Today is the first full day of Lent. And today was the first day that we began a regular weekday 12:15 prayer service in the chapel at Episcopal House. Bishop Carol Gallagher has designed a simple and inviting liturgy – and has produced a list of dates for people to sign up and lead it. Since Episcopal House is, in some ways, the center of the diocese, it seems fitting that the center of our workday should involve an offering of prayer. The service may involve just one person – or several.
We have developed an intercession list for people and congregations in the diocese. Feel free to send in names of people in your congregation for whom we can pray. We will only use first names (unless a last name is provided with permission of that person). You can send in names to Patty Leonard (firstname.lastname@example.org). We will soon include a diocesan cycle of prayer. Anyone can join us – and anyone can lead the service (which is all conveniently printed on one sheet). Come and pray with us; and know that we are praying for the diocesan community.
Today is the first day that civil unions can legally be performed for same-gender couples in the State of New Jersey. For many, it is a day of celebration and thanksgiving; for some it is a day of mixed emotions – because of a feeling that the State Legislature didn’t go far enough; and for others, it is a day of confusion or distress.
At each of the pre-Convention meetings in early January, I indicated that I wanted to appoint a Civil Union Task Force to help prepare and/or respond to this new legal opportunity. To date, I have appointed two co-chairs – Barbara Conroy, a layperson from St. Paul’s, Chatham, and The Rev. Phillip Wilson, Rector of Church of the Redeemer in Morristown. I will be meeting with them next week to discuss the scope and membership of the committee.
Today is three days after the communiqué from the Primates meeting, and one day after receiving electronic correspondence from our Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Katherine Jefferts Schori. I have not fully digested either communication. Moreover, given that I am new to my role, I am not ready to make a public statement – yet. I feel that I need to first meet my new colleagues in the House of Bishops (We meet in the middle of March.) – and get a sense of the dynamics and desires of that group.
That said, I agree with those who say that proving full rights and privileges in the church for gay and lesbian people is a matter of justice. But for me, it goes deeper than that: “I think it is important to speak of the giftedness of the entire human family” (which is what I wrote in response to one of the questions in the nominating process). I believe that homosexuality is a unique gift – among a host of other unique gifts – be it ability, ethnicity, race, or class. I pray that the diversity of sexual orientation should not be a problem for the church, but a gift to the church. Gay and lesbian people – clergy and lay, have certainly been a gift to the Diocese of Newark. And I believe that relationships marked by fidelity, faith, and commitment need to be held up and celebrated.
Today is the day that I officially begin my Lenten discipline (although it often takes me a few days to settle into it). For centuries the church has invited Christians to engage in some practice of prayer, fasting and/or self denial for the purpose of clearing away – or sorting through that which we don’t need – which is anything that creates more distance between us and God. The spiritual practices of Lent are intentions (although for many of us the practice doesn’t always measure up to the intention) of humility – which brings us closer to our groundedness in God.
I encourage you to engage in some Lenten practice of humility – drawing you closer to your spiritual ground, upon which your soul can more freely dance. And as we journey to deeper humility – we meet God’s justice and mercy, and are better equipped to resist the forces of humiliation.
I invite you to start today.
+Mark M. Beckwith, Bishop of Newark