Sunday, December 06, 2009

Look this way!”

My good friend Bruce Coggin has done it again, preached a sermon that knocked the socks off some folks who are pretty picky about their sermons. So I'm sharing it with you. Enjoy.

A Sermon preached at St. Simon’s Church, Fort Worth, Texas, on Advent II 2009

As I don’t doubt you’ve been reminded a dozen times, each Advent the Church takes up anew her centuries-old task of telling the story of her Savior in her life of prayer, the year-long sequence of feast and fast between Advent I each year and Christ the King the next. I’ve heard it said that the first great feast of that cycle is Christmas, and sure enough the church’s canons say Episcopalians must celebrate the birth of Jesus or lose their “good standing” status. The canons don’t give us much advice on checking that all out, of course, but in any case Christmas is the first big milestone on the path of liturgical prayer each year.

Let’s not, however, forget Advent and its messages, something really easy to do when you live where people put up Christmas trees the day after Thanksgiving and plunge like lemmings into the annual orgy of belligerent acquisition that has become the way far too much of the world takes notice of the birth of that Jesus fellow. Advent reminds of the world without Jesus, before Jesus, no Jesus. Percolate that thought a little while. And in that realm we run into the figure who straddles the abyss between life without a savior and life with one: John the Baptist. Used to be, the Prayer Book gave us John the Baptist on Advent II and the Blessed Virgin on Advent III. But since They Changed Everything, we get the crusty, pungent fellow to deal with not just one Sunday but two. In a row. The Virgin can wait her turn!

Galleria dell’Accademia, Venice

If we can believe Luke, Jesus and John were cousins, close cousins though whether first or second or third-down-from-the-longest-and-strongest double half cousins twice removed can’t be established. John’s the babe that leapt in his mother Elizabeth’s womb when her youthful—and pregnant—kinswoman Mary came to visit her in the hill country—cooler, you see? John’s birth was not quite the bash Jesus’ turned out to be, but his Old Pap Zechariah did brast forth with a hymn of thanksgiving for the boy’s birth that enriches our prayer life today as the beloved canticle Benedictus Dominus Deus (Luke 1:68-79).

By the time we run onto John again, he’s about thirty and making a world of trouble, gone into the freelance propheting business—Israel’s always worked alive with them—running around just outside the city limits, gathering crowds, and telling them: “Hey! HEY!! Looka here! Thissaway! Turn around. Repent. Come be baptized to show your sins are forgiven. And look out, because the Kingdom of God is just blowin’ in all over the place!” Well, that’s what he said. Look it up. And he was not socially acceptable. I mean, he ate bugs and wore animal skins. My friend Owanah and I were looking at paintings of him, and about one she asked, “What’s that little critter he’s feeding?” I had to say, “He ain’t feedin’ it. He’s wearin’ it.” That’s the fellow who gets to be the first one to show Jesus to the rest of the world. God’s thoughts are not ours.

A couple of things before we go any farther. The way we use the word repent it means feeling very sorry for something you just got caught doing. There’s nothing wrong with that as far as it goes, but that’s only a minor subset of what the word actually means. The Aramaic word shuv that John used means turn smooth around and go the other way. Look the other way. The other way. Another way. John was asking people to forget all the superstructure of their religion, all the gesture and rite, all the sin counting, all the hope that God would soon ride in on a tall, mean horse and vindicate them. “Forget all about that,” he said. “Shuv! Turn around. Look the other way. Look this way!”

Second, some folks think John’s the one who invented baptism, which is not even nearly so. The Greek word we get baptism from just means washing, and the Jews were big on washing up before they went to church. Remember: ours is a desert born religion, and they don’t have lotsa water in the desert. The act of washing, part of the old holiness code, was in its origins very expensive, using up some of the rarest and most precious stuff they had, a real sacrifice. By the time John comes along, of course, the Jerusalem religious establishment has all the water it needs, but they were still big on washing, baptism. Solomon had a vast basin of water, a kind of Holy Cistern, installed in the temple precincts to get the smelly masses scrubbed up. John didn’t invent baptism, but he did use baptism as a sign of the forgiveness of sins. That was new.

Now, we customarily say John was the last of the Jewish prophets, though our Jewish and Muslim confreres don’t agree. Today you heard readings from two other Old Testament prophets, one from Baruch, another from Isaiah quoted by John, and both those messages were about return and restoration, the children of Israel coming home from somewhere, coming back to Jerusalem, and so magnificent is that homecoming that the hills fall down flat so God’s Israel can just stroll home on level ground. No rough places. Smooth sailing all the way. Now, the fact is that both Baruch and Isaiah were talking about something quite specific: after decades of captivity in Babylon, the descendants of the first captives were coming back to Jerusalem. The King of Persia was paying their way home on first class tickets, and when they got there they had permission to rebuild their temple and go right back to the religion his royal predecessors had tried to blot from the face of the earth. And so the prophets at the time, watching and waiting and wondering, burst forth in exultant hymns of rejoicing and triumph. We’re going home! And when we get home, we’re going to rebuild the church house and start praying, and then everything will be just hunky dory. Since they were, in their opinion, the only people on the planet God cared about, they’d soon show the world How These Things Are Done!

Of course, that didn’t happen. Things went from bad to worse. First this, then that, then the next invader conquered Palestine—Egyptians, Syrians, Greeks, Romans. Take a number. By the time John shows up four centuries later, their religion has descended into a murky guilt management system which promised them that wunna these days, by golly, God’s gonna take a hand and kick out all our oppressors and then we’ll show ‘em How These Things Are Done. No progress.

Now, if things were so bad off when John gets the preaching bug, what on earth was he talking about? What specific incident prompted him to stand up and say, “Looka here! Your sins are forgiven. The Kingdom of Heaven is bustin’ out all over!” His predecessor prophets had the Persian king’s amnesty to fuel their hope, but what on earth was John looking at? What drove him nutty, so nutty he risked his life with a bunch of foolishness about the Kingdom of God? It’s for sure nothing was happening in history that could have encouraged him. The only conclusion I can draw is he was looking at the same thing you and I have been looking at for some time now: Jesus. I mean, the minute he got people looking his way and splashing in the Jordan and hoping for the Kingdom, the first thing he did was point away from himself and point at Jesus: “There he is. He’s the one. That’s the lamb of God. Listen to him.” For the life of me, I can’t imagine anything else that prompted him but Jesus—and I mean Jesus first-hand.

