Saturday, April 21, 2007

Last night I saw something amazing.

Birthday parties are nothing unusual even when they are for the dreaded #30 after which no one under 30 can trust you anymore according to the wisdom of the 60s. But this party was unusual. First, the young man celebrating his passage into his 30s threw the party for himself. At church. He enlisted the help of the parish and they generously provided a beautiful spread of food, drink and decorations. He created a theme - shady ladies - and asked people to wear shades. They did, ranging from the oversized sunglasses from the Rocky Horror Picture Show to Minnie and Mickey Disney shades to lamp shades. It was a hoot.

But that was just the beginning. The party was designed as a fund raiser for an international AIDS ministry. An Episcopal priest who serves that ministry came to speak to the party, this just days out of open heart surgery. What he said took me by surprise.

He began by congratulating St. Richard's parish for its willingness to open its doors, its ministries and its hearts to all people, regardless of whom they love. Around the room a number of gay and lesbian parishioners nodded their heads in agreement, including the young man celebrating his birthday. In a room filled with well over 100 people, most of them St. Richard's parishioners, the truth of Fr. Freu's observations was apparent. He reminded the parish of the obvious - they offer an important ministry in a diocese which is often hostile to and judgmental of the very people St. Richard's welcomes. That witness is a light in what is often a very dark and cold diocese. And it occurs by swimming upstream against the dominant vision of the diocese and its leadership. It is a courageous witness, indeed.

He went on to offer some of the sanest theology I've heard in this diocese in a long time: "On the seventh day, G-d looked at all he had created and he said, 'It is good.' And that's all you have to know. And anyone who would tell you the world is evil is simply wrong." I looked around the parish hall and the faces of those present - white, black, Latino, Asian, old, young, straight, gay - presented a snapshot of what Archbishop Desmond Tutu has called G-d's Rainbow People. That sight brought tears to my eyes. Because, as G-d has assessed it, it is very good. Indeed, it was quite beautiful.

There are days when I catch a brief glimpse of the Episcopal Church I joined so many years ago. It was a church that valued head and heart, that entertained questions rather than insisting upon simplistic answers. It was a church that truly did believe that there would be no outcasts. It was a church whose people prayed together as a starting place for serving G_d's world. Last night, for a brief moment, I saw that old Episcopal Church. It was truly wonderful to see it in this diocese where I became an Episcopalian some 30 years ago last January, a diocese which long ago lost its way. As I said to my gentle spirited partner who attended the party with me, "Now, *this* is the church I joined" and he smiled and nodded his head in agreement.

I am grateful to Marc Guttierez for his untiring service to his parish and this diocese, to St. Richard's for its courageous witness and for folks like Fr. Rand Freu who continue to toil away at making the kingdom of G-d just one small step closer to reality every day. Most of all, I am grateful for this glimpse of the Episcopal Church I once knew and loved, if ever so fleeting. I thank all of you who were part of this wonderful evening. And I pray for the day when this vision of church will once more become the norm and not the exception in this place where I have chosen to live the rest of my life.

Happy Birthday, Marc. And thank you for the present you gave to all of us last night.

Preach the Gospel at all times; use words when necessary. Francis of Assisi

Harry S. Coverston, Ph.D., J.D.

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding. Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes.