Integrity USA, the unofficial LGBT caucus within the Episcopal Church, has announced a new name and new president for the 43-year-old activist organization.
The Rev. Gwen Fry, who identifies as a transgender woman, will lead the group under a new name, The Episcopal Rainbow, beginning in October 2018. Integrity officials explained that the organization needed to transition to a name which indicated its Episcopal identity. The name change takes effect at the conclusion of the church’s 79th General Convention meeting this week in Austin, Texas.
The announcement was made during the group’s Integrity Eucharist on July 8. The service of Holy Communion is held concurrently with General Convention every three years and attended by several hundred LGBT persons and supporters at the JW Marriott near the Austin Convention Center.
The former Greg Fry was a priest in Arkansas when in 2014 he shocked his Pine Bluff parish by identifying as a transgender person and was removed from his position by Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas Bishop Larry Benfield. Fry previously served as Diocesan Coordinator for Integrity USA and is a member of TransEpiscopal, representing the group at the 2015 Episcopal General Convention in Salt Lake City. Fry also has connections with the broader Religious Left, serving as a panelist at a Wild Goose Festival 2015 session entitled “LGBTQ Lives: Hurt & Healing.” IRD’s Matthew Maule profiled Fry as one of several prominent transgender clergy, a report that you can read by clicking here.
Integrity transitioned in the past year to operate as an all-volunteer organization, saying goodbye to paid staff after the organization secured its place following the election of an openly gay bishop in 2003 and the enactment of trial rites for same-sex marriage in 2015. The move was also prompted by a decline in operating funds.
“Work remains when people in eight dioceses of the church cannot marry those they love,” insisted outgoing Integrity President Bruce Garner. The Integrity Eucharist took place the same night that the church’s House of Deputies, composed of clergy and lay members, began debate around resolution B012, “Marriage Rites for the Whole Church”. As amended by committee, the resolution would effectively remove bishops’ authority to proscribe use of the trial rite and mandate its use across all domestic Episcopal Church dioceses. Debate is scheduled to continue on Monday. If adopted by the House of Deputies, the church’s House of Bishops would need to concur in order for the resolution to be finalized.
At the service, Garner presented House of Deputies President Gay Clark Jennings and Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry with the Louie Crew Award, named for a long-serving Convention deputy and gay activist from the Episcopal Diocese of Newark who led the organization for many years.
“There are times when I’ve wept at what has happened to some of you, and yet you’re here,” Jennings shared appreciatively to the gathered LGBT activists.
“When the power of love overcomes the love of power, then we will all know peace,” declared Curry, quoting musician Jimmy Hendrix.
The evening’s sermon was delivered by The Rev. Carlye J. Hughes, Bishop-Elect of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark and current rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Fort Worth, Texas.
Preaching from Ruth Chapter 1 verses 15-18, Hughes extolled Ruth’s commitment to Naomi: “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”
“Do you know in your gut that we are loved?” Hughes asked, describing the gut as “that place that needs tending — the deep well of love that is Jesus Christ.”
Hughes asserted to the gathered activists that “we have this way of understanding the breadth and wideness of the love of God [for all LGBT persons], but missing that with ourselves.”
The Integrity Eucharist has previously showcased liturgical innovations, and the 2018 service was no exception. The celebration opened by substituting “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” for a modalist interpretation of the Trinity: “Creator, Redeemer, and Giver of life”. An “affirmation of faith” replaced the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds during the service liturgy.
Singing “Christ has Broken Down the Wall” by hymn writer Mark A. Miller, an Assistant Professor of Church Music at United Methodist Drew Theological School, the gathered congregation sang “Peace and love, freely offered here; cast aside your doubts and fears.” The phrase “We’re accepted as we are” was repeated several times in the song.
The group read a collect, praying: “Almighty God, you endowed the abbot Aelred with the gift of Christian friendship to lead others in the way of holiness: Grant to your people the same spirit of mutual affection…”
English writer St. Aelred of Rievaulx authored the treatise “On Spiritual Friendship” and is claimed by some in the gay community for his own deep friendships with men.