When I try to figure out John’s motivation, I can’t help recalling the cousins story. I mean, John had to know Jesus, had to know everything you and I know about Jesus and just a whole lot more. He had to know that Jesus was really really different, really really onto something that would change history, would surely change the way people think and pray and live about and with God. All the sweetness and meekness and kindness and irresistible love, to say nothing of the Stand Up Guy Jesus who took on the most powerful people in his world without hesitation, John had to know about, had been drawn to, had talked and prayed and argued with. That’s what young people do, especially earnest young people working out the way they live with God. And years of such spiritual ‘rassling with Jesus had convinced John that . . . well . . . what he said: “There he is. Jesus. He’s the one. Listen to him.”

So, what do you guess it was John saw in Jesus that turned him around. What do you see in Jesus that keeps you turned around? A lot the same things, I figure, though I also figure that Jesus has shown each of you things about himself he hasn’t shown anybody else. I mean, that’s the way God counts, isn’t it? One. One. One. One. Each of us has seen things in Jesus that turned us around, keep us turned around, and those things must be pretty special. What do you suppose?

It’s not as if the world knew nothing about God before Jesus or as if God somehow pupated into something new that Jesus came to announce. It’s not God that needed changing. The Jews knew a lot about God, in fact. Among other things they knew God is the source of life, powerful beyond conceiving, righteous—which means, in the struggle between what we call good and evil (a far more complicated matter than right and wrong, since those change) God’s on the side of good—and that God’s on the prowl, immanent, busy among us, cares about us. The Jews knew all that. And that’s a lot. What did Jesus add to that for John? For you?

I think Jesus sorta kinda re-draws the picture of God and does that just by being himself, who he is. We believe Jesus is God incarnate, that God loves us so much that he became one of us—which is scandalous to many—and that when we look at Jesus we see God whole, all of God. And who, what is God? God is love. That’s a word that’ll slip out from under ya if you’re not careful, but let’s specify at least one critical aspect of God’s being that Jesus announced, lived, was: self-sacrificing love, self-denying love, self-abnegating love. You first love. Me last love. The kind that even the Baptist embodied when he said of his cuz, “That’s the one. I’m nobody. I will vanish. He’s first. I’m not worth taking his dirty shoes out to clean.” The kind of love that in simple terms says “You first” in a busy store and says, “Here, y’all kill me and leave them alone” in more challenging moments. Now, that was new. Isaiah talked of the Suffering Servant; Jesus was that love. That’s one.

Another, I reckon, was the revelation that the way God wants us to serve him is not chopping up livestock on an altar but rather going to the little, the lonely, the lost, the least of “these my brethren,” and giving them the shirts off our backs. Literally. That’s new. Amos warned about mistreating the helpless; Jesus was one of them, lived with them, sought their company.

And another. With the baptism John preached, Jesus shows us that God is not mad at us, indeed that God loves us so much that he’s somehow overcome, forgiven, all the weakness and foolishness and wickedness and sloth we slosh around in most of the time. John’s baptism was not a trick, not something to do so God would do something else. Baptism, Christian baptism, is not the way we elicit a Pavlovian response from God: “Okay, God? Watchin? We’ve got one, right here, about to dunk him. You watchin? Gonna wipe away them sins?” We don’t baptize to get God to do something; we baptize because God has already done something. And that was new. Even more amazing was Jesus’ promise that when we live baptized, forgiven lives and clothe ourselves in that self-sacrificing love that feeds hungry people and loves people who aren’t worth shooting, why, when we do that Jesus binds us to himself and promises that where he is we will be. With him. Forever. Jesus is a walking RSVP invitation to life in the Kingdom of God. Mercy. Is it any surprise John had to tell somebody?

So this Advent, let’s ponder the Baptist a little, and let’s give thanks for his knowledge of Jesus, for the love that made him say, “Not me. That one.” And let’s thank God for the forerunners who showed Jesus to us. Your walk with the Lord may have started at your grandmother’s knee; it may have started in a brawl in a saloon; it happens all over the place, all the time, right this red hot minute. There is a world not forty yards from where you’re sitting that knows very little about Jesus, lives in a boiling kettle of anger and fear and frustration and violence, and does that world ever need somebody to point it to Jesus.

This Advent ask St. John to fill you with his excitement, fill you so full you can’t keep quiet about it. Hope for the day when you can be the smelly ol’ hide-clad, bug eating weirdo who shows Jesus to someone worse off than you are. Maybe you’ve already had that blessed chance. If you have, do it again. And if you haven’t, as the Advent prayers teach us, be alert, be aware, keep your eyes open. Some day, somewhere, you’ll be the one whose turn it is to shout, “Hey! Looka here! You’ve got options. Forget all you’ve heard about how bad you are. Your sins are forgiven. And look at that one, Jesus, the Lamb of God. He’s the one. Listen to him!”

The Archbishop issues a threat

I never imagined the Archbishop of Canterbury would remind me of my grandson, but then I never imagined the Archbishop of Canterbury would so cave in to threats that he would resort to them himself.

My grandson Gavin is five years old.

Like all young children, one of the biggest events of his young life is his birthday, or more specifically, his birthday party.

To his mind it is the grandest most excellent event one can imagine, and therefore, an invitation to this event is a prize beyond price.

Because we adults who adore Gavin are not idiots, we say “no” to him when he asks to do something that’s dangerous or inappropriate, or wants something of us we are not prepared to give to him.

As a result, Gavin sometimes gets really really really really really angry with us. When this happens, he pulls out his ultimate threat: “If you don’t do what I want, I won’t love you anymore and I won’t invite you to my birthday party! So there!”

Which brings me to Williams’ statement about the historic election of the Rev. Canon Mary Glasspool as bishop suffragan of the diocese. [Glasspool’s election was preceded by another historic election, that of the first woman bishop suffragan in the diocese, the Rev. Canon Diane Jardine Bruce.]

If you have somehow missed this fact, in addition to being a superbly qualified candidate for bishop, Glasspool is also honest and open about the fact that she’s been living in a committed relationship with her partner Becki Sander for 22 years.

Here’s what Williams wrote:

“The election of Mary Glasspool by the Diocese of Los Angeles as suffragan bishop elect raises very serious questions not just for the Episcopal Church and its place in the Anglican Communion, but for the Communion as a whole.

“The process of selection however is only part complete. The election has to be confirmed, or could be rejected, by diocesan bishops and diocesan standing committees. That decision will have very important implications.

“The bishops of the Communion have collectively acknowledged that a period of gracious restraint in respect of actions which are contrary to the mind of the Communion is necessary if our bonds of mutual affection are to hold.”

Paraphrased this means, “if you don’t do what I want and refuse to consent to this election, I won’t love you anymore and I won’t invite you my Lambeth party.”

It’s a threat, folks, and interference in our polity that is breathtaking in its arrogance. What’s more, any “bonds of affection” that can only hold if bolstered by threats don’t have much to do with affection and a lot to do with bondage.

