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St. Thomas' Parish at Dupont Circle – Washington, DC

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Ministry in Daily Life – An Urban Experience




Dr. Wayne Whitson Floyd
Parish Administrator & Clergy Spouse, St. Thomas’ Parish at Dupont Circle
Parish Administrator, St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church

I was asked recently to write something for a group of Episcopal bishops, clergy and lay people about the way that St. Thomas’ Parish lives out our baptismal covenant — the way we do “ministry in daily” life as a congregation.  Here is what I said.

“I work in two parishes, and belong to one of them, where my wife, The Rev. Dr. Nancy Lee Jose is Rector, in the heart of Washington, DC. The parish where I am a member has pioneered “ministry in daily life” now for more than three quite distinct generations.  Originally a large urban English Gothic church that could boast of F.D.R. as its Senior Warden before he was President, and that Eleanor Roosevelt delivered out first lay homily, the building that “was” St. Thomas’ Parish was a 1970 victim of arson that destroyed all but the previous social hall and parish offices, which remain our entire  “church” still.

The remnant of the congregation who remained swapped a “building” for a “neighborhood” – becoming a visible and vocal presence at the interface with Dupont Circle war and political protesters, and then the LGBT community, and more recently the influx of young professionals – straight and gay – who have adopted our neighborhood precisely for its generous-hearted and socially-active posture in the larger Washington, DC, urban context.  We are constantly being pushed to make more space for our community and its ministries, and as a result have raised almost a million dollars from our members towards a capital campaign finally to build a new worship space to house the work we do amidst our neighbors in Dupont Circle.

St. Thomas’ chose to remain committed to the neighborhood, whoever came to live and work here, in so doing found itself constantly changed by, as well as changing, the daily life of the area where we have lived and worshiped now for more than a century.

One simply couldn’t keep church and life separate when life has so much to say about how you “do church,” and when church understands itself to be intimately entwined in “daily life” – whether confronting police lines, holding funerals for community members and their friends who died during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s at a time when few other churches were willing to do so, developing one of the first services in the Episcopal Church in 1998 for the Blessing of Same Sex Unions, or claiming to have spiritual relevancy for a generation that can find it as hard to come out as Christian as a previous generation found it difficult to come out as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

“Daily life” for our parishioners is spent working for Congress members, holding senior positions in NGOs and nonprofits, doing research at NIH, going to graduate school, working for the State Department, or raising children while playing in the National Symphony Orchestra.  The sacramental life of the parish continues to seek new ways to ground people’s everyday attempts to find God in the world where they work.  They in turn bring that world back into the church with them in challenging and amazingly faithful ways.

Our leadership continues to emerge from the people who arrive on our doorstep, most of whom for a generation have been young, highly educated, professionally ambitious, and spiritually hungry. Our Junior and Senior Wardens are forty and under; several Vestry members are in their twenties; and hardly anyone grew up in the Episcopal Church – many didn’t grow up in any church whatsoever.  The parish took a risk to call a partnered gay man as their Rector in the 1990s and a straight married woman, who happens to be my spouse, as their first female rector eight years ago.  The “daily life” of our parishioners now includes more and more children, whose parents reflect the broad array of sexual orientations, ethnic backgrounds, political persuasions, and vocational choices that “are” Dupont Circle in the twenty-first century.  We “are” a slice of tomorrow’s America today.

We continue to pioneer ways of engaging the real world in which our members live and work and play – inviting a Montessori School to share our facilities, hosting a Korean Presbyterian congregation, and developing a Taize service that reaches many who otherwise have no ‘religious’ connections whatsoever. Most recently we have partnered with Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson to begin work to start a Center for Nonviolent Communication at St. Thomas’ Parish that he will lead as he makes our parish his “church home” when he is in Washington in retirement and also working with the Center for American Progress.  We want to help facilitate a more civil and responsible public discourse that can invite “daily life” into “parish life” – and vice versa — in new and creative ways. In the process I think we will once again help to redefine both “ministry” and “daily life” in fresh and responsive and courageous ways.  We aren’t striving to be a “big church” but rather a “growing community” of involvement, responsibility, and faithfulness.

No one could have predicted the path we’ve taken to get this far.  But with God’s help we will find our path into the future, sure to be surprised and awed by who and what we find there and what faithfulness requires of us in ministry, as in daily life.

