityUSA 
Mel Soriano,

for TransEpiscopal
The Rev. Dr. Cameron Partridge,
Ms. Donna Cartwright,


A Statement from the Rev. Gwen Fry

The Rev. Gwen Fry
I would like to express my sincere and deepest thanks to all of my family, colleagues, and friends who have reached out in support of me, of my family, and of our respective parishes. Not all of life's journeys are ones we expect to take. They can be both challenging and filled with wonder. On Sunday I began a journey of conversation and education, of vulnerability, of transition. Because gender transition is something with which many are unfamiliar, it is only natural that there are questions. There may be anxiety, and at times we may stumble. But we also have an amazing opportunity to learn, to grow, to seek out and find the risen Christ in one another in ways we might never have expected. To do this well, I would like to engage with a spirit of respect, patience, peace, and prayer. Everyone needs space and time to talk and listen, to make adjustments, to make mistakes and ask forgiveness, to trust in the communal power of our membership in the body of Christ. My prayer is that we actively cultivate trust, patience, and respect, that we might rediscover the peace of Christ. I invite us all to continue prayerfully walking together in faith.


The Rev. Gwen Fry