The Episcopal Church at General Convention made a very clear statement about where we are on the issue of human sexuality and priests and bishops in Resolution D024. We are committed to the Anglican Communion AND we are committed to following our canons.

So here’s some questions for the bishops and Standing Committees of the Episcopal Church:
Are we going to consent to the election of bishops based on the gifts they bring to the church, or are we going to consent to their election based on threats from bishops in other Provinces, including the Archbishop of Canterbury?
And if we give in to this threat in the guise of exercising "gracious restraint," what kind of communion will we find ourselves part of? And at what price?

Friday, December 04, 2009

Episcopal Church leaders speak out on Uganda

Today is my birthday, and below is one of the best presents I could have gotten. Our presiding bishop has spoken out forcefully and clearly against a bill being proposed by a member of the Ugandan parliamant that would introduce the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality," which includes assault against people under the age of 18 and those with disabilities, and propose a seven-year jail term for anyone who "attempts to commit the offence" or who "aids, abets, counsels or procures another to engage in acts of homosexuality."

Earlier, Bonnie Anderson, president of the House of Deputies, also spoke out against the legislation. Her letter is posted below.

I give thanks for two such strong leaders.

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori
concerning proposed bill in Uganda

[December 4, 2009] The following is the statement of Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori concerning proposed private member’s bill on homosexuality in the Parliament of Uganda:

The Episcopal Church joins many other Christians and people of faith in urging the safeguarding of human rights everywhere. We do so in the understanding that “efforts to criminalize homosexual behavior are incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ” (General Convention 2006, Resolution D005).

This has been the repeated and vehement position of Anglican bodies, including several Lambeth Conferences. The Primates’ Meeting, in the midst of severe controversy over issues of homosexuality, nevertheless noted that, as Anglicans, “we assure homosexual people that they are children of God, loved and valued by him, and deserving of the best we can give of pastoral care and friendship” (Primates’ Communiqué, Dromantine, 2005).

The Episcopal Church represents multiple and varied cultural contexts (the United States and 15 other nations), and as a Church we affirm that the public scapegoating of any category of persons, in any context, is anathema. We are deeply concerned about the potential impingement on basic human rights represented by the private member’s bill in the Ugandan Parliament.

In the United States and elsewhere, we note that changed laws do help to shift public opinion and urge a more humane response to difference. The Hate Crimes Act recently passed in the United States is one example, as are the many pieces of civil rights legislation that have slowly changed American public behavior, especially in the area of race relations. We note the distance our own culture still needs to travel in removing discriminatory practice from social interactions, yet we have also seen how changed hearts and minds have followed legal sanctions on discriminatory behavior.

We give thanks for the clear position of the United States government on human rights, for the State Department’s annual human rights report on Uganda, which observes that the existing colonial-era law on same-sex relations is a societal abuse of human rights, and for the State Department’s publicly voiced opposition to the present bill. We urge the United States government to grant adequate access to the U.S. asylum system for those fleeing persecution on the basis of homosexuality or gender identity, to work with other governments, international organizations, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to provide adequate protection for these asylum seekers, and to oppose any attempts at extradition under a law such as that proposed in Uganda.

Finally, we note that much of the current climate of fear, rejection, and antagonism toward gay and lesbian persons in African nations has been stirred by members and former members of our own Church. We note further that attempts to export the culture wars of North America to another context represent the very worst of colonial behavior. We deeply lament this reality, and repent of any way in which we have participated in this sin.

We call on all Episcopalians to seek their own conversion toward an ability to see the image of God in the face of every neighbor, of whatever race, gender, sexual orientation, theological position, or creed. God has created us in myriad diversity, and no one sort or condition of human being can fully reflect the divine. Only the whole human race begins to be an adequate mirror of the divine.

We urge continued prayer for those who live in fear of the implications of this kind of injustice and discrimination, and as a Church, commit ourselves anew to seek partnerships with the Church of Uganda, or any portion thereof, in serving the mission of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That Gospel is larger than any party or faction. It is only in mutual service and recognition that we will begin to mend our divisions.

We are grateful for the willingness of the Anglican Communion Office and Lambeth Palace to hear this plea on behalf of all God’s people, and urge their continued assistance in seeking greater justice. We note the impediments this legislation would pose to the ability to continue a Listening Process in which all of the Anglican Communion is currently engaged.

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop
The Episcopal Church

_ _ _

The Episcopal Church welcomes all who worship Jesus Christ in 109 dioceses and three regional areas in 16 nations. The Episcopal Church is a member province of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Earlier President of the House of Deputies Bonnie Anderson wrote this letter:

November 25, 2009
To the Co-conveners of the Chicago Consultation:

Thank you for your letter of November 19, regarding the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill currently under consideration in the Ugandan Parliament.

As deputies, you know that in 2006, our House overwhelmingly passed Resolution D005, condemning the criminalization of homosexuality. The House of Bishops concurred. I believed then, as I believe now, that in passing this legislation we were being faithful to our Baptismal Covenant, in which we pledge to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”

The Ugandan bill not only makes consensual sexual activity punishable by death, it imposes a reporting requirement on those who know about such activity. It is a terrible violation of the human rights of an already persecuted minority. More egregiously, it is an attempt to use the authority of the state to deprive individuals of their God-given dignity, and to isolate them from the care and concern of their fellow human beings.

The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church is scheduled to meet by teleconference on the afternoon of December 7 to discuss our Church’s response to this hateful legislation. I hope and believe that a vigorous statement will be forthcoming, and that I will be able to support this statement wholeheartedly.

In the meantime, please know that I appreciate your efforts and those of the other committed people who have brought this issue to the attention of our church.
Bonnie Anderson, D.D.
President, The House of Deputies

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

More cause for rejoicing

ClayOla Gitane had to leave the diocese
in order to pursue her call to ordination

The rejoicing continues in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth as preparations are made for the ordination of Deacon ClayOla Gitane to the priesthood at 10 AM Saturday Dec. 5 at Trinity Episcopal Church, 3401 Bellaire Drive South, Fort Worth, 76109. She will be the second woman ordained to the priesthood in this diocese.

She is one of more than fifteen women who over the years have had to leave the diocese in order to be ordained priests because all the bishops of Fort Worth prior to 2009 opposed the ordination of women. With God’s help, she will be the last.

She will become priest in charge of two congregations that have been temporarily displaced from their buildings – Christ the King, now worshipping at St. Giles Presbyterian Church (Fellowship Hall), 8700 Chapin Road, Fort Worth; and the Episcopal Church in Parker County which includes members from St. Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church (Willow Park), All Saints' Episcopal Church (Weatherford) and the Church of the Holy Apostles (Fort Worth). They worship at McCall Elementary School, 400 Scenic Trail in Willow Park.

