HRC Blog

Coming Out on Independence Day

This blog submission is brought to us by HRC Religion Council member, Reverend Susan Russell, the Senior Associate Pastor at All Saints Church in Pasadena, California.

In addition to reading Rev. Russell’s blog be sure to check out the Coming Out service being held this Sunday at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Long Beach, CA where the Right Reverend Mary Glasspool, the first openly lesbian Bishop in the Episcopal Church, will be preaching

susan russell hrcOn July 4, 1996 at noon eastern time I was in the choir at the National Cathedral. While crowds of tourists milled about the nave of the cathedral and others gathered outside or headed toward the Mall for the fireworks festivities scheduled later it the day or lined up to see the opening-that-day film “Independence Day” (remember that one?) a remnant of us gathered in the cathedral choir for a festival celebration of the Feast of American Independence, BCP-style.

The music was glorious, the lessons inspiring and the privilege of receiving Holy Communion at the altar in this amazing “house of prayer for all people” as we celebrated the birth of a nation dedicated to “liberty and justice for all” was an amazing gift I will always remember.

Oh … and I came out.

In the cathedral. On the Fourth of July. In the middle of festival Eucharist I had the great “aha” moment – the epiphany – the “I-shoulda-had-a-V8” realization that the God who had “fearfully and wonderfully” made me had made me gay. And called me to priesthood. And told me “now, go back and be the priest I called you to be.”

That’s my coming out story. I’ve told it many times before but on this “Coming Out Day” it seemed worth telling again. It seemed worth reminding myself – and anybody else who wants to listen in – that I did not come out from the fringes of anything – I came out in the context of a spiritual journey that began with my baptism at St. Paul’s Cathedral in Los Angeles in 1954 (go ahead and do the math!) and continued through Junior Choir, confirmation class, Altar Guilds and Vacation Bible Schools, ECW Boards, teas and luncheons, Diocesan Conventions, vestries and parish day school boards and finally seminary, ordination and parish ministry.

My coming out had nothing to do with a political act. It had nothing to do with a genital act. It had everything to do with the act of presenting myself, my soul and body, to be a “reasonable, holy and living sacrifice” unto the God who created me in love and called me to love others as God loved me. It had to do with recognizing that I could not be fully present at altar if I was not fully present in myself – and it had to do with being raised in a church where +John Hines taught me that “justice is the corporate face of God’s love,” +Ed Browning told me that in the Episcopal Church there would be no outcasts and the consecration of +Barbara Harris incarnated for me the hope that this church was actually willing to live into its high calling to live out a radically inclusive gospel.

So Happy “Coming Out Day” to me – and to the scores of LGBT Episcopalians like me. Are we a challenge to the wider church? I hope so. And I hope we continue to be. I hope that our voices of faith and witness will continue to preach, to protest and to prophesy – that we will stand in the temple and tell the Good News of God in Christ Jesus made present in our lives, our vocations and our relationships. That we will preach that Good News in and out of season.

So here's to Coming Out Day and to Independence Day -- to celebrating with BBQ, beer and fireworks our core American values of liberty and justice for all and everyone committed to our core Episcopal values of respecting the dignity of every human being. Not because we’re politically correct but because we’re gospel obedient. And here's to the diverse center -- long may it wave and long may it MAKE waves as it continues to live into the promise it inherits from Hines and Browning and Harris; from Washington and Jefferson and Madison.

Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn; Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace. Amen

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