Welcome home


Many years ago now—before the turn of the century, imagine that!—I found my way back into the Episcopal Church after a long period of anger and alienation. The place that opened its doors and said, “welcome home” was All Saints Church in Fort Lauderdale.

My husband was first hired as the Associate Rector there, after I had accepted a promotion with FedEx that required me to move to Southeast Florida. Within months after his hiring, the person who was rector was deposed (suspended from ministry) and renounced his orders after charges of significant clergy misconduct were brought against him. Sherod was named interim rector and ultimately, the Bishop of Southeast Florida, Cal Schofield, made an exception and allowed him to remain as the rector.

I have learned about the ways in which a whole system, a whole family, a whole congregation, plays a part in its health or sickness. The rector at All Saints was the person who most visibly failed, but there was a deeply entrenched  culture of silence and secrets. So many knew something was not right and said nothing. It took such brave lay people to finally stand up and say, “no more.” One of the promises Sherod made to himself and to All Saints when he was made rector was that he would do what he could to open space for truth and honesty.

One of the truths that had to be faced and embraced was the number of LGBTQ people who came to church at All Saints. Everyone was welcome—but that part of the family could not be open about who they were. It was a classic “don’t ask, don’t tell” kind of place. Over about 3 years, there was conversation. There was some education and formation. There were some very ugly confrontations as well, and good people who loved their church decided to leave. Those losses were real and they left us diminished; for the remainder of our time at All Saints, there were people Sherod and I continued to miss.

Coming out to ourselves was very, very hard.

But those of us who stayed and worked, worshipped, loved, sometimes fought, and almost always laughed, were invited deeper into God’s generous and extravagant life. Matthew Shepherd was brutally killed right in the middle of that time; the way he was killed was so violent it left us wordless. A few years later, Gene Robinson was elected Bishop of New Hampshire. An openly gay man was elected to the vestry at All Saints. So were lesbian women. One served with me as the lay leader of our youth programs at All Saints; I remember Katie and I talking about bullying with our youth as we sat around a table and talked about the challenges of being a teenager. She was an amazing youth leader. We continued to be church.

In 2012, after the Episcopal Church approved the blessing of same gender marriages, nine couples who were members at All Saints, gay and lesbian, who had been married in other parts of the country, because Florida did not allow same gender marriage, gathered with Sherod and planned a shared service of blessing of their marriages. Between them, they had over 240 years of committed relationship. One of the youngest had an absolutely delicious little son. We all were concerned for one of the couples who had been together the longest. One of them had dementia and we all held our breath, praying R would be able to be cognitively present that day. He was. All Saints has a balcony and as they processed out at the end of the service, several people threw rose petals on them from the balcony.

One of the loveliest moments of those years occurred when Bishop Robinson came to visit at All Saints. He was with us over a weekend, preached, broke bread with us, brought a gentle spirit with him that graced us all.

On this day when, thank God, no lives were lost despite the fact that 13 bombs were mailed out, the starkness of fear, turned to anger, turned to hate, turned to violence, weighs heavy. Today is also the day that Matthew Shepard’s remains were laid to rest at the National Cathedral. I watched most of the service on YouTube. Bp Robinson is retired now, and as he processed in, carrying Matthew, he was older, more stooped than when I met him. I imagined how incredibly bittersweet that moment must have been for him. The violence of Matthew’s death surely haunts and grieves Bp Robinson to the core, even 20 years after Matthew was killed. The honor of being the person bringing Matthew’s remains home must have been piercingly beautiful for Bp Robinson.

To me, some of the scariest ‘cinematographic’ moments are ones when someone is out on ice and it starts cracking more and more quickly, giving out from under the person and plunging her or him into water so cold it can kill in minutes. Sometimes these days, it feels like in this time and this place, we are standing on ice cracking and giving out beneath us. Today was like that for me. And then I remembered today was the interment of Matthew’s ashes. I watched how, in the chancel of the National Cathedral, an old man who wept frequently during his homily, who was dwarfed by the space he occupied, and who got a long standing ovation as he finished preaching, reminded us all that we are called to anamnesis. A remembering that makes events of the past ours, and challenges us to remember in order to be transformed. A remembering that loves and works for twenty years to find a place safe enough, and loving enough, to receive the ashes of a young man who others were so scared of, they killed him.  It was my church, the Episcopal Church that finally said to Matthew, “Welcome home,”  as it had to me all those years ago.

