On the weekend of July 18-20, 2008, I, together with Marianne Duddy-Burke, our Executive Director, and other Dignity members from Arizona, Boston, Buffalo, NY, Columbus, OH, Indianapolis, IN and Philadelphia, PA attended the Inclusive Ministries Conference in Boston. Sponsored by CORPUS (married priests), WOC (Women’s Ordination Conference), Roman Catholic Women Priests, and the Federation of Chris- tian Ministries. The event title: “Inclusive Ministry and Renewal in a Complex Age.”
First of all, I want to share with you how much of a treat it was to be there. It is in gatherings like this — much like the CTA (Call to Action) conferences and our DignityUSA conventions — that I feel the presence of the Spirit and the force of the renewal movement in the Catholic Church. This wave of change is gaining force and there is no turning back. There is nothing that the hierarchy can do about it. This is the living church, setting a table big enough for all to bring their gifts, claiming for justice and embodying the Good News.
The three keynote speakers were Matthew Fox and two Catholic women priests — Jane Via of San Diego, CA and Jean Marchant of Massachusetts. Their life experiences of being prophets of the “new” church remind us that the tradition that we all come from is one of inclusion. As Matthew Fox put it: “The renewal of our church comes out of our moral outrage for the injustices that the hierarchical church perpetuates, even daring to do it in the name of God.” It was hopeful to see a room of almost 300 Cath- olics (even if gray was the predominant hair color) living out the call to ministry, prophecy, and witness — being the true body of Christ.
Facilitated by Marianne Duddy-Burke, DignityUSA presented a workshop called: “All are Welcome, Really?” Three members of the Boston chapter — Jane Powers, Marcia Garber, and Lourdes Rodriguez-Nogues (pinch hitting for Victor Postemski who was ill) — presented their ideas of what an inclusive church really looks like from our perspective. It was a very lively, interactive and thought-provoking workshop. We received very good feedback from the audience. It is amazing to hear other communities around the nation struggling with some of the things that Dignity chapters are already doing well — inclusive language; the leadership of women in liturgy; the role of lay men; the role of the laity in general, and ministries of service, to name a few.
Dignity is already creating change in our small communities. We should be proud of the issues that we have already taken on. There is a silver lining in being already in the margins! At the same time, some of the challenges that we continue to have — such as how to attract more young people and be more inclusive of women and racial minorities — are common struggles for a lot of these small inclusive communities.
There is a lot to learn from the alliances forged among all of us in the progressive Catholic movement. I was very glad with DignityUSA’s active presence and being counted in this movement. Let me tell you, everybody there knew of Dignity and our work, and everyone knows Marianne Duddy-Burke!
The highlight of the weekend for me was attending the ordination of three women priests and one woman deacon which took place Sunday afternoon, July 20, 2008.
It was a very hot day and the Church of the Covenant — which hosts a UCC (United Church of Christ) congregation — is not air-conditioned. However, the space was filled to capacity and buzzing with energy, joy and expectation. The history of the church was being changed in front of our very eyes. I was so fortunate to be a witness to that moment. No, the hierarchical church is not catching up to the concept of wom- en priests; and yes, we have to be careful not to fall into the trap of perpetuating the top down model of clerical power so misused by the official church.
Despite the complexity of the issue, the ordination of women to the Catholic priesthood continues to be for me — and hopefully for the rest of us in Dignity as well — an issue of justice and equality. The kindom of God is not fulfilled until all who are called find their rightful place. This ordination was for me a step closer to the Promised Land.
Throughout all the events of the weekend, I kept thinking of how blessed Dignity has been to be a community in exile. This situation has enabled us to create our own vision of inclusive community — ever growing and changing — and to present our faith-full lives as examples of the struggle to give flesh to the church that Jesus envisioned. “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone!”
Let’s not be complacent. Let us move forward into this complex age with a renewed commitment to our vision and our mission, open to the grace of God, and filled with just and moral outrage to claim our rightful place at the table. Jesus expects it and the church needs it.