This also is a significant event for Trinity Episcopal Church, because the Rev. Gitane was a member at Trinity in 2001 when she resumed her exploration of her powerful call to the priesthood. She eventually had to leave the diocese, first to go to Dallas and then to go to the Diocese of Olympia [Washington] to pursue her call to ordination.

She will be ordained by the Rt. Rev. Bavi Edna "Nedi" Rivera, who was elected in May 2004 as bishop suffragan of Olympia. Bishop Rivera is the first Hispanic woman bishop and the 12th woman bishop in the Episcopal Church. In May 2009, she became the Provisional Bishop of Eastern Oregon. The Rt. Rev. C. Wallis Ohl, provisional bishop of Fort Worth, also will participate in the ordination.

What has this years-long process and exile meant to Deacon Gitane?

“It meant learning to stand with others who are outcasts. It meant seeing the Gospel as intrinsically inclusive and standing on that knowledge. It meant learning how to live as a Christian witness and learning that I am willing to seem `different’ as I live out my faith. It meant learning just what I would give up for my vocation. It meant feeling the worst I could feel, but also having some of the best fun of my life. And it meant rejoicing in the grace and miracles worked by God,” she said.

ClayOla Gitane
ClayOla Gitane grew up in the Episcopal Church and was confirmed in 1969 at the Church of St. Mary in Lompoc, California. Some of her earliest memories are of that church.

“I remember kneeling in the pew, caught up in the reassurance and complexity of the liturgy, watching dust float down from the windows, smelling the incense, looking at the light fall through the stained glass. I loved the freeing and fulfilling structure, the round of seasons and ceremony that offer a joy that will weather any heartbreak or confusion. I learned that our Anglican faith can form the infrastructure of a lifelong intimacy with God,” she said

The General Convention of the Episcopal Church approved the ordination of women to the priesthood in 1976 and the first women were ordained in 1977. [The eleven brave women ordained in Philadelphia and the four in Washington prior to the 1976 vote were soon “regularized” by the church.]

Deacon Gitane began to perceive a call to priestly ordination in the early 1980s. She was out of college and living in Arlington. She went to see her priest at the Arlington Episcopal church where she was a member.

“I told him of wanting to serve God, to pass His blessing and grace to others; of loving all that is Anglican. I told him of dedicating my life to Christ, and wanting to serve Him in the Church. I told him I thought I was meant to be a priest. I felt I was telling him that I had fallen in love. I felt that giddy, bubbly feeling of delight, when it is so wonderful that you feel shy talking about it. Words don’t quite express it,” she said.

The priest said, “No, dear. No. You are mistaken. There are many ways to serve God and His church, but not that way. Not for you. Perhaps a family…”

It was devastating. She clung to her faith, but eventually married a Roman Catholic and converted. They had children, but the marriage eventually ended in divorce. It was another blow, and again, she leaned on her faith.

“I cried out to God. I had given my life to Him. He had called me to be married to this man . . . Had I heard wrongly?” she said.

Upon reflection, she realized “that I had no ears to hear any longer. It wasn’t for lack of asking for help at that time, but because of long practice at not hearing when help was offered. Not for lack of fervency, but for lack of habit.

“And how not? At the center, where the truest distillation of my soul lay, I had put away God. The priest had said no. I could not base an entire life on not being who I was meant to be—but that is what I was trying to do, having accepted that “no” completely, unquestioningly. I began to listen to God and learned about repentance. As soon as I began to turn to Him again, I found Him waiting. I learned about grace.”

She joined Trinity and trained as a Stephen Minister, lector and chalice bearer, but the old longing returned. She enrolled in the Anglican School of Theology at the University of Dallas and, encouraged by her parish priest, the Rev. Fred Barber, and Deacon Janet Nocher, took a Time of Discovery course offered by the diocese to discern a call to ordination to the priesthood.

“I felt so much confusion at that time. I longed for God, for this service, to follow this call. I’d explored the idea of a call to the priesthood for months, with Father Fred and Deacon Janet, but I was afraid to move forward,” she wrote.

But by now, the burden of not following this call seemed greater than anything she might have to go through to become a priest.

“I remember once during a discussion in my Intro to Theology class at Perkins during the first semester I was there. A woman (Methodist) protested the time we were spending on women’s issues. ‘Haven’t we worked all this out by now? I mean, look at the number of female clergy we have!’ she said. I immediately raised my hand and was called on. I told her, ‘I got up at 4:30 AM to take the train over here this morning because someone still believes that women shouldn’t be ordained. We have not ‘worked this all out!’ The moment we stop discussing these issues, we will begin to lose women who are rightly called by God. Once that happens, we start losing the Gospel itself.’

“By being ‘cast out’ I learned to stand with others who were outcasts, to articulate always the social justice side of the Gospel. As my wise Word and Worship teacher, Mark Stamm, used to say, `Sometimes we should look around and ask ourselves, ‘who is not here?’ This is true in worship and it is true in the whole life of the church,” she said.

During those train rides, she would say Morning Prayer with her Book of Common Prayer open on her lap. Over time, many of the other commuters began asking her for prayers.

She said, “They wanted prayer for family, jobs, worries; I learned that a simple habit of life, seen by others, could be a witness.”

While at Perkins School of Theology at SMU, she was the 2007 winner of the Jerry R. Hobbs Award in Liturgics, awarded to the senior student “who has the greatest impact on the worship life of the Perkins community.” She served as assistant chaplain at Perkins Chapel for the 2006-7 academic year. She also co-founded a neo-monastic order for students based on Rutba House, allowing students to grow spiritually and to learn about living in a neo-monastic community. Rutba House is a Christian intentional community in Durham committed to the “new monasticism” movement.

She graduated cum laude with a Master of Divinity from Perkins in 2008.

The fact that she had to leave home in order to pursue ordination is not so odd, as that happens in other places as well. What set her apart was that she was not going to be able to come back to Fort Worth to work as a priest.

“I knew I would never be able to work at home. A person who follows a vocation into the priesthood expects to have to leave their home parish, and we hear over and over that we are ordained `for the greater church and not for one parish.’ But for me, it meant leaving my hometown, my neighborhood, my career, friends, family, as well as my church. It also meant being something of an outsider because, unlike other ordinands, I could never return. Many don’t, in actual fact; but they could. Leaving helped me learn to tolerate seeming odd or different for my faith,” she said.

She left in stages. At first, having to go elsewhere meant commuting to Dallas every day for school.

