The following post was written for the weekly newsletter of my church. You can find the original here.
I became a member of the Anglican Communion when I was confirmed by the Bishop of Man (UK) at Pusey House, during a year of honors undergraduate study at Oxford.
Pusey House, for those of you who don’t know, is the bastion of what remains of the Victorian Oxford Movement — a movement within the Anglican Communion to rejoin Rome. It is, in its own way, the most conservative spot in all Anglicanism.
I haven’t changed much in my basic radical progressiveness since my college days. Walking into Pusey House was almost an accident for me. But once I got there what I found was not just a bastion of conservatism, but also a small though tightly knit community of people who met every morning for Mass, then for toast and tea around a dining table in the library.
One morning, several months into my Pusey adventure, I found myself thinking about the possibility of confirmation. I distinctly remember stopping in the middle of a bridge over the Isis on my way home from breakfast and thinking, “If I join the Church, it is going to disappoint me someday. That will have to be okay. I will have to commit to staying anyway.”
And I did. And it did. And I have.
I knew just what I was getting into because none of the leadership at Pusey House approved of women priests (the Church of England would ordain them for the first time the following year). And though I was not a lesbian at the time — at least, I didn’t yet know I was — I was a feminist.
My fellow Puseyites knew I was different from them. Even so, the priest-in-charge agreed to prepare me for confirmation, invited a bishop he thought was most in line with my own beliefs (a low-church radical!) and asked only that I please stop taking Communion in the meantime, as this was strictly reserved for not just the baptized, but the confirmed, in Dr. Pusey’s view (God rest his soul).
Ironically perhaps, Pusey House’s conservatism has remained a symbol to me of one of the things I love most about Anglicanism, and that is the way that it embraces such incredible diversity within its arms. If the president of Pusey House and I could sit over our toast morning after morning, genuinely liking and respecting each other across our miles of differences, anyone can surely sit with anyone in this Church.
Because the heart of this Church is community, not dogma.
I am sorry that the Church of England Newspaper decided to publish a critical article about our practice of open Communion here at SPR, but I also know that what we do is, in some way, the very heart of Anglican tradition. At least one way to understand Anglicanism is as a tradition that says, “let’s all practice these things together and see where it leads our hearts.”
The fact is that there is room. There is room for everyone in the Church. SPR is proof of that. Because even as they frown on us, we are still here, proudly and Episcopally welcoming the neighbors — of all races, economic statuses, genders, sexualities, ages, levels of education, walks in life — into the great dining hall of our nave. And they are coming.
I’m proud that SPR doesn’t just welcome me as a lesbian, but celebrates me as such. But I am prouder that in order to do this, it need not bill itself as a “Gay Church.” We are simply members of a worldwide communion that has room for everybody.
As far as I’m concerned, that’s what the Church ought to be. It’s why I decided to take a leap of faith and join an organization I was sure would disappoint me in the future. When it does, I hold on to the vision I will always cherish, not so much of taking Communion, but of sitting around the breakfast table with eight or nine others, sharing our lives and our opinions over toast and tea, then washing up together afterwards.
That’s probably more or less the way Jesus did it anyway.