Putting Whitney on the Prayer List

My friend and fellow priest called this afternoon. We talk enough on the phone that the simple pleasantries like “hello” and “how are you?” sometimes get bypassed for a more direct greeting. At least, that was the case today, when I saw her name flash on my phone. I picked up the phone and said: “I’m putting Whitney on the Prayer List.” She laughed (I knew she would) then replied “And that is just one more way our parishes are so very different” (she’s right). 

I don’t usually put celebs on the prayer list. (In retrospect perhaps we should’ve put Kim Kardashian on the prayers for those preparing for marriage, but I digress).  But I put Whitney on the prayers for the deceased. And not as a joke, or to be cute. But because she was/is an icon. Living in the heart of Boystown, where no one glances twice at a man dressed like a woman or two boys walking the street holding hands, it’s easy to forget that life for the queer community has not always been so welcoming or kind.

As we walked out of Bible study today, one of my parishioners told me of his grief over the loss of Houston. In the cruel world of high school, in the new stages of knowing what it means to be different, to not fit in, Whitney’s voice sang out a language, a song that spoke to him. Other parishioners have told me how she was part of their coming out, how they would sing to her music and it was one place to be safe about who they were.

So we’ll pray for Whitney. And each other. And we’ll keep singing.

Seven whole days, not one in seven

Sad news has come forth this week about my seminary. General, like so many other Episcopal seminaries, is struggling. Heck, it, like so many churches, is struggling. I get the realities. We live in a post-Christendom world. A place where people are “spiritual but not religious.” The church of the 1950s is dying and we’re clinging to it as if it was/were/is our only way of life. So, of course, it makes sense that our institutions are struggling. Reimagining, rediscovering who the Church is, who the Church will become, is no longer optional–but all that is another post. This is a post about a place I love more than just about anywhere (if you asked me to rank Athens GA, Israel/Palestine and General Seminary–it’d be a tough job).

General Seminary is the first seminary of the Episcopal Church. Its beautiful campus is a respite in the concrete jungle of New York City. Its chapel, the Chapel of the Good Shepherd, is the place where so many priests (including me) have been shaped and formed and begun to understand what this vocation is all about. And now General finds itself in severe financial crisis. There are emails flying in and out of my box today–all filled with the details about a meeting that happened yesterday with the Board of Trustees. This press release puts a nice spin on it. I suspect the meeting was a bit more challenging. The thought of General not being General, of priests not being formed, of it not being that place of joy (and gossip and sometime pure annoyance–all the human condition is wrapped up in that place for me), it’s just incomprehensible. A friend just posted on Facebook that he feels like he’s been hit in the stomach. I get it. It’s beyond understanding.

I sit and type this as Sojo looks out the window and Lucy is curled up beside me. My first day on the Close (the seminary campus), after the movers had left, after one of the smiling and wonderful maintenance men had installed my new air conditioner, I opened the closet door to let Lucy and Sojo finally run free in their new domain. Out came Sojo but Lucy was nowhere to be seen. I searched high and low for her. Everywhere I could imagine. She was gone. Someone called the front office to alert the staff to be on the lookout for a very lost cat from Georgia. My heart sank. One day out of Georgia and into NYC, and I had lost my beloved, declawed, defenseless cat. I sat there and questioned the decision to move to NYC, to start seminary, to become a priest at all. Somehow this seemed a horrid omen and all I wanted to do was pack up my Uhaul and head back home.

And then, on a lark, or perhaps out of sheer desperation, I got down on the floor, one last time and crawled under my bed. Lucy had always loved to hide in the box springs, and although I had already checked 4 times, I found myself looking again. She wasn’t easy to see. In the move, more fabric must have come loose and she had taken her hiding place to a whole new level. But there she was. Hidden away from the chaos of boxes and packing tape. Not yet ready to come out, but safe and sound.

I don’t really tend to believe in “signs,” but that day stands as one of the markers in my memory of knowing it was going to be okay. In the days that followed, things happened. Strangers knocking on my door with a “hey, I’m new here too–let’s go find the grocery store” suggestion, building-mates would share wine and bad reality television, study-mates would become life-long friends and classmates who always sat in the same seat at chapel, day-in-day-out, helped me grow into who I am.

I can not imagine my world or myself, who I would be, without the sacred ground of General Seminary. Here’s hoping I don’t have to.

King of glory, King of peace,
I will love Thee;
And that love may never cease,
I will move Thee.
Thou hast granted my request,
Thou hast heard me;
Thou didst note my working breast,
Thou hast spared me.

Wherefore with my utmost art
I will sing Thee,
And the cream of all my heart
I will bring Thee.
Though my sins against me cried,
Thou alone didst clear me;
And alone, when they replied,
Thou didst hear me.

Seven whole days, not one in seven,
I will praise Thee;
In my heart, though not in Heaven,
I can raise Thee.
Small it is, in this poor sort
To enroll Thee:
E’en eternity’s too short
To extol Thee.


plumbing

The boiler is being tweeked. We bought a new boiler, but tried to recycle the pump and that didn’t work, so it’s cold in here. To boot, the radiator just exploded (not really) and now there’s water all over the parish hall floor. I remember back when I first entered the discernment process for the preisthood and my rector said: “great! You want to be a priest. First, go to Athens Tech and learn how to be a plumber.” I get it now. Contrary to what so many think, I don’t sit around praying all day in my office–I call contractors, I empty trash, I make dinner for the Inquirer’s Class and I brew coffee (okay, you knew I did that already). Thank God there was no camera the other day when organist and I were standing in the bathroom with plunger in hand, both of us debating whether it was worthy of a call to E-Z plumbing (turns out it was). If it sounds like I’m complaining, I’m really not. I am, in all honesty, somewhat overwhelmed by the size,breadth and requirements of this building, but somehow it all comes together (in large part due to the junior warden, organist and sacristan). Perhaps, more than anything, I am aware of the commitment others have made to this place, to have it run, to help it be what it is. I know that I am far from alone. Community in the midst of toilet plungers. Who’dve thought it? Not me, but I’m glad its there.