Gay clergy disinvited from Castro Catholic church
by Cynthia Laird
At least three gay and lesbian clergy members were disinvited from participating in Advent services at Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in the Castro, the Bay Area Reporter has learned.
The call for the gay clergy not to attend came from the Archdiocese of San Francisco, sources said.
George Wesolek, spokesman for the archdiocese, confirmed that Archbishop George Niederauer made the decision.
"The basic reason is that Archbishop Niederauer felt the themes for vespers should better reflect the themes of Advent," Wesolek told the B.A.R.
Wesolek said the decision came shortly before November 27, the first Sunday of Advent.
The Reverends Jane Spahr and Roland Stringfellow were among those asked not to participate, as was retired Episcopal Bishop Otis Charles. All three were scheduled to take part in Most Holy Redeemer's Advent vesper services.
Spahr, a retired Presbyterian minister, is well-known for her advocacy of marriage equality. She has repeatedly been brought up on church charges related to her marrying same-sex couples. A church court in August 2010 found her guilty of officiating the weddings of 16 same-sex couples. But at the same time the tribunal praised Spahr's ministry over the years and her compassion. She founded a church group in the 1990s for gay Presbyterians.
In an email, Spahr confirmed she was disinvited from Most Holy Redeemer's services. She was to speak Wednesday, December 14. Spahr said that the people at Most Holy Redeemer "felt so badly" about the decision.
"It saddens me that Otis, Roland, and I will not have the opportunity to come and be with you," Spahr wrote in an email to Most Holy Redeemer, which she shared with the B.A.R. "There is so much prejudice, misinformation, and mystery still about who we are either as LGBT people or advocates and allies."
Spahr added that the Most Holy Redeemer parish has "been in the forefront of loving people through HIV and giving us the opportunity to thrive in expressing the fullness of who we are as we integrate our sexuality and spirituality."
"Your ministry there in the Castro has helped save so many lives," she wrote. "How sad for the archbishop that he is missing the depth and breadth of your ministry and how he still sees you as 'one issue' rather than the fullness of who you are. The heart of your ministry embraces true hospitality and welcome, the kind of ministry Jesus lived."
She said that congregants at Most Holy Redeemer "do not have to apologize" for the archbishop's decision.
"We will pray that his heart will open as he experiences your love and grace," she added.
A woman who answered the phone at Most Holy Redeemer Tuesday said that Father Steve Meriwether, the senior pastor, was not in the office this week. A message left for Mike Poma at the Castro church was not immediately returned.
Stringfellow is the welcoming congregations coordinator at the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at the Pacific School of Religion. He was a community grand marshal in this year's San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade.
He told the B.A.R. that he was neither shocked nor surprised at being disinvited.
"I was disappointed," he said.
Stringfellow, who was to appear December 21, said he was able to help congregants with a conversation around being welcoming when the church hierarchy isn't. He hopes to meet with a small group of people in February to explore that issue.
Charles was the Episcopal bishop of Utah and was married to a woman for many years. After his retirement in 1993, he came out as a gay man, divorced his wife, and moved to San Francisco. In October 2008 he married Felipe Sanchez-Paris, Ph.D. in a civil ceremony in San Francisco. The couple had a church wedding in 2004 that was covered in the San Francisco Chronicle .
He told the B.A.R. that he received a call the night before his scheduled appearance "indicating that my participation in a liturgical service was unacceptable to the Chancery (in all likelihood, the archbishop): presumably, my participation as the first openly out gay bishop, legally married according to the laws of the state of California, might suggest approval of gay marriage."
Charles, too, indicated he was not that surprised by the archbishop's decision.
"Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for the Roman Catholic hierarchy to denigrate, subtly and not so subtly, LGBT people and those who stand with them. The sad fact of this disrespect for the dignity of every human being is the apparent message it sends: silence, invisibility, and even duplicity are valued as life choices," he added.
"To be open, honest, and authentic will be costly," Charles said.
Interestingly, Most Holy Redeemer was honored by the archdiocese in October when the church received the McGucken Award for its worship space. The church was selected by the Archdiocese Worship Commission and the Environment, Art, and Architecture Committee as "an excellent example of environment where the setting further lends to the highest level and accessibility of liturgy for all worshippers, and is recognized as a model in our archdiocese."