Joy and sadness blend to a point that it is difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins. I know I feel joy that the Diocese of Fort Worth is about to ordain its first woman priest. I know I am absolutely elated that she will be the first woman rector of a parish in Fort Worth.
The Rev. Susan Slaughter will be ordained a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth on November 15, 2009. My heart sings out in joy for her and for the people of St. Luke's.
Sadly, I will not be able to be a part of the celebration. I am in St. Louis, Diocese of Missouri.
I am here in Missouri because of the Diocese of Fort Worth. I am now in discernment with a committee at my parish. It is now in the process of writing the report and I in writing my autobiographical sketch and vision statement. God willing, I will soon be recommended to my bishop and to the Commission on Ministry as a candidate for the priesthood.
I remember the first time I went to my rector of the moment to tell him how I felt called into a deeper form of ministry. He reminded me that there were many avenues open to me. I could do all the things that I was currently doing – altar guild, Episcopal Church Women, Food Bank and went on to name a few more. He reminded me that was a lot and that perhaps I should accept it as enough. He did, however, give me one thing which I have carried with me for these past 6 years. He suggested that I prayerfully discern why God would be calling as a woman, as a lesbian at that particular time in that particular place. I don't know that he fully understood the profundity of his statement yet I did.
After the election of Bishop Gene Robinson and Fort Worth's first move to break from the Episcopal Church, we left our beloved little parish of Christ the King. There was just too much division over my having stood up at the specially called diocesan convention and spoke out against all the vitriolic statements being made again Bishop Gene Robinson in particular and gays and lesbians in general. We left our parish because to stay meant to be the reason for a split within the parish.
We decided to attend Trinity on the southwest side of Fort Worth. We thought it was large enough for us to get lost in. Yet we found a new family in the small folk service. Over the next couple of years we began to heal.
I remember the second time I went to a rector in Fort Worth with my thoughts that God was calling me into an ordained ministry. That one believed me and tried to help. But he knew the odds. I had already made a name for myself by standing up at that convention and by writing publicly what I believed to be the truth about the Diocese of Fort Worth. Plus I was a co-founder of Fort Worth Via Media, a group intent upon remaining within the Episcopal Church in full contradiction of what the diocese of the time was intending. In addition to that, by 2006, I was also on the board of IntegrityUSA. None of these things endeared me to then-bishop Jack Iker.
Nonetheless, my rector said that he would be willing to go to the bishop with me and for me, recommending that I be considered for the diaconate. Since he wasn't sure so sure about gays and lesbians being bishops, this was a fairly big deal on his part.
Yet, it just was not something that I could do…not at that point…not at that time. I just could not sign anything that said I would never seek the priesthood, that I would agree to a permanent diaconate. There was no moral way at that time that I could have answered, "I am ready and willing to do so" to the question "And will you, in accordance with the canons of this Church, obey your bishop and other ministers who may have authority over you and your work?" As far as the infamous "Dallas Plan" was concerned, the fact that I was living within a partnership kept that from ever being a possibility. Shoot, I wasn't even allowed to be a part of the Cursillo team because I was living with Debbie. There was no way people in Dallas would accept me as a candidate for the priesthood.
So, it was through a long period of discernment that my spiritual advisor and I worked and prayed to find another way. And so I am, here in St. Louis with my little family, Debbie, Tucker and our two dogs. Through discernment, we sold our farm, our animals, and left our parents, my grandmother, our children and our precious grandchildren and headed to Missouri.
So, I won't be in Fort Worth for Deacon Susan's ordination. But I will be rejoicing…and crying…joy mixed with sadness. But somehow I believe that by November 15, the joy will outweigh the sadness.
It will be a new day in Fort Worth. It won't be my day but it will be a very good day.