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PASADENA: All Saint's Russell to speak for gays in church discussion

PASADENA: All Saint's Russell to speak for gays in church discussion

By Marshall Allen,
Staff Writer
San Gabriel Valley Tribune

PASADENA (6/18/2005) -- The Rev. Susan Russell, a priest at All Saints Church in Pasadena, will be the only gay participant in what observers call a historic discussion of homosexuality in the Anglican church.

Russell, 50, is part of a six-person delegation from the Episcopal Church USA that will address a consulting body of the worldwide Anglican Church Tuesday in Nottingham, England. The Episcopalians have been asked to demonstrate how their endorsement of gays and lesbians at the highest levels of the church is consistent with scripture, church tradition and reason.

Russell rejoiced at the 2003 General Convention, when the delegates endorsed the Rev. Canon Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the openly gay bishop, and liturgies blessing same- sex unions. She had spent years advocating for gays and lesbians in the Episcopal Church. Russell leads several gay and lesbian advocacy groups, including the national organization Integrity USA, which has about 2,500 members.

But the actions were decried throughout the worldwide Anglican Communion, to which the Episcopal Church belongs.

The controversy that now threatens to rend the church is described by Russell as "the cost of discipleship.' Russell is not apologetic. The moves toward the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church are a huge step forward, she said.

"If I have to choose between unity and justice, I'm going to choose justice,' Russell said.

The American delegation will address the Anglican Consultative Council, which helps develop common policies for the 38 provincial churches in the global Anglican Communion. The provincial churches are autonomous but bound together by common beliefs and tradition.

Cynthia Brust, director of communications for the American Anglican Council, a conservative Episcopal advocacy group, said the American delegation speaking in Nottingham has been handpicked by liberals. It represents a "narrow voice' in the church, she said.

"Susan Russell certainly represents the voice of gays and lesbians in the United States,' Brust said. "That's a very small minority.'

The actions of the Episcopal Church USA in 2003 sent shock waves through the Anglican Communion. International church leaders said the North American denominations undermined church teachings.

In the United States, conservative Episcopalians have rallied against the decisions at the 2003 convention. Some say the Episcopal church should be disciplined for its actions. Churches have left the 2.3 million member denomination and the denomination could split over the issue.

Both sides agree that Tuesday's presentation at Nottingham is a pivotal moment in the history of the church.

The Rev. Ed Bacon, rector of All Saints Church, said the meeting has profound importance for the global Anglican community and the national Episcopal Church.

Russell embodies all the issues at stake, Bacon said. Thinking theologically, Bacon said that just as Jesus came into the world as God in the flesh, "so here Susan represents the embodiment of justice for gay and lesbian people in the church.'

Bacon ticked off the attributes that make Russell the ideal representative: she is an ordained priest in good standing, working in a parish, and she's openly gay and in a relationship with another woman.

Now she will share her experience, spirituality and theology with the Anglican Communion, Bacon said.

"We believe she is an exemplary image of the Kingdom of God,' Bacon said.

Raised in the Episcopal Church, Russell came out as a lesbian in 1996, the same year she was ordained. Previously, she had been married and raised two children.

"I'm convinced that without my spiritual journey I would not have come to terms with my sexual orientation,' she said.

Russell said it was essential to include a gay person in the delegation sent to Nottingham. She said there is a lot of pressure if she thinks about the fact that she's speaking on behalf of gays and lesbians around the world. So she will focus on telling her own story.

The actions of the Episcopal Church USA are "not a gay issue, but a Gospel issue.'

Jesus called all people to be in relationship with God and sexual orientation is morally neutral, she said. Including homosexuals in the church is part of the call to evangelism, to reach out to those who may feel God is not for them, she said.

At the 2003 General Convention, the American church came out of the closet after 30 years of talking about sexuality, Russell said. The outcry has parallels to the experience of any gay or lesbian person who has come out to family and friends, she said.

There is regret for the pain caused to those who do not understand, but there is no going back, she said.


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