 

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The Church’s Mission as Promoting Peace and Love

[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.    Read more
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Celebrating the Mission of St. Thomas’ Parish

 

[The first in a 4-part series by The Rev. Dr. Nancy Lee Jose, Rector, exploring the calling and mission of St. Thomas' Parish]

We at St. Thomas’ Parish celebrate our unique mission as part of the family of God known as the Episcopal Church.   In the words of  the “An Outline of Faith,” commonly called the “Catechism,” The Book of Common Prayer defines our mission as followers of Christ like this:

  • The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.
  • The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.
  • The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.

At St. Thomas’ Parish we take very seriously the unique history of our participation in the church’ s mission of reconciliation, which itself gives flesh to Christ’s mission to restore all people to unity with God and each other.

This happens through a wide variety of ministries, or ways of living and acting as followers of the living Christ.

Our primary ministry is reconciliation that we prepare for in prayer and worship and then live out in our identity and actions as Christians.

Reconciliation with God and one another  takes shape through our promotion of justice beyond, not just within, our doors.  It starts when we keep filled our Food Basket for those who come to our doors otherwise unable to feed themselves or their families. We were a founding parish of Samaritan Ministry in Washington, DC.  Our members regularly cook meals and serve at Christ House & Martha’s Table here in the District of Columbia.  Each year we furnish an apartment for a family seeking their own home through the work of the Transitional Housing Corporation.  And on a global scale we support and participate in our Diocesan commitments to the Millennium Development Goals; parishioners regularly travel to Central America to do work for the Trinidad Conservation Project.

And reconciliation happens as we learn together in community how to promote peace and love as the grounding principles of our life together. Historically at St. Thomas’ Parish this often has found central expression in providing sanctuary and support for the LGBT community.  More recently we have chosen to begin learning the foundations and practices of nonviolent communication — respectful, civil approaches to the differences of opinion and conviction that are inevitable in human society.

Christian faith for us is not otherworldly, but deeply engaged in the needs and joys and beauty and tragedy of the world we share with others, as we seek in them the face of Christ who is the very face of God-made-flesh out of God’s neverending love for creation.

We invite you to join with us as you choose to and are able to support the presence in Dupont Circle of our small circle of whose trying daily to follow The Way that God has shown us in the compassionate and extravagantly generous hospitality of Jesus.  Our mission is to do nothing less than to help God draw the world into the embrace of love like that — and to help God heal the divisions and wounds we inflict on one another and that are inflicted upon others by the injustices of the world.

As we celebrate such mission at St. Thomas’ Parish we continue to grow in numbers and resources and desire to help God heal the world.  We are by no means perfect; but we know where God is calling us, and we are learning in love to lay the foundations for a more just and compassionate tomorrow.

>>NEXT.  Why we begin in prayer and worship in community & how that prepares us to be agents of reconciliation in the world.

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VA Episcopalians OK same-sex unions

I don’t know about you, but I missed this bit of news that not very long ago would have made headlines as if Moses had parted the Potomac.   On January 21-22, 2011, the 216th Annual Council of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia blithely passed the following resolution:

R-2a: Blessings of Same-Gender Unions
Adopted as amended, text pending final approval

Resolved, that the 216th Annual Council of the Diocese of Virginia thanks Bishop Shannon Johnston and the diocesan team for the very fruitful “Listen … And Be Heard” sessions in 2010, and urges our Bishop to “provide a generous pastoral response” by moving forward with guidelines with regard to public blessings of same gender unions.

It may not seem like so much over here in the Bluest-of-Blue DC, but given the fact that the northern part of the Diocese of Virginia sat right on the ecclesiological fault-line that threatened to split the Episcopal Church and darned near split the Anglican Communion (it’s hard to tell how you’d know, to be honest), this is, pardon the shout-out, BIG NEWS!

Perhaps rightly, other LGBTQ-friendly voices were preoccupied with Joel Osteen’s declaration on “Piers Morgan Tonight” just a few days later that homosexuality is (still for him) a sin.  I couldn’t agree more with Joe Solmonese, president of HRC, who remarked with notable restraint, that “it’s a real shame that someone of Joel Osteen’s prominence and life experiences would repeat this tired and dangerous statement. It furthers ignorance and discrimination by some Americans and adds a burden to those already struggling to accept their sexual orientation or gender identity. … One would hope Mr. Osteen would use his pulpit, with an audience of over 7 million people, to tell all human beings that they are loved just the way they are.  Instead he chose to send a dangerous and irresponsible message.”

