The Primate preached this sermon at the Church of the Redeemer in Toronto, Ont., in honour of the 35th anniversary of the founding of the first chapter of Integrity.
Thank you for the invitation to preside and preach at this eucharist marking the 35th Anniversary of Integrity. At the founding Convention in 1975 at St. James Cathedral in Chicago, six Canadians were present. Then and there they made a decision to form a Chapter in Toronto. And since that time chapters have been established all across the country.
These chapters have enabled mutual support and encouragement in your life in Christ and in your work toward full inclusion in the Church. Consistently you have welcomed newcomers and reached out to embrace one another in the very Spirit of that hymn we have come to know as The Servant Song.
“I will hold the Christ light for you
in the night time of your fear.
I will hold my hand out to you;
speak the peace you long to hear.
I will weep when you are weeping.
When you laugh, I’ll laugh with you.
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we’ve seen this journey through.”
As I come to share the anniversary with you three words come to mind
Each evokes an image of Jesus and the kind of community he would have wanted us to be.
The word hospitality evokes an image of Jesus as saying to one and all
- “Come, Come and follow me”
- “Come to me all you who labour and are heavy laden and I will refresh you”
- “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, whoever believes in me will never thirst”
- “Whoever has faith in me shall live forever”
The gospels are full of stories of people responding to this invitation. So wonderful his words, so kind his deeds, so holy his presence in the midst of the people, that even parents want to bring their children that he might touch and bless them with his love. And we’re told the disciples rebuked the parents. They spoke to them sternly. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said, “Let the children come to me and forbid them not for to such as these belongs to the Kingdom of Heaven. This story incited an essay by Janet Marshall and Charley Thomas in a book edited by Phil Groves entitled “the Anglican Communion and Homosexuality.”
“Historically as a Communion our listening has been selective. The Church has a long history of blocking voices from being heard. The list of the excluded is long – it has included indigenous peoples, people who are physically/mentally challenged, gay and lesbian people and their families and friends”. Now on a number of fronts we have seen some dramatic movement.
- Children and youth have a much greater presence in the Church.
- Women are ordained in all orders of the Church. They assume with the deepest respect significant leadership roles in the Church.
- We are attentive to the needs of people who are differently abled.
- We are making significant steps in the journey respectful of the desire of indigenous peoples to be self-determining.
- We rejoice in the growing multicultural nature of our cities and our churches.
- When it comes to gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgendered people, we have made some progress but we have some distance to go in the fuller realization of that radical hospitality for which Jesus is known.
I know dear friends, many of you have suffered the consequences of homophobia within the Church.
I know many of you have experienced discrimination ranging from whispering to outright rejection.
I know many of you have been labelled as disordered, unnatural in your sexual desires, sinful in your behaviour.
I know many of you have been pressured to hide the truth of who you are.
I know many of you have struggled with your identity, many of you have struggled with anxiety and depression; and we all know that for some the struggle has been so overwhelming that they have committed suicide.
I stand before you tonight deeply mindful of the fact that too often we talked about you instead of with you. Too often we have ignored you. Too often we have silenced you. Too often we have failed to see you for who you are – our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, our nephews and nieces and cousins, our neighbours, our friends in faith, fellow members within the Body of Christ, as committed to the Lord Jesus as any of the rest of us.
I am sorry for these ways in which you have been hurt by the Church…I am sorry.
Alongside this expression of deep remorse is one of deep gratitude for those who have befriended you – through ministries of accompaniment and advocacy for full inclusion in the life of the Church, through ministries of perseverance in the Councils of the Church, through ministries of unceasing prayer. I think of great people who have gone before us in faith – like Archbishop Ted Scott who said in an interview in retirement that he couldn’t imagine Jesus who mingled with all sorts and conditions of people and died on the cross for all saying “Come unto me, all you people…unless you are homosexual!” I think of those who have tried to bring people of very diverse theological perspective into conversation – people like Archbishop Terry Finlay and his work in bringing together people representing Integrity and Fidelity. I think of all those who have laboured long and hard in conversations – local, national, and international to surface questions the Church is called to consider, for example, from an international conversation convened after Lambeth 1998:
-Can we see in same gendered relationships something of the holiness of God?
-What constitutes genuine loving and responsible pastoral care for gay and lesbian people?
(from the St. Michael Report, gospel imperative/unity)
These are deep questions with which the Church must continue to wrestle.
I thank God for places like the Church of the Redeemer. I know you join me in gratitude for its life and witness in this city, for:
-the richness of its liturgy
-its passion for outreach into the downtown – its ministries to the homeless and marginalized
-the genuineness of the hospitality it offers for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and questioning people.
