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AUSTIN, TX: Orange is not a liturgical color

AUSTIN, TX: Orange is not a liturgical color
... neither is rainbow

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
July 9, 2018

Orange is the New Black on Netflix, but the mixture of red and yellow to create orange, is not a liturgical color for the church unless you are an Episcopal bishop making a political statement, not a religious one.

Sunday was a very busy day for Episcopal bishops participating in the Episcopal General Convention in Austin, Texas.

First on the agenda was a midmorning public witness event, a gathering of the Bishops United Against Gun Violence at Brush Square Park in Austin. The park, considered a shady downtown oasis, is across the street from the Austin Convention Center, which overlooks the Colorado River as it snakes through Austin.

Ironically, Brush Square Park, where the bishops were holding their rally, was just two short miles from the University of Texas-Austin, where in 1966, a shooter holed up on the observation deck of the school tower and then proceeded to kill 17 people -- including an unborn baby -- and injured 31.

The bishops were wearing their familiar white rochet and red chimere which was topped with a bright florescent orange gun violence awareness stole. Orange was the color of the day and it clashed with the vivid chimere scarlet. The bishops were there to bring focus to the "unholy trinity of racism, poverty and gun violence."

Bishops United Against Gun Violence, which now numbers more than 70 Episcopal bishops, was started in 2013 by bishops Ian Douglas (XV Connecticut); Mark Beckwith (X Newark); and Eugene Sutton (XIV Maryland) to bring attention to growing American gun violence which resulted in an increased number of mass shootings -- including school shootings -- particularly the Sandy Hook shooting, in Newtown, Connecticut. The school shooting in late 2012 claimed 27 lives.

The brightly vested bishops first took to the streets at the 2015 General Convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, with newly-elected Presiding Bishop Michael Curry joining the procession. This year the bishops held their Sunday rally at Brush Square Park in Austin. Tne bishops are also active during the entire length of General Convention, where the Bishops United Against Gun Violence join with Episcopalians United Against Gun Violence to offer a brief daily prayer focusing on some aspect of gun violence before the start of the day's first legislative session. Each day, too, the group is handling out 96 small white crosses to represent the 96 deaths which occur daily across the United States from gun play.

Since the 2013 formation of Bishops United Against Gun Violence, 11 significant public, not including domestic, gun violence, mass shooting incidents have taken place, including three in Texas and two involving churches.

In 2013, there was a mass shooting at the Washington, DC, Navy Yard which left a dozen dead.

In 2015, nine were killed at the Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. Another 14 died during the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California. Nine more died at the Waco, Texas, Twin Peaks sports bar when rival motorcycle gangs had a wild west shootout. Then, a pastor and eight of his church members were also killed by a white supremist following a Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC.

In June 2016, the Pulse Night Club shooting in Orlando, Florida, left 49 dead; then, a month later, five Dallas, Texas police officers were ambushed and shot to death and nine wounded in a Black Lives Matter rampage.

In 2017, gun violence increased significantly. The Las Vegas Strip shooting in Paradise, Nevada, left 58 dead and 851 injured, making it the deadliest mass shooting in 70 years. On a peaceful Sunday morning in November, the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, was turned into a shooting gallery leaving 26 dead, making it the deadliest American church shooting in modern history.

This year (2018), two high schools were shot up, one in Florida and the other in Texas. On Ash Wednesday, 17 lost their lives at the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, including Carmen Schentrup. Her parents, Philip and April Schentrup, were a part of Sunday's Bishops United Against Gun Violence park rally.

Young gun control activist Abigail Zimmerman, an Austin freshman, was also on hand. Following the Parkland school shooting, she helped lead her fellow classmates in a walkout to protest gun violence. She is a member of St. David's Episcopal Church in Austin.

The most recent mass school shooting happened this spring in Santa Fe (Texas) High School, which is not far from Houston. There, 17 were killed just weeks before the end of school.

Following the bishops' rally, participants were encouraged to march back to the Austin Convention Center and attend Sunday worship.