But while we wait … and work … for a Barbara-Bush-like change of heart from Pastor Osteen, we still can take some encouragement from the fact that something of equal significance, if not headline worthiness, happened across the river in Old Virginia.  It took a while …. admittedly a looooooong looooooooooooong while … but it’s still to be noted and applauded, even as we wait for marital equality someday also to get on their agenda.

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Voices of Wisdom: Mike Creighton

The third guest preacher and celebrant at St. Thomas’ Parish at Dupont Circle on January 23, 2011, as part of our series, “Voices of Wisdom – Radical Welcome,” is the Rt. Rev. Michael W. Creighton, Bishop Retired of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania (1996-2006). He is a 1968 graduate of Episcopal Theological School and served parishes in San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle before being elected Bishop of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania in 1996.

Bishop Mike, as he is affectionately known, is the son of The Rt. Rev. William Creighton, the Bishop of the Diocese of Washington, DC from 1962-1977.  While his father shepherded the Diocese of Washington through the turbulent period of Prayer Book Revision and the first ordinations of women to the priesthood, Bishop Mike arrived in the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania the year that charges were dismissed, after years of controversy, against retired Bishop Walter Righter who had ordained the first partnered gay man to the Episcopal priesthood in the Diocese of Newark, the Rev. Barry Stopfel.

Bishop Mike later welcomed Barry as an instructor in the Diocesan School of Christian Studies, where Barry assisted Wayne Floyd in teaching lay courses on human sexuality.  And Bishop Mike also invited Wayne to co-chair the Bishops Commission on Human Sexuality that laid the groundwork for laity and clergy throughout the diocese to engage together in respectful conversation and disagreement about issues of sexuality among people representing the whole spectrum of opinion.

Based on a growing consensus in the diocese in support of the full inclusion of gays and lesbians into the life of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Mike and the diocesan delegation from Central Pennsylvania courageously voted “yes” to consent to the election of Gene Robinson as the Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.  And then Bishop Mike spent much of the final three years of his episcopacy providing strong and unswerving pastoral leadership with parishes and clergy who disagreed – sometimes quite ungraciously – with his decisions.

Bishop Mike is one of those inspirational “heroes” in the lives of me and Nancy Lee.  Wayne served as Canon Theologian for the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania for six years under Bishop Mike, and Nancy Lee was ordained by him to the priesthood at the Cathedral Church of St. Stephen in Harrisburg, PA.

His clear sense of faithfulness to the traditions of the Episcopal Church has been combined with a generous-hearted pastoral sensitivity that has made Bishop Mike a quiet, yet deeply effective, leader in our church during difficult times. Without the leadership of bishops like Mike Creighton, and his father before him, we would be living in a very different Episcopal Church today.  We owe him a debt of gratitude before he even arrives on our doorstep.

Bishop Mike and his wife Betty are living in Annapolis, MD, during their retirement.  We are thrilled to have him with us to lend his own powerful voice of wisdom, and his example of the integrity of radical welcome, to Sunday worship at St. Thomas’ Parish.

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Exciting Guest Preachers for 2011

VOICES OF WISDOM – RADICAL WELCOME

Beginning this past October 31st, St. Thomas’ Parish initiated an exciting guest preaching/presiding schedule for Sunday mornings.  This initiative is an expression of the high value we have long placed on providing a generous pulpit of welcome and hospitality.  It also embodies our commitment to greater diversity in the faces of leadership in our community.

Our first guest preacher/celebrant was on Oct. 31st, The Rev. Janice Robinson, former rector of Good Shepherd, Silver Spring and the current chaplain of the Bishop’s Search Committee.   She was followed on November 28th by The Rev. Bill Doggett.

The 2011 lineup of guest preachers and presiders at the Eucharist are:

  • January 23rd – The Rt. Rev. Michael Creighton, Retired
  • January 30th – Canon Charles LaFond, Canon for Congregational Min. (NH)
  • February 27th – The Rev. Simone Bautista, Canon for Latino Ministries
  • March 27th -  The Rev. Preston Hannibal, Canon for Academic Ministries
  • May 29th – The Rev. Kim Baker, Chaplain – Washington Episcopal School
  • June 6th – The Rev. Mpho Tutu, Director of Institute for Peace & Reconciliation
  • June 26th – The Rev. Mary Sulerud, Canon for Deployment & Vocational Ministry

More information will be provided about each preacher prior to their day with us.  We are proud to give worshipers at St. Thomas’ Parish this chance to hear some of the best preaching that can be heard today in the Episcopal Church.  Please join us and bring a friend (or two!).

