Integrity USA President visits Integrity Uganda

Colin Coward

The Rev. Michael Hopkins, President of Integrity USA, returned on 19 June 2002 from a two week visit to Integrity Uganda. Michael writes about his visit:

My visit to our sisters and brothers of Integrity Uganda was a significant time of sharing in witness and ministry. I return grateful for the opportunity and the incredible hospitality with which I was received, and fully committed to mutual support and ministry.

Integrity Uganda has built a community center in Kitemu, a village to the west of Kampala. The center serves not only as the headquarters of Integrity, but also as a place of worship for all and a center for ministry to the surrounding community.

I preached and was concelebrant with the Rt. Rev. Christopher Senyonjo, at the community’s Eucharist on Sunday, June 9. The congregation was a mix of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and heterosexual Ugandans, young and old. Together they are deliberately creating a community that welcomes all, unlike the overwhelming majority of institutional churches in Uganda, including the (Anglican) Church of Uganda. It is an exciting venture.

Bishop Senyonjo, the retired Bishop of West Buganda, continues under inhibition in the Church of Uganda, and the continued threat of ecclesiastical trial and defrocking. The Rev. Erich Kasirye, founder of Integrity Uganda, has also been prohibited from the exercise of his ministry. I was honored to be a guest of these two courageous men, both of them heterosexual persons who are committed to the equality of their homosexual and bisexual fellow Christians.

I was also pleased to meet my counterpart, Mr. Denis Iraguha, new President of Integrity Uganda, and his partner, Mr. Henry Irankunda. Sharing our stories and our faith in spite of the opposition of many Christians, and the society at large, is an experience I will never forget. Both Henry and Denis have in the past been arrested for “homosexual offenses” and imprisoned without right of visitors, subjected to repeated canings. These young men, both 22 years old, showed a profoundly tenacious faith.

I am saddened that this community must live cut off from the fellowship of the Church of Uganda. The Diocese of Namirembe, in which it is located, and of which both Bishop Senyonjo and Father Kasirye were active clergy until their suspensions, resolved in May 2001:

That all Christians of the Church of Uganda who will be found practising or promoting homosexuality shall be denied Christian burial and other church rites in the Diocese of Namirembe [and] the Diocese do launch a vigorous Crusade against all forms of homosexuality.

Despite this climate of hostility, the members of Integrity Uganda and people of the Kitemu Community Center are keeping hope alive. During a retreat i WAS privileged to conduct, the leadership settled on the name, “Community of Love” for their Sunday fellowship. They also decided to begin collecting their stories towards publishing a record of their existence and faith.

Thanks to my hosts, I was able to see a large cross section of Ugandan life, from the city of Kampala to rural villages in the west and southwest of the country. Everywhere I went I was treated with deep respect and welcomed as a fellow human being and Christian.

I pledge Integrity USA’s continued support and love to our brothers and sisters of Integrity Uganda. I will be bringing to our Board of Directors and our membership several possible new initiatives, including assisting in the expansion of Integrity Uganda into other parts of the country where keen interest has been expressed. We also look forward to assisting in similar efforts in every Province of the Communion.

To my fellow Anglicans and Episcopalians around the world I bear witness that lesbian, gay, and bisexual Christians not only exist in Uganda, but are keeping faith despite overt persecution by both Church and State. I have no doubt whatsoever that the same is true for every province of our great Communion, and I call on leaders of our Church everywhere to acknowledge this fact, end the ecclesiastical persecution, and join the struggle to end cultural and political persecution of these children of God.

Excerpts from Michael Hopkin’s journal and photos are available at www.integrityusa.org.

Integrity Uganda is an independent organization of heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual Anglicans and other Christians committed to building an inclusive church and society. It was founded in 2000. Integrity USA is the 26 year old ministry of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Episcopalians and their straight friends committed to the fulfillment of the 1976 promise of the Episcopal Church that “homosexual persons are full members of the Church.”

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