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Gays and supporters rally for full inclusion in church.

Manchester, England

Gay and lesbian Anglicans have ripped a page from the conservatives' playbook and have begun to raise money and network on a global level after an international conference brought hundreds together to support their full inclusion in the church.

It is only by networking and fundraising, many say, that they have a chance of seeing the next gathering of the world's Anglican bishops at the 2008 Lambeth Conference do anything other than postpone a decision about the place of gays and lesbians in the church.

"We have to learn to be collaborative," said Rev. Michael Hopkins, former president of Integrity USA, an Anglican organization of gays and lesbians and their supporters. Mr. Hopkins was speaking at "Claiming the Blessing: Doing the Theology," one of 12 workshops available to the 250 participants at the Halfway to Lambeth conference, held by the United Kingdom-based Lesbian & Gay Christian Movement (LGCM).

(This year marks the halfway point between Lambeth conferences, which are held every 10 years, traditionally in Britain.)

Mr. Hopkins and Rev. Susan Russell, Integrity's current president, also advised gay and lesbian Anglicans to take responsibility for telling their own stories and to overcome reluctance to raise money for their own cause.

"We can't expect the bishops and the Archbishop of Canterbury to do our work and tell our story," said Mr. Hopkins, who said it was unreasonable to expect the church leadership to "do our theology ... If it's just gay and lesbian people going to Lambeth, asking (bishops) to talk about our issues, we're going to get pasted again."

Regarding fundraising, he added, "We have to stop sticking our noses in the air about conservatives raising so much money. We can do that without selling our souls. Neither of the other two priorities can happen without money."

The conference was intended to provide an opportunity for bishops and others in the Anglican Communion to "listen to the experience of homosexual people"--something bishops were encouraged to do in a resolution from the 1998 Lambeth Conference. Halfway to Lambeth organizers also hoped their conference would organize gays and lesbians to ensure that their experience was reflected in the 2008 Lambeth meeting.

The conference saw the launch of the Lambeth Fund, to support the work of the LGCM as it prepares to have an impact on the agenda of the next Lambeth Conference. Wealthier churches also underwrote the conference costs and travel for keynote speakers from Africa and South America. It is widely believed that networks of conservative Anglicans have funded the travel of church leaders from less-affluent churches in Asia, Africa and South America to attend orthodox gatherings.

Conference organizers, however, failed to secure support for a two-page statement, a theological reflection on Anglicans and homosexuality. Participants said they had not had enough time to examine the document (which had been sent to them prior to the conference) and asked for more input into the wording.

It was an ambitious agenda: a one-day conference featuring 12 workshops, four keynote speakers, a live video link address from Canon Gene Robinson, speaking from New Hampshire where he would be consecrated as bishop days later, and a short worship service. Canon Robinson was slated to attend the conference but changed his plans because of the logistics of his Nov. 2 consecration.

Integrity USA's Ms. Russell urged participants to use the attention surrounding Canon Robinson's consecration to tell the world of a church "where everybody is welcome. We have got to be proactive in telling people who we are and what we stand for."

One Canadian bishop, Barry Hollowell of the diocese of Calgary, acknowledged that the gathering likely did not change anybody's mind toward the role of gays and lesbians in the church, since in attendance were already onside with the conference's focus. He said, however, that he came away with "a new sense of working together and a celebration of diversity, of our Anglican comprehensiveness."

Bishop Hollowell was one of seven bishops (and one of two Canadian bishops) who attended the conference. Bishop Michael Ingham of the diocese of New Westminster (the Vancouver-based diocese which saw the Anglican Communion's first sanctioned blessing of a same-sex couple in May) was one of four keynote speakers.

In addition to the Canadian episcopal contingent, there were four Canadian participants from New Westminster, all members of Integrity Vancouver: Steve Schuh, Dr. Donald Meen, Kevin De La Mare and Rev. Clarence Li. Mr. Schuh, president of Integrity and Dr. Meen led a workshop on the history of how their diocese came to approve the blessing of same-sex relationships.

The conference was marred early in its preparations when the bishop of Manchester revoked an invitation to the group to hold its closing eucharist at the city's cathedral. The bishop, who cited controversy over the "sensitivities and timing in relation to the current debates" in the church, was criticized by both the gay-friendly city politicians and members of his own diocese, two of whom resigned as area deans. The service was held in another area church.

In a related development, a group of Anglican clergy and lay people who want the Anglican Church of Canada to extend blessings to same-sex couples had its first eucharist in Toronto recently. Claiming the Blessing Canada, which took its name from an Episcopal church organization, held the service at St. James' Cathedral on Nov. 16.

The original Claiming the Blessing group, which brought together three gay and lesbian groups in the Episcopal Church in the U.S. (including Integrity), plus other justice groups, committed itself to obtaining approval for same-sex blessings at the 2003 national church's General Convention. The convention ultimately acknowledged that the church had differences in how to pastorally care for those in monogamous same-sex relationships, but gave tacit approval to same-sex blessings.
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Title Annotation:World
Author:Larmondin, Leanne
Publication:Anglican Journal
Date:Dec 1, 2003
Words:961
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