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Spirituality: South Side Church Reaches Out to Gay Bishop
by TRACY BAIM
2004-03-01

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Pictured Rev. Dr. Richard Tolliver and Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson. Photo by Tracy Baim

For Chicago GLBTs, Sunday, Feb. 8, presented a tale of many churches.

Starting on the South Side at St. Edmund's Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson, gave a sermon of welcomeness and inclusion for the more than 300 people helping mark the 200th anniversary of the ordination of the Episcopal Church's first African-American priest, Rev. Absalom Jones.

Moving north, Ann Sather's restaurant was the location for a panel discussion with leaders from five religious traditions: Metropolitan Community Church, Buddhist, Catholic, Jewish and Methodist.

And Sunday evening, Archbishop of Chicago, Francis Cardinal George addressed the Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach (AGLO), affirming the church's teaching of a chaste life for gays and lesbians.

The joyous welcoming of GLBTs in the morning was countered by a somber and tearful mood at the AGLO mass at Mt. Carmel on Belmont and Halsted. About a dozen of the 400 people at the mass walked out after George's prepared remarks—given after his sermon, but before communion and the weekly financial collection.

The invitation for Robinson to speak at a predominantly African-American church on the special anniversary was seen as a critical linking of oppressions. Robinson's mass called attention to the plight of many people, including gays and lesbians.

'I can think of no better way to celebrate this anniversary than by affirming our continuing commitment to diversity in all its forms and manifestations,' said Rev. Dr. Richard Tolliver, who has been at St. Edmund's for 14 years—and who several years ago hosted a forum on the Black church and homosexuality, timed around the release of the pro-gay film All God's Children.

'Two hundred years ago, one-half century before the abolition of slavery, our Church ordained an African-American. Our church's embracing of gay priests is an equally important and valid step, in ensuring the relevance and integrity of our religion today,' Tolliver said.

Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Bishop Coadjutor of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, is the first openly gay priest to be confirmed as a Bishop within the Episcopal Church. His consecration occurred in November of 2003, three months after the General Convention of the Episcopal Church confirmed his election after days of hearings and months of discussion within the 2.5 million-member church. He will officially become Bishop March 7. At his investiture, he will have a crozier carved from olive wood by a Palestinian from Bethlehem, with a silver and gold round orb with the skyline of Jerusalem.

In bringing Robinson to Chicago, Father Tolliver and St. Edmund's are continuing a tradition of progressive inclusion for which Tolliver has become well known. Church services have been the occasions to bring ideas to the congregation with speakers like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, III, and the Rev. Barbara Harris, the first woman ordained by the Episcopal Church.

'I would like to think it is the connections being made between various kinds of oppression that brings me here today,' Robinson said. 'And what an honor it is, a white boy like me from Kentucky, being asked to come here and talk about ... Absalom Jones.'

Jones was born a slave in Sussex, Dela., and he taught himself to read. He purchased his wife's freedom and later his own. Jones became rector of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, the first African-American congregation of the Episcopal Church.

'The real sin of any oppression is making an object out of another human being. Treating people as if they were a commodity ... . Slavery of course being the ultimate. People of color, women, gay and lesbian folk, the physically disabled, the aged, all oppressed, and all offered liberation by this great Bible, declaring the humanity, not the objectification of those people.

For more on this story see the Feb. 11 Windy City Times, www.windycitymediagroup.com .


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