By the REV. CANON ALBERT OGLE
I have found enormous wisdom in the ancient idea that are lives are not linear, that time makes more sense when we see our lives as spirals. At 63, I am once again connecting with my past and my present as I find myself completing the ninth cycle of my own life. It is remarkable how this spiritual compass has helped me understand when life cranks up and cranks down so as to reflect on when it is time to let go and begin a new cycle. This is true of organizations and St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation celebrated the completion of its first seven-year cycle last October.
Challenging as it was to be among one of the first cohorts of openly gay clergy in the Anglican Communion, our activism and transparency has allowed many more people to be out, as clergy and laity. After losing three jobs in the church for simply being gay, I know some of the pain and the joy of this struggle for liberation and equality. This is why the Foundation’s work was so important to me. We somehow moved the needle forward a little and opened up space for others to live more authentically.
So I have been blessed and find myself today serving in a great parish St. Peter’s, Lithgow, in New York State, where the congregation called me with my husband, Mile, over three years ago. They would like me to spend more time beyond the half-time contract that we originally envisioned. As I near retirement, it is clear the foundation needs a new cohort of leaders to take it into its next cycle and so the board members have been discerning what the next cycle in our mission might look like. Many doors that we had hoped might lead to a new venture or purpose, simply never opened.
We asked ourselves: “What relationships and programs seem to have endured the rough and tumble of life and seem to sustain in a way others had not?”. Would it be in the seeds sewn in the World Bank as the first organization to manifest 26 activists from countries supported by the bank while oblivious to the systemic poverty created by homophobia? Was it in Uganda where our seminal work in HIV prevention among gay men sowed a different consciousness and exposed the darkness of U.S. AID funding to support the “Kill the Gays” Bill? Would it be in Cameroon where leaders have been historically imprisoned or exiled? Would it be in the Caribbean where the violence of places like Jamaica contrasts with the extraordinary inclusion of LGBT people and women in Cuban society?
We have been so enriched and blessed by all these deep conversations and inspired by the individuals and organizations emerging to speak for the voiceless…but the board came to a decision to focus on the amazing work of the Erasing 76 Crimes blog. Colin Stewart — a retired (white/straight) journalist — appalled at what was happening in 76 countries where it was illegal to be gay, set off on his own surprising vocational spiral seven years ago and created one of the most reliable LGBTI self-reporting platforms in the world. Colin is deeply collaborative and helped to listen to and raise up LGBTI and straight ally voices within these countries. Through his efforts, people could speak for themselves and have a larger global audience than they ever could imagine. I am delighted that after this year-old struggle and discernment, our board elected Colin Stewart to be our new president and to set the course for the next cycle in our mission and work to transform these places of extreme inhospitality and violence towards our fellow human beings. Colin Stewart has been in my life since 1997 and we share the same values and vision for our world. He took some time to reflect on the charge to which we were calling him and, thank God, he said yes.
As Colin and I both begin new spirals in our lives, please congratulate and support him. He intends to expand the board to represent some of the global diversity needed for this new stage in our mission and I encourage you to support him and the blog to move into our new spiral through challenging international times right now.
As this next cycle begins, I am thankful for many who have helped with the foundation’s work:
- Mile and I are deeply grateful to Susan Guinn, our retiring president, for her seven years of service and tireless local efforts in California for LGBTI rights. Susan joined us when she was fighting for marriage equality in California and ran for public office to replace a government official who would not sign our marriage certificates in San Diego. Susan reminds me that for every one of us who served the international community’s needs, there was a huge domestic agenda to also transform.
- Lindy and Rick Miles continue to take in refugees and the needy. Without them it is also hard to imagine how organizations like Qualcomm might have become so LGBTI inclusive.
- Eileen Blumenthal is a life-long international activist. Her award from Lillian Carter for her work in Nepal was simply a marker on nine decades of public service around the world. Without her, we would not have been able to do most of this work.
- Christian Darby and David Reicks brought their business and financial skills to the cause and helped to connect us in networks and through the internet.
- Dick Parkins, like Eileen, has been a life-long public servant and we were so happy to bless his seemingly impossible reconciliation work in Southern Sudan last year. He is loved and trusted in the Episcopal Church and helped to prepare the way for so many important opportunities to help the refugee community and, in particular, the work of my good friend Eric Scharf and Center Global, helping scores of LGBTI refugees in Washington DC.
- Finally, it was a joy for us to send Dr. Sybille Nyeck off to seminary last year. She remains one of the most experienced LGBTI African leaders in the world. I am happy to see her ministry unfold. She represents so much hope to a continent that has used the Christian faith as a weapon against so many good people.
I am confident that under Colin’s experienced leadership and in communion with all the saints — the ones who have courageously gone before us and some of the ones I mentioned above — that light, equality and the value of what we all bring to the table will be seen and valued. I have seen it in my own challenging journey over the past 63 years. God remains faithful to those who step forth in love and courage and see themselves as the new community of love incarnate, transcending all labels and human limitations.
The Rev. Canon Albert Ogle is the founder and former president of St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which since 2010 has focused on human rights, health, education and faith by providing resources for emerging grass roots organizations and leaders in the Global South.