[The third in a 4-part series by The Rev. Dr. Nancy Lee Jose, Rector, exploring the calling and mission of St. Thomas' Parish]
Talking about “peace and love” can sound like something straight out of the hippie 1970s, easily lampooned by people who want to write off Christians as soft-hearted and soft-headed – peaceniks who don’t understand the harsh reality we live in.
- Yet, when Episcopalians talk about peace being essential to our mission – essential to the very reason we exist as a community of faith – we do so precisely because we know all too well just what a violent and self-serving society we share equally with other human beings, of whatever creed or culture.
- And to talk about love at the heart of the identity of the church, we believe at St. Thomas’ Parish, you need to be willing to walk the walk of learning to love each and every one of God’s creatures – unreservedly and extravagantly.
In our own congregation’s history, loving others like that has meant that we have long been a vanguard in serving the needs, and welcoming the leadership contributions, of the LGBT community of Dupont Circle and the larger world around us. For example, in the 1980s St. Thomas’ Parish was among the first Episcopal parishes in Washington, DC, to open our doors to those living with HIV and AIDS.
Over the next two decades, we were transformed by the presence and profound contributions of our neighborhood and regional LGBT community. Beginning in the 1990s we took leadership in providing the first liturgy in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington for the Blessing of Same Sex Unions, and our clergy have performed many Blessings, and more recently Marriages, of same sex couples.
In 2005 at the initiative of parishioner Dustin Cole, we were the first Episcopal parish in the Diocese of Washington to march in the annual Capital Pride Parade, inviting our Bishop at the time, The Rt. Rev. John Chane, to ride in the parade with us – a tradition, we are proud to say, that continues.
As we continue to learn to walk the way of unqualified love as it was practiced by Jesus of Nazareth, we have known the great joy of being ‘loved in return’ by exceptional LGBT leaders in all levels of ministry in the Episcopal Church. Locally, our own parish clergy and senior lay leadership have been a model of what the church can look like when we no longer keep track of sexual orientation as a qualifier of ministry in any form. Nationally, St. Thomas’ Parish has been privileged to be ‘loved back’ by The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson in the challenging years following his consecration as the Bishop of New Hampshire, as he has made St. Thomas’ Parish his home-church-away-from-home.
Like love, peace, too, for us is not a word to be used lightly, especially in a city and nation where so few are privileged to live with peace, rather than terror, as our usual daily companion. We have decided as a parish to begin to be much more intentional about learning what it means to promote peace in the world around us, which means not just countering the effects of violence, but working to make the world a more just place for everyone to live in.
As a result, recently we have begun work with Gene Robinson to lay the groundwork that will enable us to form a Center for Reconciliation and Nonviolent Communication to be housed in our new worship facility. The Center will provide resources and training opportunities that offer alternatives to the bullying, angry divisiveness, and body-and-soul-threatening violence that have become pervasive in our nation and world. Our first workshop to begin “training the trainers” for this new Center will be held later this year. Then Bishop Robinson will lead us in this work following his retirement as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2013, and he already is helping us to raise funds for the facilities to house it.
We are still learning how to “love our neighbor as ourselves”; how to “seek and serve Christ in all persons”; how to “strive for … peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being” (The Book of Common Prayer, page 305). We are still challenged, like the rest of society around us, with the lifelong journey from anger and violence to peace and love as the hallmarks of human greatness.
We invite you, and we need you, to join us on this journey, so that together we can come to be known by the love we show, and the peace we sow, in a world that so often no longer believes that either peace or love is possible.1 comment