“I had a daughter in high school, a home and family here, and I was not in a position to just relocate, but I was able to work towards ordination through the Diocese of Dallas. Later, when I transferred to the Diocese of Olympia, Bishop Rivera said she wanted me to go away to live at seminary for a year.

“So I packed up my house, cashed out my retirement, sent my dog and cat to be fostered, and drove alone across the country to California. That was the hardest of all. I will always remember the morning I left for Berkeley--watching my oldest grandson’s back as he skipped into his house after we said goodbye for the last time. It was the emptiest I had ever felt in the whole process. I thought I would not be returning, but going on to the Diocese of Olympia to live and work after school. I think I cried all the way through New Mexico! But I learned how far I would go to follow my call,” she said.

In California she studied with renowned scholar Louis Weil and others at Church Divinity School of the Pacific.

In November 2008, Bishop Jack Iker left the Episcopal Church and the diocese reorganized under the Rt. Rev. Edwin F. [Ted] Gulick. Almost immediately women priests began functioning here. On November 15, Deacon Susan Slaughter became the first woman ordained a priest in the diocese by a bishop of the diocese.

Now, Deacon Gitane has come home.

“Here I am back at home again, where I never thought I would be. The long and short of it was that there were no jobs in Olympia; but God’s grace in doing “a new thing” in the Diocese of Fort Worth meant I was able to return to home and family. One of the most gratifying things of all is to know that others will be able to do the same—leave as appropriate to form in the ways they need to be formed, and then return to work and minister here. We will always have to reach out to bring everyone into the community of faith; but it is glorious that some who were outsiders are now welcome,” she said.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Simon Chronicles

My name is Simon.

I am The Cat.

I have asked my staff to help record this chronicle, because I feel I have been much misunderstood.

I am a very spiritual being.

I do Yoga.

I meditate.

I enhance the beauty of the space around me.

And yet, the calumny persists that I spend all my time sleeping.

It is a perfidy of dogs.

These dogs among them. Do you see the injustice of the accusation?

Each night I do my best to instruct my dogs in the ways of wisdom.

It is a waste of my time.

They just keep looking for my Chief of Staff to appear with treats.

So I repair to one of the many retreats my staff has thoughtfully provided for me, where I muse on the ways of humans and dogs.

My Chief of Staff has provided many venues designed to enhance my natural catly beauty.

Note how carefully I position myself to best advantage.
It is an art known to even the tiniest kitten.

I am awaiting my Chief of Staff. It's time to go work in my garden.

She works.

I supervise.

I helpfully point out a weed she has overlooked.

I check the place for evidence of lizards.

I visit the fat toad who lives among these pots.

There are many squirrels to chase. I oblige them.

I work out to keep in shape.

I put up with a blue joy scolding me. Idiot bird.

Molly waits for me to move so she can go past.

It gives me hope that she is finally learning the natural order of things

-- cats, then staff, then dogs.

Mike and I head out for our respective patrols each day.

Mike is the least lazy of the dogs.
A high compliment, don't you think?

I often allow my staff to dine with me.

I show them how to keep up with current events.

I sit next to them as they read to encourage their efforts at improving themselves.

I rearrange the cushions for them.

I spread beauty all around me.

Wait! Is she calling me?

Yes, she is.


My Chief of Staff's assistant advises me to do what she tells me to do.

Have you been drinking?

After all, I keep her computer warm for her.

I inspect the kitchen.

And the cupboards.

And the bathroom.

I stand guard.

I am amazingly kind to those human kittens she adores.

I share my room with them when they are here. I even allow them to think it is their room.

I allow them to commit all sorts of indignities upon my person.

I attempt to instruct them in catly strategies on their game thingy.

It is futile.

So when they go home, I rest,

and offer my Chief of Staff a chance to rub my belly.

Am I not fabulous?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Birth pangs

My friend, Bruce Coggin, is one of the band of heroic retired priests of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth who have stepped in to take care of the Episcopalians displaced temporarily from their buildings by people who have left the Episcopal Church but want to keep using Episcopal Church property.
Among those parishes he serves is a bunch of happy Episcopalians up in Wichita Falls led by the fabulous Owanah Anderson, senior warden and spiritual mother of the entire Diocese of Fort Worth. Owanah really liked this sermon, as did the rest of the Saints, and asked Bruce to write it down, something he almost never does with his sermons.
But when Owanah asks one to do something, one does it. That's how I came to read it. I agreed with Owanah, and wanted you all to see it too. Here it is.
A Sermon Preached at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, Wichita Falls
November 15, 2009

Did you notice that today’s lessons from Daniel and Mark are all about something that’s all over television these days? Did you notice too that the collect for today thanks God for the scriptures, urges us to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them? and then tosses us a couple of really knotty, gristly chunks to gnaw on! All that in Daniel about the time of troubles and the end of time and all that secret, and then Jesus talking about the temple falling down and wars and rumors of wars and earthquakes and birthpangs? Daniel’s one of the scariest books in the Old Testament, just as full of booghers as an old root cellar. Mark is long on predictions about the end of the world. And they’re both smooth in synch with what’s on the public’s mind these days, if you can judge from television, because you can’t turn it on these days without hearing something about A.D. 2012—Nostradamus predicted it would be calamitous, and the Maya calender flat ups and ends there. Just check out the History Channel or Discovery or maybe even National Geographic, and you get 2012. And now there’s a movie about it all. Evidently in 2012 the earth and the sun and the center of the Milky Way get all lined up, and that’s going to make fierce and terrible things happen, none of it any fun. Astonishing how the lectionary today really hooks us into what’s going on outside the church. And inside us.

Lessons like today’s make sense in our liturgical cycle where we tell out the story of Jesus’ life every year, and since this is the next to last Sunday of this liturgical year, it’s natural the lessons turn to the Last Things, all of which are kind of scary. Next Sunday, the feast of Christ the King at least puts a triumphant face on it all. Before we got the prayer book we use now, the season just sort of petered out on a ledge over the abyss. At least now our prayers make it all good—but not so much in the popular culture. The End is Near! Brace yourself!

As you know, I grew up in Montague County in the Methodist Church, and we didn’t pay all that mess much attention. Oh, every now and then we’d be eating breakfast with the radio tuned in to KWFT, and after the Stamps-Baxter Quartet, Martin Agronsky would come on with the news and tell us about some bunch that had wadded up on a hilltop outside Waco somewhere to wait for the end of the world. And then the day would come and nothing happened, and we’d all have a good laugh about it. But sometimes it wasn’t funny. When the Koresh bunch tried it, the whole thing ended in a holocaust, and there wasn’t a thing funny about it.

