The babble of voices that have been debating sexuality issues was drowned out Wednesday evening by a resounding, unified song.
Integrity, an association of gay and lesbian Episcopalians and their supporters, held a Eucharist that drew more than 1,000 convention-goers and local residents.
“I found it so moving and authentic and sincere,” said 22-year-old Ryan Kuratko, who will begin studies at Virginia Theological Seminary next year. “[Integrity] is a really great group because it practices its own theology in a really participatory and inclusive way.”
The service was more than two hours long and began with a flourish – children led the procession, swirling banners with bright birds overhead. Music featured strongly in the service; many songs focused on acceptance and unconditional love.
The Rt. Rev. Gayle Harris, bishop suffragan of Massachusetts, preached the sermon – throughout which the packed congregation murmured enthusiastic “amens.”
But the pomp and circumstance is far from extraordinary, said Louie Crew, a deputy from Newark and the founder of Integrity. “It’s just another typical service in the gay Episcopal Church,” Crew said. “Each [service] gets grander than the last.”
Crew said the service was intended to reach beyond the gay and lesbian contingent of the church. “This is really more about blessing the entire church than about gays and lesbians,” he said. “There’s nothing worse than not being able to bless.”
The Rev. Gene Robinson, New Hampshire bishop-elect, sat with other gay and lesbian Episcopalians at the altar during the service. His diocesan representatives sat together in the pews, all wearing “Ask me about Gene” buttons.
After the service, many lingered for a reception – a “gala” reception, the service bulletin promised – where the Rev. Malcolm Boyd was given the Louie Crew Award for his work with gays and lesbians in the Episcopal Church.
The presence of NeXt Generation’s gay and lesbian supporters also encouraged the Rev. Michael Hopkins, the president of Integrity. “The spirit of the future of the church is in this building,” Hopkins said.