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civility needs a voice

I’m not even going to entertain the temptation to recount the depths to which civic discourse has plummeted in America this past few years. To the contrary, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we not only resist incivility, but give civility a persuasive and effective voice again in our personal, social, and societal lives.

Civility needs a voice. That’s an important part, at least, of what we at St. Thomas’ Parish are seeking when we talk about ‘sanctuary’ — the church as a place ruled by respect, governed by generosity, a refuge from needing to guard constantly against attack –sometimes verbal, and sadly, sometimes still physical– for just being who we are. And “who we are” isn’t just lesbian and gay, single or partnered, blessed by children or not. St. Thomas’ Parish is a refuge for people tired of defending themselves against those who disparage them for being religious — however understandable this can be in the face of ‘representatives’ of religion like Fred Phelps. Civility is the mark of a community, or nation, that intentionally assumes responsibility not just to keep destructiveness out, but to create a space where justice, respect, and dignity reign.

Civility needs a voice. But it also needs flesh. It needs to have space in the world, and it needs to create space in the world, where the voice of civility can be heard.

Civil discourse is the language of a community, and it is the language that builds community — the civitas, the city — especially in a country that would speak of itself as a shining “city on a hill” that is a “light to the nations”.  In-civility not only invites violence in, but it does violence within society, taking away the very quality of life that binds people together in community, as a society, or a nation.

Civil rights are not a thing of the past; for without civility — and the civil rights on which civility is founded — no community can last.  Human rights are a compact between a person and a community that says that within that community every human being will be treated with all the dignity, respect, and compassion that community can muster.  That is why we’re still striving for both.

Civility, meanwhile, will begin to flourish if we can but give it voice.  Yet civil discourse needs to be loud enough to be heard if it is to be effective.  But civility dies when we confuse violence for volume, disrespect for disagreement, and attack for advocacy.

Civility needs a voice, a loud voice that is the voice of advocacy for human dignity, respect and rights, a voice

  • that can disagree with opponents of tolerance without disrespecting them,
  • that can advocate for justice without unjustly attacking those who disagree,
  • that can courageously speak above the fray at a volume loud enough to be heard, while refusing to let even the language of violence be used as a strategy for justice.

To be God’s people at St. Thomas’ Parish right now can be, if we choose it, an opportunity to give civility a new and stronger voice.  And then to act in the space it provides to create a more just and loving and compassionate world.   That’s one way of saying why I belong there, and what I’m trying to help come about by remaining.

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We’re Growing a Church Just For You

On June 20, 2010, the Vestry (or governing board) of St. Thomas’ Parish voted unanimously to move forward to rebuild a new worship space in Dupont Circle. While our new building is going up, I want to be in conversation with you about who we are, what we’re doing here, what we believe in, and why we think this parish matters to the larger communities we live in.

After the original structure, church home of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, was destroyed by arson 40 years ago this August, our congregation chose to remain in the neighborhood of Dupont Circle, worshiping, as we still do, in the renovated parish hall. Over time this prophetic decision evolved into an intentional, creative, and courageous leadership role in solidarity with of the growing GLBT community in this historic Washington, DC, neighborhood.

  • We opened our doors during the height of the AIDS crisis – welcoming HIV positive individuals to the Eucharist, ministering to the dying and their grieving partners and friends, and honoring the dead with funerals and memorial services when few other parishes did so.
  • We pioneered the development of rites for the blessing of same sex unions in the Episcopal Church, writing a still frequently used and widely adapted liturgy in 1998. Subsequently we have hosted countless blessings of holy unions, and our clergy have officiated at many others beyond our doors. Most recently we have been celebrating a steady flow of same sex marriages at St. Thomas’ Parish, including a wedding just this week of a gay couple who have been faithful partners for 33 years.
  • All of us at St. Thomas’ Parish have been blessed, too, by a steady growth in the numbers of children in our ranks, some with same-sex and others with straight parents, all of them looking for a spiritual home where they can be assured, as one said recently, that “my child will never learn to hate in this place.”
  • As older straight and GLBT members have retired or moved from the parish, younger adults have found a home with us in growing numbers. The result is that the median age of our parishioners is about 35, with only a handful of members over the age of 55, and currently only one vestry member over 45. This influx of young adults has led to a doubling of our congregation’s size and budget in the past 5 years. Now we are in the both enviable and lamentable place of being almost out of room to welcome those still arriving at our doors.