As a young priest, I got more aware of all that one day in a “Christian” bookstore in Dallas. On the wall, and for sale, was a big oil painting, not a very good one, but a mighty arresting one. It was a cityscape of the intersection of Stemmons and I-30, the viewpoint somewhere about where the Anatole is now. And it was just Hell on earth! The Trinity was flooding, trains derailing, cars piling into each other on the freeway, airplanes crashing in mid-air, one slamming into the Republic National Bank tower, the tallest building in town back then. And the sky was full of people being swooped off up into Heaven, while the maw of Hell flamed below, sucking down others less fortunate. Well, of course, it was the rapture, an event the charismatic tumult of the 1980s dwelt on and that still fuels sales of that Left Behind series. And the kicker: there in the middle of the sky was Jesus, arms open wide, taking in all the mayhem below—and grinning like a worm eating wire! I didn’t think that was very becoming of Jesus myself.
There’s a world of I’m in but you’re out in all that, a real need for self-vindication and the assurance of punishment for everybody I don’t like. Not a bit pretty.

It’s all pretty unsettling, all that talk about wars and earthquakes and Katrinas and lots of destruction and punishment, but it’s not necessarily a Christian monopoly. Lots of religions include stuff like that in their make-up, and even not very religious people are way into it. This kind of writing, the stuff we get today in Daniel and in Mark, is called apocalyptic literature, and that’s Greek for telling secrets, showing it all, finding out what’s behind Door Number Three. Revelation, the New Testament calls it, and it’s not just a religious phenomenon at all but rather a religious projection of a pretty universal human concern: How much time do I have? Isn’t that one of the basic human questions, like Where did I come from? Where am I going? What am I supposed to do? What’s going to happen to me? How much time do I have? I think we all ponder those things if we get a chance, and it’s no surprise such universal human curiosities—or are they anxieties?—find their way into our religious constructions. And they get more acute at very specific times. We all know we’re going to die one day, but when we’re young we don’t really believe it, and sometimes we get a pretty long way down the road before we come face to face with our own mortality; and on that day—say we get an execution date or a bad medical report—all at once the scope of our vision, previously so wide and ambitious and grand, shrinks right up, willy nilly. Sometimes the walls close in so fast, we can all but see the corner we’re marching into right in front of our noses. The same happens with nations and societies. When we en masse are in our prime and our pride, in the full bloom of our vigor and urgency, we think the future is all ours. And then all at once things change, history starts those walls moving inward—and apocalyptic yearnings surge. Where are we going? Who’s in charge? How much time do we have? It’s all very human, very natural, and very unsettling. And none of it looks like much fun. As my Mamaw Yeager said when she saw herself heading straight into the knothole, “You know, I’m not so much afraid of being dead. I just don’t look forward to doing it.”
Well, well. As I get older I think about those things too for myself, and I sure can’t avoid the public hooraw, the 2012 boom, and so I ponder it. And I think I know something about it, namely that there’s a sin at the bottom of all the anxiety and the hooraw and the wicked profiteering about what’s gonna happen to us. That sin, as is often the case, is pride and specifically the pride of certainty. I mean that panicky, aggressive rush to know and to know without any shadow of doubt or turning. I don’t know about you, but I run into people all the time who are absolutely certain about things, no options, this way or no way—and they know it. They’re certain. And they scare me to death, most of them. Think back to the Garden. What was it that made Adam and Eve just break a leg to disobey the only rule they had, which was to leave all that good and evil stuff up to God? Nope, they wanted to know. Well, they found out, and it didn’t work out so well for them. Or us.

Yet we seem to have an overweening need to know, to be certain, to leave nothing to chance. Or to God, for that matter. We fight off ambiguity with both hands and a chisel. Yet . . . if we’re certain, if we know, how do we ever learn to trust? How do we ever learn to dare? How do we ever learn humility? All those qualities—trust, daring, humility—vanish in the face of certainty. If we’re certain, why do we need to trust? If we’re certain, nothing is particularly daring. And if we’re certain, we sure ain’t humble! Our old buddy pride engines our need to know and to know when others don’t and to lord it over them because we do, to do things to them we shouldn’t because we know better than they do. And you know and I know where all that gets us. Just switch off the History Channel and turn on the news.

Certainty set us up to fail. I recall a woman in a town where I was rector. She flirted with the Episcopal Church, but she just couldn’t handle our ambiguities. She was certain about things—until the day came when the doctor told her about the cancer in her. I remember her saying to me one sad day, “God promised me that if I obeyed him, he would give me a long life. And he hasn’t done it!” The poor thing, I think she died a miserable soul, and somehow I don’t think anybody deserves a miserable death. The need for certainty, though, it did her in. Well, she’s happy now anyway, and thank God for that.
So, how should we think about those things?—because we’re going to think about them. Seems to me that question applies to us both as individual people, as humans, and as Christians. We all know the end is coming, both our end and one of these days the End of It All—or at least the end of it all as we know it. How should we think and pray about that? Judgment Day. The End. That dreadful day when the secrets of all hearts are disclosed. Does it have to be scary like that? Or can it be something wonderful?

I’m glad to report that there’s at least one feller, an expert in pre-Columbian cultures and myths, works a lot down in Oaxaca and Chiapas, who says the Maya calendar ends in 2012 but that it’s not a horror show. Rather he says it’s just part of the Mayan concept that time is cyclical, and in 2012 everything starts over. That’s not much scarier than New Year’s Day, actually. So there’s at least one hopeful voice among all the doomsayers. But I think we get even better advice from Jesus about All That.

When All That came up to Jesus, he usually did one of three things: he fudged, he said it was none of our business, or he told us to lift up our heads and rejoice. He fudges in today’s gospel lesson. The disciples got him off into it when he made light of their awe at seeing the temple. “Just you wait,” he says, “the day’s a-comin’ when all this will be dust.” Naturally, they want to know just when and how and what, so he fudges. “Oh, wars and rumors of wars and earthquakes. Stuff like that. You know.” Well, when haven’t there been wars and rumors of wars and earthquakes and stuff like that? He fudges. In a good many other places, when people get pushy about the what and the when and the who and the where, he’s testy: “Yours is not to know,” which is a nice way of saying Nunna yer beeswax, Bub. But just as often he tells the anxious to “lift up your heads and rejoice.” Goodness. Is it not gonna be as bad as we thought? Well, I guess that depends on how you look at the experience, and in today’s gospel we get a pointer: “These are the beginnings of the birthpangs.”