A new season


Blessing of the Animals at Holy Comforter, October 7, 2018. Photo by Harrison Black

It seemed like autumn would never reach Alabama, and as always, it’s happened in fits and starts, with small harbingers I’ve had to be vigilant to notice.  The red spider lilies have just about run their course for the year, their long, fragile, awkward stems topped with a small burst of fire that waves with the wind of each car that zooms past on Old Selma Road.  Very close behind the lilies came the peak bloom season for the wild black-eyed susans. Maybe because we had good rain all through the summer, not too much, not too little, they too were resplendent, flames of deep yellow beauty.  I fought the impulse to stop and pick a bunch to put in a vase at home. I wondered if I should run home for my camera. Instead, I pulled my car off to the side of the road one afternoon, after the sun had begun to set, and allowed my eyes to feast on their glory.

Last Friday evening, Sherod and I were driving to a gathering in downtown Lowndesboro, when a doe came out from one side of Hwy 29/Broad Street and started across the road at a pace so sedate we both worried that someone else, coming down the road fast,  would have run into her.  Sherod coaxed her on all the way across, saying “Oh little doe, hurry, hurry, that’s how you get killed,” She’d already made it to the brush alongside the road when all of a sudden, a small, white spotted fawn darted across the road too, following mama.  It  happened so fast. Those creatures were exquisite.

For me, the new season as priest-in-charge at Holy Comforter, has also begun.  On the first Sunday, I looked out at the congregation and thought my heart would burst. So many faces filled with expectation. In the past, there was an almost complete break with what had gone before, when I started a new assignment.  Last Sunday, a few people from Ascension came to my first service at Holy Comforter.  I can feel the tears start to sting behind my eyes when I think about that. People I love and respect walked with me to a new place, not to cling, or deny endings and beginnings, but to remind me that a thin gold thread of grace weaves all my beginnings and endings together, into a whole that I call my life, and is more filled with love than I could ever earn or deserve.

And then, so much to think about, so much to do.  I have gained a lot of experience and knowledge through 35 years of work and ‘adulting’.  What I’ve realized in these past 2 weeks is how much of that I held in check for the past three years because I needed to honor the boundaries of my role as associate rector.  That actually took more energy than I knew.   I am so happy, dusting off old practices; there’s “muscle memory,” like riding a bike, about how I serve in a broader leadership capacity. The knowledge just falls back into place, piece by piece, as I go through my days at the church.  I already love my new parish—the red doors and the somewhat creaky, but resonant, bell we ring for services each Sunday.  I have been the recipient of so many big and small gestures of generosity and kindness.  The work is hard and the challenges significant for all Episcopal churches, especially the ones, like Holy Comforter, that must learn how our identity is ‘re-formed’ when the neighborhood around us has changed dramatically.  Holy Comforter and I must learn again and anew, what it means to be people of the cross and resurrection.  

It is a good, and right, and joyful thing to be starting in this new ministry as fall begins, when the leaves fall off the trees and it seems like there is nothing left but grey, cold, lifeless limbs, lifted up to the heavens in silent plea.  I think we too must allow ourselves to be stripped of false pretenses, our ever-so easy answers and the ability to distract and be distracted.  I have learned that it is in this kind of time that I am able to see more clearly that which is most essential, most true, about my life and my faith.



Take I


Take II


Take III

I figured out, this is my 6th church office. There are some pieces that have been with me all along. A whole lot of them are gifts, each with a story I get to remember, as I find their new places in the new office. There are so many stories of goodness. This time around, there is a very strong sense of the ways in which all those stories have shaped my understanding of myself as a person who happens to be an ordained Episcopal priest. I have stopped presuming I know how any one of my calls fits in the larger scheme of things–the path has taken so many unpredicted turns.  Now, I see more clearly how all the stories, the successes, the failures, maybe especially, the things I didn’t know I didn’t know, have prepared me to say this yes with more trust in God’s generosity than I’ve ever had before.  Out of the chaos of moving, there is a new creation slowly emerging and good work already underway. AMDG