People who come here find an inclusive congregation, whose life is centered in the sacraments of baptism and holy communion — “a place where all can find and be found by God.” We are constantly deepening our practice of faith rooted in vital worship and bold outreach in equal measure, continually learning to love one another and our neighbors, although sometimes it is not clear which is the more difficult. We are proud to be a part of our community, and we also are deeply committed to contributing to our neighborhood and world in days long after we ourselves are gone. We’re growing a church just for you — and a place of sanctuary and refuge, of inspiration and courage, of faithfulness and compassion for tomorrow and the day after.

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A General Convention Report

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Prepared by Eric Scharf

As you should know by now the Triennial General Convention is meeting this week in Anaheim, CA. This is the primary legislative body of the church setting forth the policy and program on a national level for the next three years.

Of particular interest to St. Thomas’ members are two issues; consecration of GLBT priests living opening in committed relationships and same gender unions/marriage.

The first issue addressed the consequences of a resolution adopted at the previous General Convention (titled B033) that called for a moratorium on “the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.”  This issue has been the cause of wide ranging debate and discussion throughout the worldwide communion over the past three years.

A number of resolutions were proposed to further address the issue, which were considered by the General Convention World Mission Committee.  They developed one combined resolution D025 to bring to the convention floor for consideration.  The key clause reads “That the 76th General Convention affirm that God has called and may call such individuals, to any ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church, which call is tested through our discernment processes acting in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church.” Other sections of the resolution address our continuing commitment to the Anglican Communion.  The full text as finally completed will be available later this week.

Sunday evening the House of Deputies passed D025 by a vote of 77-31 in the lay order and 74-35 in the clerical order.  The resolution now goes to the House of Bishops for their concurrence.

Jim Naughton, Communications Director for the Diocese offered this assessment of the D025:

“My sense is that the resolution doesn’t repeal or rescind B033, which in any event urged but did not compel. Rather it expresses the fact that we live now in a new reality. It does not so much pave the way for the election of another bishop in a same-sex partnership as it does remove an artificial impediment to our ongoing discernment on this issue that may, resume diocese by diocese and case by case. I think the resolution will face a much tougher climb in the House of Bishops.”

While for many this resolution will not represent a strong enough action, however it probably represents the best compromise that is possible at this time.  It has not been announced when the House of Bishops will consider D025.

As for the second issue, again a number of resolutions to both amend the Canons to allow the performance of same-gender blessings or marriage rites and others to develop rites for these.

The collective resolutions were the subject of a legislative hearing on July 9th which heard from more than 50 speakers. On July 13 a major resolution (c056) on same sex blessings cleared the Prayer Book Committee by a huge margin (6-0 among bishops, 26-1 in deputies.)  The key clause states: That all bishops, noting particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships’ are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church. Bishop Henry Parsley supported the resolution, but in a minority report will argue that the “generosity” in the  resolve noted above be limited to states where same sex marriage is legal. Further action in the House of Bishops has not yet been scheduled.

For more information on these issues and following further developments the following resources are suggested:  Integrity General Convention Presence — http://sites.google.com/site/allthesacraments/Home

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Hellooooooooooooo Epis-pickle-palians!

VirtuallyFaithful here!  Are you following General Convention?  You should.  But not too closely.

It’s like watching a waterfall — powerful and inspiring, but get too close and it’ll knock you over.  You also don’t want to pay too much attention to all the droplets slashing out on the rocks.  Go downstream a bit.  Watch the water flow.  Sometimes the stream itself will shift a little.  Most times it doesn’t, because the total force of the stream is far bigger and more important than any few hundred or even thousand gallons that get dumped in all at once.

When light shines on all those exquisite drops, rainbows appear, as is right.  But the rainbows aren’t to be confused with the waterfall, or the stream that drives it.  No stream, no waterfall.  No waterfall, no rainbows.  So don’t just look at the rainbows alone.  But do notice them.  They are, after all, one of God’s favorite signs of unbreakable covenant with us all.

Listen to the water. God speaks through the mystery of that sound. It’s a different voice than you hear in Washington Weekly or on talk-radio, or even online in blog posts like this.  It’s more subtle.  Less in your face and pugnacious (there’s a word for you!).  God’s like that.  Really faithful to us.  While we’re virtually faithful, at best, in return.  That’s what it is to be the church.  So watch and listen, but more to God than to General Convention.  But since we’re the Episcopal Church, watch and listen to what’s going on there, too.  God may even choose to speak from the maelstrom, again.

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