Noonday Prayer

Following the gun violence rally, the bishops hardly had enough time to shed their choir vestments and join 850 other Episcopalians on a trek to the T. Don Hutto Detention Center in Taylor, Texas, 35 miles away.

The noonday Prayer of Vision, Witness and Justice was held outside the chain link fence of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) center, which houses only female immigrants who have illegally crossed over into the United States from Mexico. They are marking time while awaiting the status of their asylum petitions.

The outdoor Episcopal prayer service was planned by two New York women priests, Winnie Varghere from Trinity Church-Wall Street and Meghan Castella from St. John's in Ithaca. The prayerful event was organized in partnership with Austin's Grassroots Leadership, an organization which lobbies for a more just society by challenging the for-profit prison setup, mass incarceration and deportation, and criminalization of illegal immigrants.

Event organizers were surprised at the number of people who turned out. They expected about 200, tops. However, the reported size of the gathering was fluid, depending who was counting noses. Crowd estimates went from a low 850 to a high of 1,200 souls.

With the Episcopal flag flapping in the light breeze beneath a partly overcast sky, Bishop Curry preached about love, his favorite topic. The clouds helped to keep the midsummer Texas heat from climbing too high.

"We come in love. We come in love because we follow Jesus," he started. "Jesus taught us love. Love your neighbor. The teachings of Jesus to love God and love our neighbor is at the core and the heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ."

Bishop Curry's list of neighbors includes: the liberals, the conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, the neighbor you like and the neighbor you do not like, fellow Christians, Muslim, Jews, the Palestinians, the Israelis, the refugee, the immigrant and prison guards.

The black presiding bishop could not dodge the moniker "the royal wedding preacher." The local secular media used it referring to his May appearance at Prince Harry's wedding.

In addition to Presiding Bishop's preaching, the assembly engaged in bilingual -- Spanish and English -- prayer and song for the 500 women who were behind the spreading detention center walls.

Participants were urged not to bring posters because the event was a prayer service and not a political demonstration. But not everyone adhered to the directive. There were several posters which cropped up.

"The Episcopal Church is here!"... "Build a longer table not a taller fence" ... "In the name of these refugees -- the Holy Family -- and all refugees" ... The Episcopal Church cares about this" ... "No matter where you are from, we're glad you're our neighbor" (written in English, Spanish and Arabic) ... "White immigrants are never treated this brutally" ...

Both the HOB and the HOD started their Sunday afternoon legislative sessions about an hour late to accommodate the extra time needed to return to the convention center from Taylor.

Sunday afternoon, the lower house continued to debate Resolution B012 on same-sex equality, but time ran out, so the House of Deputies will extend the discussion on Monday (July 9). Meanwhile, the HOB voted to adopt a covenant committing them to seek changes in their dioceses to combat abuse, harassment and exploitation. This action came out of the #MeToo movement that has also hit The Episcopal Church. The idea for covenant grew out of the stores which were heard about sexual abuse and harassment earlier in the week during the Liturgy of Listening event.

The Episcopal Rainbow

Sunday evening, Integrity-USA held its annual Service of Holy Communion. Newark's new Bishop-elect, Carlyle Hughes, was the preacher. She wore a rainbow stole. The celebrant was Integrity's new president, Gwen Fry, the transgendered "woman" priest from Arkansas.

Both Presiding Bishop Curry and House of Deputies President Gay Clark Jennings shared the Louie Crew Award for "ongoing dedication to insuring that LGBTQ persons are fully included in the life and work of The Episcopal Church and in wider society."

"This is a blessing that I won't forget," the Presiding Bishop noted.

Monday (July 9) is Purple Scarf Day at General Convention. Conventioneers are urged to wear a purple scarf to encourage greater support for electing more women to the House of Bishops. Only 27 women have been elected to the Episcopal House of Bishops since Barbara Harris (Massachusetts-suffragan) was elected in 1989, until May of this year when Carlyle Hughes was elected the bishop of Newark. She is to be consecrated in September.

During the same three decades, 275 males joined the House of Bishops.

The Diocese of Newark held its special election convention on May 19, the same day that Bishop Curry was preaching his royal wedding sermon at the nuptials of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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