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Gay clergy disinvited from Advent services at Castro Catholic church

By Cynthia Laird
The Bay Area Reporter
Thursday, December 15, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO — At least three gay and lesbian clergy members were disinvited from participating in Advent services at Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in the Castro, the Bay Area Reporter has learned.

The call for the gay clergy not to attend came from the Archdiocese of San Francisco, sources said.

Rick Gerharter

Rev. Jane Spahr

George Wesolek, spokesman for the archdiocese, confirmed that Archbishop George Niederauer made the decision.

“The basic reason is that Archbishop Niederauer felt the themes for vespers should better reflect the themes of Advent,” Wesolek told theB.A.R.

Wesolek said the decision came shortly before November 27, the first Sunday of Advent.

The Reverends Jane Spahr and Roland Stringfellow were among those asked not to participate, as was retired Episcopal Bishop Otis Charles. All three were scheduled to take part in Most Holy Redeemer’s Advent vesper services.

Spahr, a retired Presbyterian minister, is well-known for her advocacy of marriage equality. She has repeatedly been brought up on church charges related to her marrying same-sex couples. A church court in August 2010 found her guilty of officiating the weddings of 16 same-sex couples. But at the same time the tribunal praised Spahr’s ministry over the years and her compassion. She founded a church group in the 1990s for gay Presbyterians.

In an email, Spahr confirmed she was disinvited from Most Holy Redeemer’s services. She was to speak Wednesday, December 14. Spahr said that the people at Most Holy Redeemer “felt so badly” about the decision.

“It saddens me that Otis, Roland, and I will not have the opportunity to come and be with you,” Spahr wrote in an email to Most Holy Redeemer, which she shared with the B.A.R. “There is so much prejudice, misinformation, and mystery still about who we are either as LGBT people or advocates and allies.”

Spahr added that the Most Holy Redeemer parish has “been in the forefront of loving people through HIV and giving us the opportunity to thrive in expressing the fullness of who we are as we integrate our sexuality and spirituality.”

“Your ministry there in the Castro has helped save so many lives,” she wrote. “How sad for the archbishop that he is missing the depth and breadth of your ministry and how he still sees you as ‘one issue’ rather than the fullness of who you are. The heart of your ministry embraces true hospitality and welcome, the kind of ministry Jesus lived.”

She said that congregants at Most Holy Redeemer “do not have to apologize” for the archbishop’s decision.

“We will pray that his heart will open as he experiences your love and grace,” she added.

A woman who answered the phone at Most Holy Redeemer Tuesday said that Father Steve Meriwether, the senior pastor, was not in the office this week. A message left for Mike Poma at the Castro church was not immediately returned.

Stringfellow is the welcoming congregations coordinator at the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at the Pacific School of Religion. He was a community grand marshal in this year’s San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade.

He told the B.A.R. that he was neither shocked nor surprised at being disinvited.

“I was disappointed,” he said.

Stringfellow, who was to appear December 21, said he was able to help congregants with a conversation around being welcoming when the church hierarchy isn’t. He hopes to meet with a small group of people in February to explore that issue.

Charles was the Episcopal bishop of Utah and was married to a woman for many years. After his retirement in 1993, he came out as a gay man, divorced his wife, and moved to San Francisco. In October 2008 he married Felipe Sanchez-Paris, Ph.D. in a civil ceremony in San Francisco. The couple had a church wedding in 2004 that was covered in the San Francisco Chronicle.

He told the B.A.R. that he received a call the night before his scheduled appearance “indicating that my participation in a liturgical service was unacceptable to the Chancery (in all likelihood, the archbishop): presumably, my participation as the first openly out gay bishop, legally married according to the laws of the state of California, might suggest approval of gay marriage.”

Charles, too, indicated he was not that surprised by the archbishop’s decision.

“Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for the Roman Catholic hierarchy to denigrate, subtly and not so subtly, LGBT people and those who stand with them. The sad fact of this disrespect for the dignity of every human being is the apparent message it sends: silence, invisibility, and even duplicity are valued as life choices,” he added.

“To be open, honest, and authentic will be costly,” Charles said.

Interestingly, Most Holy Redeemer was honored by the archdiocese in October when the church received the McGucken Award for its worship space. The church was selected by the Archdiocese Worship Commission and the Environment, Art, and Architecture Committee as “an excellent example of environment where the setting further lends to the highest level and accessibility of liturgy for all worshippers, and is recognized as a model in our archdiocese.”

Cynthia Laird is News Editor at The Bay Area Reporter.