As I think of the Church of the Redeemer the words of a beautiful hymn come to mind.
“Let us build a house where love can dwell and all can safely live, a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive. Built of hopes and dreams and visions, rock of faith and vault of grace; here the love of Christ shall end divisions: All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place”.
(I heard that hymn for the first time at the opening service for Lambeth 2008 in Canterbury Cathedral. In the area where I was sitting – amongst the primates – some were singing with gusto, some rather tentatively and some not at all.)
Here at the Church of the Redeemer – within this rock of faith and vault of grace – you live the song you sing, “All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.”
On to the second word, – healing.
The image of Jesus evokes the image of a Healer and Reconciler. He reaches out to touch people in their illness and pain and despair. He reaches out to heal and to comfort and to instil hope in the mercies of God. He reaches out to bring disparate people into community, estranged people into new ways of relating to one another. He reaches out to draw us into a holy communion, one with another in Him. I believe that in recent years we have seen some real movement in the whole Church.
I am convinced the Holy Spirit has moved our Church, in working through matters of sexuality from a place of debate through legislative process to one of discernment through respectful dialogue, from a place of poised and planted positions to one of prayerfully seeking the mind and heart of Christ.
Conversations among bishops at Lambeth 2008 and among members of General Synod 2010 were marked by a greater spirit of graciousness than we have seen for some time. Inherent in such graciousness is a capacity for and commitment to listen to one another.
Again to quote Janet Marshall and Charley Thomas. They make reference to Dietrich Bonhoeffer who wrote:
“The first service one owes to others in the community involves listening to them. the beginning of love for others is learning to listen to them…Christians who can no longer listen to one another will soon no longer be listening to God either: they will always be talking, even in the presence of God. They who cannot listen long and patiently will always be talking past others. – Those who think their time is too precious to spend listening will never really have time for God and for others, but only for themselves and their own words and plans.”
Well, we’re learning to listen in new and different ways
- through the process of indaba at Lambeth 2008
- through conversations consistent with the Intentional Listening process between and among dioceses coming to the table from very different theological, pastoral, and cultural perspectives
- through conversations at General Synod, we sought to hear diverse voices, to learn from them and to be respectful of them.
In the Pastoral Statement reflecting the mind and heart of the Church, the General Synod said, at this moment in time
- We acknowledge diverse pastoral practices as dioceses respond to their own missional contexts.
- We accept the continuing commitment to develop generous pastoral responses in accord with the House of Bishops’ Statement of October, 2008.
- We are in a time of ongoing discernment.
- We are deeply aware of the cost to people whose lives are implicated in the consequences of ongoing discernment. We recognize this is not just an issue but is about people and their daily lives and deeply held faith commitment.
- for some the statement does not go nearly far enough
- for some even this statement represents a risk
- We are passionately committed to walking together, to abiding in Christ.
At the outset of the Synod I expressed hope that the wider church and the world would see in our deliberations no evidence of rejection, condemnation or demonization, and every evidence of respect, charity, and patience one with another. I expressed hope that others would view the Synod as striving to live together with difference, “making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3)
I can only pray dear friends, that what I see as a kinder gentler approach to our discussion will result in some healing within the community to which we are all so deeply committed through vows in baptism and prayers at every Eucharist.
And the third word – hope. That word evokes images of Jesus our Redeemer – lying in the manger, hanging from the cross, and reigning in highest heaven.
In every one of those images, his arms are outstretched.
- In the manger – the infant arms are raised to embrace the world he has come to love into reconciliation and peace.
- “As he hangs from His cross” writes Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “with outflung arms, thrown out to clasp all, everyone and everything, in a cosmic embrace, so that all, everyone, everything, belongs. None is an outsider, all are insiders, all belong. There are no aliens; all belong in one family, God’s family and the human family.”
- From highest heaven, he reigns as Lord of all yet praying still that we all may be one.
The unity for which he prays is not just as Rowan Williams says, “a quantitative unity of people gathered for the sake of being together, but a quality of unity in which each person is diminished by the pain of another and each one is enriched by the holiness of another.”
We experience a foretaste of that precious gift of unity in Christ at every eucharist and in that experience of grace we have hope.
Hospitality * Healing * Hope
These are the words that come to mind as we mark this anniversary together. My prayer is that after the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Church will be known for
- hospitality that is radical
- healing that is genuine
- hope that is unwavering
in God’s graciousness towards us and all people.