Pentecost 2B - The Rev. D. Wallace Adams-Riley
It Felt Dangerous
June 10, 2012
Sermon by The Rev. Wallace Adams-Riley
Rector, St. Paul's Episcopal Church
It felt dangerous. And my heart rate was up. (I could feel it.)
Someone said to Gena, at one point, between sessions, “You’d better watch your back.”
And people were saying as much to me, as well.
There was so much clapping, even cheering, really, that someone finally approached one of the mics and asked the chair of the convention if he would please ask people to refrain from applause, in hopes that we might truly listen to each other.
The chair did as requested, and, somewhat to my surprise, there was cooperation.
We had arrived in the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast less than a year before, and, since then, an openly-partnered gay man, Gene Robinson, had been elected bishop of New Hampshire.
This was the first diocesan convention since that election and the room throbbed with anxiety and indignation.
One person after another stood in line to speak either in support of, or in opposition to, the election; the great majority speaking against the election.
And, among those who spoke, were three of the clergy of Christ Church, Pensacola, the largest and most prominent church in the diocese. The Rector spoke, as did two of his associates, Gena and myself. And, contrary to what most of the people in the convention hall would have expected, we didn’t all see things the same way. The Rector was squarely against the election, and Gena and I were squarely for it.
And so it was during one of the breaks that we were warned, as at least one person said, to watch our backs.
The suggestion in the air was that we should be reined in, if not punished. And, really, there was the implication that our jobs were at stake.
Meanwhile, Russell, our Rector, was also being approached, likely by many more people than we were.
I remember a conversation that he and I had in an empty room we found, during one of the breaks, between sessions. He was clearly under a lot of stress. But, even while that river of anxiety flowed around us, we managed to remember who we were, in that moment; and we reconnected with one another, as two people who cared about each other, and who shared something that was not going to be undone that day.
Even still, as the convention drew to a close, there continued to be something disturbing about the energy in the room, and something unsettling about all of that judgment being heaped upon us, mostly from people we didn’t even know.
The convention was literally seconds away from being adjourned, when I saw Russell walking up to the dais, where he spoke with someone off to the side.
And, a moment later, it was announced (per Robert’s Rules of Order) that the Reverend Russell Levenson, Rector of Christ Church, Pensacola, had asked for and been granted a point of personal privilege.
And up he came, to the microphone.
And I’ll never forget what he did first. Before explaining why he was up there, he simply said that he’d like to introduce his associates. Which he then did, introducing us one at a time. Gena, me, and Harry Hill, whom many of you will remember as a parishioner here at St. Paul’s.
So Russell introduced us, Gena, me, and Harry, and he had us stand.
And then he said, with a wonderful, confident calm about him, that, even while we didn’t all see things the same way, that we were one in Christ. And that nothing was going to change that.
And, as he stepped away from the microphone, the convention applauded.
And we were adjourned.
“Who are my mother and my brothers?”
“Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother,” .Jesus said.
Whoever does the will of God.
I remember wading through the crowds, just after the dismissal, being conscious of how others were or weren’t making eye contact, were or weren’t greeting us.
And I remember one priest approaching me and Gena and volunteering to us, with some indignation, that she didn’t think that what Russell did was necessary, that she didn’t understand why he did what he did, that he had simply drawn attention to himself.
I’m not sure we even said anything back to her, before moving on through the crowd toward the parking lot.
Jesus’ family had heard that he was “out of his mind.” And they thought that he just might be.
And so they tried to “restrain him.”
Others, meanwhile, were saying that he had been overtaken by some dark spirit.
That he wasn’t himself.
That he had lost his way; that he couldn’t be trusted.
That he was dangerous.
In as much as we devote ourselves to following the lead of God’s Spirit in our lives, in as much as we seek to do the will of God, there are some things that we can be sure of:
That we will be misunderstood.
That we will meet with resistance.
And, that we will be in good company.