Episcopal

Five Questions for Transgender Chaplain Cameron Partridge

Photo courtesy RNS.
The Rev. Cameron Partridge, religion scholar. Photo courtesy RNS.

She graduated from all-female Bryn Mawr College in 1995, where she came out as gay and also as a woman called to the priesthood. After college, she graduated from Harvard Divinity School, married her girlfriend, became an Episcopal priest, changed her name — and changed her gender.

Today the Rev. Cameron Partridge, a religion scholar at Harvard Divinity School and Episcopal chaplain at Boston University, is living outside Boston with his wife and two young children in what looks, to those who don’t know them, like a typical heterosexual marriage.

We talk to Partridge about his transgender and spiritual journeys, his discomfort with simplistic views of male and female, and feeling at home in Anglicanism. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Waiting on God

WHEN I FIRST started attending the Church of the Apostles in Fairfax, Va., we had no church building and met in the cafeteria of an elementary school. There were about 50 of us and a brand new priest, Rev. H. Lawrence Scott (“Call me Renny”). It was an Episcopal church in Fairfax County in the 1970s. Really, how much trouble could I get into?

What I didn’t know was that it was a charismatic, Bible-believing, tongues-speaking church. The praise band led us in worship. We sang and raised our hands. There was speaking in tongues and interpretation.

When I committed my life to Jesus in October 1977, I was sitting in the living room with Renny and his wife, Margaret. We had lunch. We talked. I disagreed with them about this Jesus stuff. We talked some more, and I was shocked to find myself saying “yes” when Renny asked if I was ready to commit my life to Jesus. I just said sure—then Renny made me pray. I remember walking to the car and having a brief conversation with God, the culmination of which was that I said I would never be a missionary to Africa. It’s funny what I thought were the key questions then.

Because I am an all-or-nothing person, I threw myself entirely into this new life. Within a few weeks I was baptized in the Spirit. I went to a Bible study every week. When I heard you were supposed to have a quiet time, I did that religiously. Every morning I sat and waited on God: Bible reading and prayer, other spiritual reading, and index cards to help me remember. Every morning for years I got up very early and met with Jesus in the quiet before dawn. Between my study and the praise songs we sang at church, I learned hundreds of scriptures by heart.

For 20 years I sat in the quiet and waited on God.

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Episcopal Leader Says S.C. Diocese Can’t Secede

Religion News Service file photo by David Jolkovski
Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. Religion News Service file photo by David Jolkovski

Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said on Nov. 15 that the Diocese of South Carolina can't unilaterally secede from the national church, as she urged conservatives to stay despite sharp disagreements over theology and homosexuality.

“The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina continues to be a constituent part of The Episcopal Church, even if a number of its leaders have departed,”  said Jefferts Schori, who heads the 1.9 million-member denomination. 

Leaders in the Diocese of South Carolina announced Oct. 17 that disciplinary actions taken against their bishop, Mark Lawrence, triggered their disaffiliation from the Episcopal Church. On Sept. 18, the denomination's Disciplinary Board for Bishops found Lawrence guilty of abandoning the Episcopal Church and renouncing its rules.

Episcopal Priest Under Scrutiny for Nude Photos

RNS photo courtesy Wikimedia/Public Domain
Michelangelo's painting titled 'Last Judgment.' RNS photo courtesy Wikimedia/Public Domain

In the middle of the 16th century, Catholic bishops and theologians met sporadically in the city of Trento in northern Italy to discuss the church's response to the Reformation. Over the course of 18 years, the Council of Trent produced documents correcting abuses like indulgences and other corruption.

In 1564, the council ordered that some naked figures in Michelangelo's massive "Last Judgment" fresco in the Sistine Chapel be covered up as a result of the council's dictate that "all lasciviousness be avoided; in such wise that figures shall not be painted or adorned with a beauty exciting to lust."

It will be difficult for critics to compare Michelangelo's nudes with the ones photographed by the Rev. John Blair. Just after the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri launched an investigation of the St. Louis priest, many of his photos of nude models were removed from the Internet.

And yet the diocese's disciplinary board, whose members will decide if Blair's photography constitutes sexual misconduct, will try to answer the same question as Trent's participants 450 years ago: How does the church recognize the beauty of art that depicts God's creation — the human form — without seeming to condone "a beauty exciting to lust"?

Episcopal Bishop on Gay Weddings: Yes, But No

Episcopal Bishop Kee Sloan of Alabama. Photo from the Episcopal Diocese of Ala.
Episcopal Bishop Kee Sloan of Alabama. Photo from the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Episcopal Bishop Kee Sloan of Alabama voted in favor of his church's new ritual for blessing same-sex unions — but he won't allow priests in his diocese to perform it.

“For the time being, I will not give permission,” Sloan said.

The blessing of same-gender unions is still too divisive an issue for Alabama, he said.

“It’s not good at this time in this place,” Sloan said. “I’m trying to avoid any further division.”

Episcopalians overwhelmingly approved the new rite for same-sex couples July 10 at the denomination's General Convention. Bishops do not have to allow them, however, and about 10 active bishops have said they will not. The denomination has 110 dioceses in all.

Episcopal Bishops Ask Obama for Continued Aid to Middle East Hospital

A group of Episcopal bishops is asking President Obama to help assure that a United Nations agency continues to support a diocese-run hospital in the Gaza Strip.

In a June 6 letter, the 102 bishops ask the president to support funding for Al Ahli Hospital from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. The letter asserts funding was cut off in May, though an UNRWA official said a final decision has not been made.

The hospital, run by the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, “is the only facility of its sort in the Gaza Strip that is not run by the Hamas government and as such, it is able to provide care without any outside interference or political calculation,” the letter states.

 

Saints Compete for Top Ranking in 'Lent Madness'

Assorted Christian saints images, Wiki Commons; illustration by Cathleen Falsani
Assorted Christian saints images via Wiki Commons; illustration by Cathleen Falsani

As college basketball fans prepare for March Madness, a holier tournament already has Christians rooting and cheering this Lenten season.

For three years running, "Lent Madness" has taken to the Internet as a competition between Episcopal saints in a single-elimination bracket tournament resembling the one followed by March Madness fans.

This Lenten devotional, first created by the Rev. Tim Schenck on his blog, "Clergy Family Confidential," allows readers to learn about and vote for the saints presented daily on the website, with the winning saints moving closer to the coveted prize of the Golden Halo.

"I was looking for a fun way to embrace the Lenten season," said Schenck, rector of St. John's Episcopal Church in Hingham, Mass.

"Lent doesn't have to be all doom and gloom," said Schenck. His goal, he says, is to help people "connect with the risen Christ during this season" and to "have a bit of fun in the process."

Randall Balmer answers, "What is an Evangelical?"

The puzzle here is not that readers of the Bible would tilt toward the political left. That, for me, as well as for thousands of other American evangelicals, is self-evident. Jesus, after all, summoned his followers to be peacemakers, to turn the other cheek, to welcome the stranger and to care for “the least of these.” He also expressed concern for the tiniest sparrow, a sentiment that should find some resonance in our environmental policies.

No, the real conundrum lies in the subtitle the editors of Christianity Today assigned to Franzen’s article, which was titled, “A Left-Leaning Text.” Adjacent to a picture of a Bible tilted about 45 degrees to the left, the editors added the subtitle: “Survey Surprise: Frequent Bible reading can turn you liberal (in some ways).”

The fact that anyone should register surprise that the Bible points toward the left should be the biggest surprise of all.

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