A living history of ministry for the LGBTQ+ community — Part 15: Y2K and two new letters

Posted on May 24, 2017

As with many training programs, the Oasis Congregations Program was continuously being renewed and revised to better meet the needs of those it served. As the program grew, the written records began to explicitly use the term “Oasis Covenant Congregations” to refer to congregations that had gone through a process, signed a covenant, and affirmed that they were a welcoming group for all people. The word “covenant” had been used since the inception of the program, but files dated prior to the spring of 1999 didn’t show that. This was because while the program was still very young, all of the congregations working with Oasis/CA could be classified as one group. As more and more congregations were beginning to work with Oasis/CA, multiple categories were needed to best describe the varying stages congregations were in. Other than Covenant Congregations, some were said to be “in conversation” with Oasis/CA, and others that had historically been welcoming places for gay and lesbian people were generally referred to as “friendly,” but had undertaken no process with Oasis/CA.

From an outsider’s perspective and with the gift of hindsight, the term “covenant” could also make clear that, while congregations had signed a covenant affirming their desire to welcome a specific group of people, they were not just a church for gay and lesbian people (which was a named concern of at least one congregation that was in conversation and discerning with Oasis/CA about becoming a Covenant Congregation). For any type of organization — be it a church, club, sports team, etc. — being viewed as the “gay” one, per se, had and still does carry a stigma in many places.

In the summer of 1999, Oasis/CA inaugurated the sixth Oasis Covenant Congregation — Church of the Incarnation, San Francisco. It was reported to the Oasis/CA board that the process of discerning to become an Oasis Covenant Congregation was a positive one that “made it possible for [them] to talk about other difficult issues,” in addition to becoming more welcoming to the gay and lesbian community. In the same month, Oasis/CA again recruited people to lead the Episcopal contingent of San Francisco’s Pride parade and began organizing people to oppose the Knight Initiative. Officially known as Proposition 22 on California’s 2000 ballot, this initiative penned by state Senator William Knight limited marriage recognition in the state of California to that between a man and a woman. Oasis/CA worked to get Bishop Swing on record denouncing the Knight Initiative to offer a faithful voice in opposition to the Roman Catholic and Mormon voices in the area supporting the measure. Oasis/CA also endorsed the “Californians for Sam-Sex Marriage” campaign. Unfortunately, these efforts proved futile in the voting booth — when the initiative passed in March 2000, it began the long back and forth legal struggle for marriage equality in California.

As Oasis/CA worked to oppose the Knight Initiative between the fall of 1999 and March of 2000, they achieved many accomplishments. In November, Vice President of Oasis/CA Bruce Harris and board member Rev. Amy Lawrence traveled to Missouri to meet and network with Oasis/Missouri, and while there attended the Diocese of Missouri’s convention. To welcome the new millennium, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors declared January 29, 2000 “Oasis/California Day”. That afternoon, Oasis/CA celebrated four years of ministry at Grace Cathedral, San Francisco.

Oasis/CA had partnered with Integrity to share a booth at General Convention in the summer of 2000. Oasis/CA also began to engage in particular conversation with congregations in the Diocese of California outside of the city of San Francisco by conducting, creating, and working with what was called the Suburban Caucus. However, by mid-2000, it appears that burnout on the board of Oasis/CA was beginning. There wasn’t enough energy to get a contingent together for the Pride parade, and the make-up of the board was changing. There were discussions about editing the mission of Oasis/CA to be just for gay and lesbian people by cutting out “bisexual and transgender” from the mission statement, and the theme of the feedback from retiring board members was that the organization needed to have a clearer, more narrow purpose.

Ultimately, after some back and forth discussions about the inclusion of “bisexual and transgender,” it was discerned that, for an organization whose goal is to promote the welcoming of the other, its own members needed to become more inclusive and responsive to the needs of bisexual and transgender people. So, by April 6, 2001, the official Bishop’s Charter had been signed by the president of Oasis/CA, the Rev. Joseph Lane, the secretary of Oasis/CA, Mr. Fred Cone, and Bishop Swing himself. The charter declared Oasis/CA to be the official “gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered” ministry of the Diocese of California. Unfortunately, as was and still is not uncommon in the LGBTQ+ community, the immediate focus going forward was still gay and lesbian people. However, one notable improvement was that, more and more, the word “trangendered” was replaced by “transgender” in printed materials and notes.

For more of the living history of ministry for the LGBTQ+ community series, click here.