Now. That’s a help in my book. Just like we all got born through our mother’s birth canal—and I don’t think foetuses much enjoy all that—we’re all going to have a similar experience—except this time the birth canal is God’s way, about which we know very little at all, of pulling us from the womb of this life into the larger life Jesus promises we’re all going to share with him for eternity. Foetuses in the uterus don’t know what’s happening, and neither do we really as death approches, despite all our need for certainty. Death—the end of my time anyway—is another birth that requires just what certainty denies: trust, daring, humility. And there is absolutely no way on God’s good green earth to be certain about what’s on the other side. What we have rather is Jesus’ promise that where he is, we will also be, and no matter if we die in our beds surrounded by our progeny and friends or alone and cold and busted up, when we have come through the birthpangs, things are going to be . . . well, like God promises.
So in the light of all the scary stuff, past and present and no doubt future, Christians can lift up their heads and rejoice—and just give up on certainty, give it up, let it go, fling it away from us—so trust and daring and humility can grease the chute for us, help us pupate, become, get born into whatever glory God has in store for us. That’s a way I’ve been given to think about it, and for me at least, it helps. I recommend it to you.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Ready to convert?

Here is the response of the ecumenical officer of the Episcopal Church to the overtures by the Roman Catholic Church to unhappy Anglicans and Episcopalians.

As a former Roman Catholic I have only one thing to add to his comments -- let those who have ears to hear, hear.


The Episcopal Church
Office of Public Affairs

Episcopal Bishop Christopher Epting
comments on the Vatican’s Apostolic Constitution

[November 16, 2009] Bishop Christopher Epting, Deputy for Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations of The Episcopal Church, has issued the following:

Now that the full text of the Vatican's "Apostolic Constitution" dealing with certain former Anglicans who wish to become Roman Catholics has been released, it is clear that what is being touted by some as an 'ecumenical gesture' may be understood as 'pastoral' but is not necessarily very ecumenical. Even though Cardinal Walter Kasper has now given one newspaper interview, there has otherwise been a noticeable silence on the part of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity on this matter. This appears to be a unilateral action on the part of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which flies in the face of the slow, but steady progress made in the real ecumenical dialogue of over forty years.

This is "come home to Rome" with absolute clarity. Any former Anglican who has been ordained will not only have to be re-ordained as a priest in the Roman Catholic Church, not only re-ordained as a transitional deacon, but even re-confirmed as an adult member of the Body of Christ! Any one who does make this move is not an Anglican, nor an Anglo-Catholic, but a Roman Catholic convert.

As we have said on numerous occasions, we commend with our blessing any Anglican who in good conscience wishes to become a Roman Catholic just as we welcome any Roman Catholic who in good conscience wishes to enter into full communion with the Anglican Communion. But these decisions are to be made as individuals not as communities of persons. The Vatican may rest assured that we will never create "Roman Catholic Ordinariates" within the Anglican Communion for former, disaffected Roman Catholic converts. We will continue to welcome individuals, from the Roman Catholic Church or any other Christian communion, who desire to be in full communion with the See of Canterbury, and therefore with the Anglican Communion.

For our part, The Episcopal Church remains committed to genuine, ecumenical dialogue both on the national (Anglican - Roman Catholic Consultation in the USA) and international (Anglican - Roman Catholic International Commission) levels. We are encouraged by Cardinal Walter Kasper's comment in Osservatore Romano on November 15 that these will, of course, continue. The recent "Apostolic Constitution" is a distraction, but likely only a minor one, from the real goal of ecumenical conversation between the largest (Roman Catholic) and third largest (Anglican) Christian communion in the world.

Bishop Christopher EptingDeputy for Ecumenical and Interreligious RelationsThe Episcopal Church

November 16, 2009

The Episcopal Church welcomes all who worship Jesus Christ in 109 dioceses and three regional areas in 16 nations. The Episcopal Church is a member province of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

An outward and visible sign

I awoke smiling this morning.

Today we ordain Susan Slaughter to the priesthood and install her as rector of St. Luke's in the Meadow.

This is a joyous but not extraordinary event in most of the Episcopal Church. Here, in the Diocese of Fort Worth, it is historic.

Thirty-three years after the Episcopal Church approved the ordination of women to the priesthood, our diocese is finally achieving that milestone. It's been a long hard weary road to get this point, and in the midst of my joy, I grieve for those we lost along the way.

There are so many women and men and girls and boys who just left the Episcopal Church, driven away by the negativity of so many of our former leaders. Some joined other denominations, but many if not most simply stopped going to church anywhere. They had found it too spiritually abusive.

We are seeing some come back, tentatively checking to see if things have really changed. I say to them all, yes, things are changing. We're not there yet, but we are moving in the right direction.

I said to some people at our diocesan convention yesterday that one reason this ordination is so important is that it is a outward and visible sign of the inward grace that is blossoming here.

Much of that grace is the result of the clergy who remained with us -- all male of course. These men have worked themselves into exhaustion taking care of displaced parishes. Those clergy in our intact parishes offered themselves and their buildings to the displaced. These priests were joined almost immediately by the Rev. Maurine Lewis, who retired here from the Diocese of Milwaukee. They welcomed her wholeheartedly into their midst, as they have the Rev. Melanie Barbarito, who was hired in August by All Saints Episcopal Church in Fort Worth as parochial associate for evangelism and engagement. She came to Fort Worth from the Diocese of Missouri.

These men have suffered wounds themselves, and one of the most important things Bishop Ted Gulick has done is to care for them pastorally. For some, it was their first experience of a bishop who ministered to them, a bishop who delighted in them instead of seeking to discipline them.

Because there are so few of them, however, the rebirth of this diocese has been accomplished largely by lay people. In saying that, I mean to take nothing away from our clergy. But they themselves acknowledge this fact.

This has been a lay-run resurrection.

Today we all, clergy and laypeople, unite in our joy as we come together as the people of God to ordain Susan, one of our own, a sheep of our flock, to the priesthood. Today, we all embrace joy.

Today, together with Bishops Ted Gulick and Wallis Ohl, we will wrap ourselves in the grace and promise of this moment.

". . . let the whole world see and know that things which were being cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

Friday, October 30, 2009

Celebrate with us

The ordination of Susan Slaughter to the priesthood is an historic moment for the Diocese of Fort Worth and has occasioned great rejoicing in the diocese. St. Luke’s in the Meadow is a small parish that is working hard to accommodate this big event in the life of their parish and of the diocese.

Many people have inquired about how they might help St. Luke’s as it prepares for the Nov. 15 event, or contribute to a gift for Susan, or both.

People wishing to assist with the expenses of the reception and flowers can send a check to St. Luke’s in the Meadow, 4301 Meadowbrook Drive, Fort Worth, TX 76103. Please indicate “Women of St. Luke” in the memo line, as that is the organization in charge of arrangements.

If you would like to send a card or a letter to Susan, please send them to her via St. Luke’s in the Meadow at the address above.

