By now, many of you may have heard of the death of our beloved Bob Evans on Monday and perhaps have read the statement from our bishops regarding same sex marriage in the Episcopal Church, which you can read here. The two are related in my mind.
Bob lived 99 years as a faithful Episcopalian, devoted husband and father, and leader. Bob was the Senior Warden of St. Stephen’s when the vestry chose to call the Reverend Helen Havens as rector; it was the first time a parish in Diocese of Texas had requested to call a woman to serve as rector and Bishop Ben Benitez would not hear of it. With calm persistence Bob invited the bishop to reconsider. The vestry stood firm and the bishop changed his mind.
I recall this story because Bob was a powerful leader in our midst. He served on the vestry when he was in his early 90s, sharing his wisdom, courage and wit. Bob lived through the Episcopal Church’s struggle to integrate in the civil rights era, expand the role of women, heal those with AIDS, address prayer book revision, and include fully LGBT folks into our common life. Throughout it all, Bob was convicted that the Church was a witness to the grace of God in the world. He was strong, quiet, smart and determined.
The House of Bishops at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church meeting this past week voted overwhelmingly to allow LGBT couples to marry, using trial forms of worship authorized for this purpose. The bishops of Texas voted against the resolution (Bishops Harrison and Fisher voted no; Bishop Doyle abstained, which counts as a no); they were in the minority. They have written that the process outlined in Unity in Mission will continue to be the practice here. Our current practice does not treat LGBT Christians fairly and does not extend to Texas Episcopalians the full inclusion offered in other dioceses.
At St. Stephen’s we are Episcopalians who are called to challenge minds and transform lives. We did this as Bob Evans and other vestry members stood firm in engaging Bishop Benitez to convince him that it was right to allow them to call Helen to serve as their priest. In our time, it is our responsibility to continue to model full inclusion of all with a radical welcome into Christ’s community, even as we disagree respectfully with our bishops . Unity does not require unanimity. We will continue to engage in common ministry with our bishops and with Christians with whom we disagree, trusting that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
-- The Rev. Lisa Hunt