The baseball stadium stands adjacent to the Indiana Conference Centre where General Convention is meeting. By early evening crowds began arriving to attend the game and to watch the fireworks display that was to follow to mark the 4th of July, Independence Day.
I was sorely tempted to join them – what better introduction to American life than to attend a baseball game? It was not just the heat though – which even at that time of day is like a furnace – that deterred me. I just had to be at the screening of the two movies – Out of the Box and Love Free or Die – and for the panel discussion with the films’ subjects that followed.
Out of the Box, as you will know already if you read this blog, is a short DVD, a series of interviews with Trans members of the Episcopal Church who tell their moving stories of death and resurrection. Love Free or Die is a feature length film about Bishop Gene Robinson, and particularly the decision not to invite him to the Lambeth Conference 2008.
It was lovely to see Bishop Gene in the film walking over Putney Bridge to preach at St Mary’s Church, where Giles Fraser had bravely offered the Bishop a pulpit when his rightful place among the bishops at Lambeth was denied to him. But with that exception watching the film made me ashamed to be British (even if I was wearing my Union Jack socks).
The decision to exclude Bishop Gene, which was distressing enough at the time, now looks mean, petty, short-sighted and just plain wrong. It’s hardly surprising therefore that the following year, at its General Convention in Anaheim, the Episcopal Church decided that being lesbian or gay was not a reason to prevent someone being a candidate for episcopal ministry. Not that this was simply a reaction to what had happened at Lambeth, because again it’s evident from the film that the Episcopal Church really thought and prayed through that decision, but parables are powerful, and the parable of exclusion that took place at Lambeth 2008 must have played its part.
Watching the film on Independence Day made me reflect that some people might think ‘ah, it’s those Americans again, going their own way and acting independently from the rest of the Anglican Communion’. My experience of the Episcopal Church, limited as it is, is somewhat different.
My 4th July began with morning prayer with the TransEpiscopal delegates, and ended with night prayer following the Integrity delegation debrief meeting: these are Christian people who want to be faithful to God. In between were earnest discussions (but always laced with humour) about the sacraments and liturgy, scripture, people’s experience of missionary work in Africa, the scandal of poverty, injustices around immigration: these are Christian people who are trying to be faithful to tradition and to working together and in community. Again, as the two films and panel discussion demonstrated, these Trans Christians and this much demonised gay Bishop, who have gone through such pain, have come through death to life eternal and the love of Christ shines from their lives and from their faces. If that’s ‘independence’ then I’d like some please.