Many of you know that St. Luke’s recently purchased a whole new set of lovely vestments, but a gift of a new chasuble just for Susan in celebration of this event has already been made.

Additionally a gift of a set of stoles in all the liturgical colors is being prepared. If you would like to be part of this historic occasion in making the gift of stoles, please send a check made out to the Diocese of Fort Worth, with “Susan Slaughter gift” in the memo line and mail it to the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, 3550 Southwest Loop 820, Fort Worth, TX 76133.

Any funds left over from the purchase of the stoles will be donated to Susan’s discretionary fund.

For more information, please contact Margaret Mieuli at .

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Colbert and the pope

I am a former Roman Catholic. I left because passive acquiesence to patriarchy was not the spiritual experience I was seeking. I wanted to love God as I was commanded, with my whole heart, my whole soul, AND my whole mind. That's why I was attracted to the Episcopal Church.

And here's the best explanation I've heard as to why the pope's recent invitation to disgruntled Angllicans is not attractive. It takes about 6 minutes to watch.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Holy Water Under the Bridge - Randall Balmer
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorReligion

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

With Great Rejoicing!

It is with great rejoicing that we make the following announcement.

Thirty-three years after the Episcopal Church approved the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate, the first woman will be ordained a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.

At 5:00 P.M. on Sunday Nov. 15 in St. Luke’s in the Meadow Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Fort Worth, the Rt. Rev. Edwin F. [Ted] Gulick Jr. will ordain Deacon Susan Slaughter to the priesthood.

She will be the first woman ordained to the priesthood in the history of the Fort Worth diocese, which was founded in 1983. The Rev. Ms. Slaughter also will be the first woman rector of a parish in the diocese. The Episcopal Church approved women’s ordination to the priesthood and episcopate in 1976 and the first women were ordained priests in January 1977.

Susan Slaughter

When Susan Slaughter was 8 years old, two friends, independently of each other, invited her to go to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Houston, TX.

“I loved the liturgy, joined the junior choir and was confirmed at age 12. I was the first in my family to attend and be confirmed in the Episcopal Church,” she said. She soon brought her parents and brothers into the church with her.
She graduated from Bellaire High School and received a Bachelor of Arts in Teaching in Speech Pathology and Audiology from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX. She married Jerry Slaughter and then went on to get a Master of Education in Guidance and Counseling from North Texas State University in Denton, TX. Susan and Jerry each had two children when they married. When Jerry died in 2007 they had been married for 28 years. Susan has seven grandchildren.
She completed seminary training at the Anglican School of Theology, Dallas, TX and is currently enrolled in the Master of Theological Studies at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, TX. For the past several years, she has served as deacon at St. Luke’s in the Meadow. Her leadership and ministry helped stabilize that parish through the rocky time prior to the departure of the former bishop and other diocesan leaders and in the transition time after their departure in November 2008 and before the diocese was reorganized in February 2009.

She began sensing a call to the ordained ministry in the 1980s when she became actively involved in lay ministry at her home parish of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Arlington, TX.

“Before initiating Stephen Ministry in my parish, I began noticing an internal struggle regarding my possible call to ordination,” she said. The Stephen Ministry trains and organizes lay people to provide one-to-one Christian care to hurting people in and around their congregations.

She talked with her rector. But no matter how supportive her rector may have been neither Bishop A. Donald Davies nor his successors Clarence Pope and Jack Iker would ordain women to the priesthood. So she developed the Stephen Ministry program, served as lay reader and server, led women’s Bible studies and taught adult Christian Education.

“Believing I was particularly suited to coordinate, train and supervise Stephen Ministry, I attempted to rationalize my not pursuing ordination. When I could no longer deny the persistent drawing, I met with Bishop Pope. In my particular diocese women were not candidates for ordination to the priesthood. Once again, I tried to push aside the sense of call,” she said.

After eleven years of taking seminary courses for her own edification and continuing her discernment process, she met with Jack Iker, the newly consecrated bishop.

“He pointed me in the direction of another diocese. Circumstances prevented me from entertaining the possibility of relocating,” she said.

When she learned women could be ordained deacons in the Fort Worth diocese, she again tried to discern the nature of her ministry. Eventually she returned to Iker believing that her call must be to the diaconate. She was ordained a deacon on Oct. 12, 2002. But over time the realization grew that her call was to the priesthood. After Bp. Gulick was elected, she visited with him and he and the Commission on Ministry agreed she was called to the priesthood.

“It is with a deep sense of awe in the mysterious ways of our Lord that I arrive at this moment. I am filled with gratitude toward those persons, lay and clergy, who have encouraged and supported me over the years. St. Luke’s in the Meadow has been especially supportive and has helped me discern more clearly my true vocation,” she said.

This day was a long time coming. Indeed, had the Rev. Ms. Slaughter lived in any other diocese, she would most likely have been ordained a priest years ago. The long awaited fulfillment of her call adds a deep sweetness to the day.

History of women’s ordination in diocese

The Diocese of Fort Worth was formed from the western part of the Diocese of Dallas, in part out of opposition to the ordination of women to the priesthood. The founding bishop, A. Donald Davies, and both his successors, Clarence C. Pope and Jack L. Iker, all left the Episcopal Church over women’s ordination. Under those bishops, women feeling called to the priesthood either had to give up their call or leave the diocese to be ordained elsewhere. At least fifteen women have done so—and all have been invited “home” for the ordination.

The diocese reorganized after Iker’s departure and elected Bishop Gulick as provisional bishop in February. Under his leadership two women priests have been licensed to serve in the diocese—the Rev. Ms. Maurine Lewis who retired to Fort Worth from the Diocese of Milwaukee in 2008 and does supply work among the displaced parishes; and the Rev. Ms. Melanie R. Barbarito, who was hired in August by All Saints Episcopal Church in Fort Worth as parochial associate for evangelism and engagement. She came to Fort Worth from the Diocese of Missouri. She is the first woman to be hired on the staff of a parish here.

But the Rev. Ms. Slaughter is the first woman from this diocese to be ordained a priest, an event that marks a historic turning point in the life of diocese and perhaps more than any other one event, signals what a new day it is in the Diocese of Fort Worth.

A second woman, Deacon ClayOla Gitane, will be ordained on Dec. 5 at Trinity Episcopal Church in Fort Worth by the Rt. Rev. Bavi Edna "Nedi" Rivera of the Diocese of Olympia. The Rev. Ms. Gitane began the process while Jack Iker was bishop. He refused to ordain women to the priesthood and so she had to leave the diocese to pursue her call. This will be the first time a female bishop has performed an episcopal act in the Diocese of Fort Worth.

Shield the joyous.