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27 more reader comments:

  1. isnt the castro district a large gay community? if they are uninvited, why hold it there?

    Posted on Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 7:25pm
  2. The Vatican Queens are the meanest queens around!

    Posted on Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 7:25pm
  3. dislike…

    Posted on Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 7:26pm
  4. That’s terrible… :-(

    Posted on Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 7:26pm
  5. Because thats what Jesus would do…argh!

    Posted on Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 7:26pm
  6. How can you even live in Castro and have a problem with queer people?

    Posted on Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 7:27pm
  7. Aww why Why?

    Posted on Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 7:28pm
  8. Show me again what it means to be Christian

    Posted on Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 7:44pm
  9. People will Not be Judged on who they Love.
    But on who the Hate!

    Posted on Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 7:47pm
  10. No, it’s not what Jesus would do and while true followers of Jesus consider acting on one’s desire to be wrong according to the Bible, hating and harrassing gay people is neither biblical nor what Jesus would do.

    I totally don’t get the uninviting…

    Posted on Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 7:49pm
  11. I’m still wondering about the 12 apostles always following jesus around 24/7 wth is that all about lol

    Posted on Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 7:54pm
  12. how very Christian

    Posted on Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 7:57pm
  13. On behalf of my Catholic community, I am ashamed. Not all Catholics agree with this.

    Posted on Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 7:57pm
  14. people are cruel

    Posted on Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 8:22pm
  15. My stepfather used to do maintenance work at that church over a decade ago…and it was completely open-minded and accepting then. Sad how things can change over time… :(

    Posted on Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 8:22pm
  16. Boo hiss

    Posted on Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 8:27pm
  17. I dont understand why one would choose to be catholic if they are gay..

    Posted on Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 8:28pm
  18. Being a follower of Jesus and gay don’t necessarily exclude each other. :-) (The word “Christian” had so many meanings to so many people that I avoid it.)

    Posted on Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 8:46pm
  19. I look at it this way~~I was raised Catholic (as sorry as that is). I am straight. However, I’d rather be Gay than be Catholic these days. They have a real problem with confusing Gays & pedophiles. Gays are Gays. And~pedophiles are priests. Just my opinion~~I don’t expect your agreement.

    Posted on Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 9:19pm
  20. Oh~~and The Castro? Of all places! Who the hell do they think they are? The Vatican?(BTW the richest little spot on earth.)

    Posted on Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 9:20pm
  21. That’s just awful. The less hypocritical move on the part of Most Rev. Niederauer would have been to close this pseudo-catholic parish and allow the “pastor” to continue a local gay club as he practically had done all that time anyway. Thus, any invited gay “bishop” or “priest” could simply attend any scheduled event, without undue interference from the Archbishop.
    McGucken Award for its worship space? Really? The Archdiocese “Worship” Commission and the Environment, “Art”, and “Architecture” Committee should really be ashamed of approving the bland renovated amphitheater space for a Novus Ordo farce.
    As Sabakevich from Gogol’s Dead Souls would have said: one hypocrite riding another, with the third hypocrite leading them all.

    Posted on Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 9:30pm
  22. If they knew anything, they’d know that Jesus doesn’t say anything about homosexuality in the Bible, not one thing. And just like people don’t choose to be gay, some (most) don’t choose to be Catholic either. I was baptized Catholic because my mother was Catholic (my father was a Jehovah’s witness until she asked him to be convert, which he did) so really, I had no choice in the matter.

    Posted on Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 11:35pm
  23. Why would a gay person want to be Catholic anyway? For that matter, why would anyone want to be Catholic?

    Posted on Friday, December 16, 2011 at 7:01am
  24. What would Jesus do? He’d welcome them with open arms! What would faux Christians do? Turn them away at the door . . . which they did. Merry Christmas! Geesh!

    Posted on Friday, December 16, 2011 at 7:16am
  25. intolerance

    Posted on Friday, December 16, 2011 at 8:26am
  26. Hello people. The Catholic Church has opening criticized us, berated us and is the first to testify against granting rights to us and you expected them to welcome gay people? How about turning on the lights and going where you are welcome?

    Yes, you might able change the Catholic Church, but you’d sooner tear down Half Dome with an ice pick.

    Posted on Friday, December 16, 2011 at 4:15pm
  27. It’s not the very welcoming Most Holy Redeemer Church that is doing the disinviting. It is the Archbishop of San Francisco George Niederauer pulling rank and going over the church’s head and that is so very upsetting.

    Posted on Sunday, December 18, 2011 at 11:37pm