Thursday, April 30, 2015

Beginning at the beginning


Marty is still on the street, usually in front of Dunkin’ Donuts, his hand out for tips. He doesn’t say much these days. I was surprised to see Sean over on Broadway in his wheel chair, the acoustic one, as I describe his non-electric one. What’s he doing out here? Ah, Bob, you know the problem I sometimes have, it’s like that all the time there. I can’t stand it.  They promised me they was gonna clean it up, but I don’t know… you still got my electric chair? I got a guy’s gonna come by…But he never does. And Little Chris comes by to talk about issues of harassment at his place.

The volunteer work crew from Sacramento is deep into their work redoing our chapel. It’s time for Bible Study. With the crew in the chapel and the Riverside Orchestra in the sanctuary, we take our study to Mc Alpin Hall. Tonight we begin our journey through the Bible with Wes Howard Brooks’ Come Out My People: God's Call Out of Empire in the Bible and Beyond as our guide. (

We begin by laying our Brooks’ basic premise, that there are two religions  in the Bible. Not Judaism and Christianity, because neither of those two are comprehensive categories. EG, there are secular Jews and Zionists and Hasidim and Pentecostals and liberation theologians and Amish, well, you get the picture. For Brooks, the two religions are the religion of creation on the one hand and the religion of empire on the other. These two are always in tension with one another, throughout both the old and new testaments.

In reading the Bible, one always has to ask of any particular passage, who wrote it, when and why. Context is everything. (Well, not everything, but close.) People are often surprised to realize that Genesis was not the first book of the Bible written. Even when they know it’s not a first hand account. And that Genesis is written aways down the road. From the evidence Brooks provides, we can date Genesis around 500 BCE, in the midst of the Babylonian captivity. In short, it seeks to answer the question How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? (Psalm 137, and yes, the Melodians ).

We’re reminded that it was mainly the intelligentsia and technocrats who had been taken off to Babylon, the workers and peasants left behind. And Babylon with its hanging gardens and ziggurats and wealth was a pretty appealing place to be compared to the more staid Jerusalem. While granting the traditional scholarly view that there are multiple oral traditions underlying the story ( , Brooks argues that authors of Genesis wanted a story to undergird their identity differentiated from the Babylonians. Our friend Russ points out as well that they needed a marketing narrative to persuade the community to return to their homeland. So our Genesis story is a counternarrative to the Babylonian creation story, Enuma Elish.

 The basic story is that Apsu the god of freshwater and Tiamat, the god of salt water come together to create other little gods. Annoyed by their noisy activity, the parents decide to kill the children but Tiamat warns her son Ea who kills Apsu. Tiamat then marries Kingu  and decides to seek revenge. One of the children, Marduk, says he will defeat Tiamat  if they will make him king and give him a castle and a city, an empire. He splits Tiamat, bottom to top (like a clam shell )and out of her pours the earth and skies and all creation. Since the gods don’t want to do the work to run their empire themselves, Marduk kills Kingu and uses his blood to create humankind to do the work of servants. Thus we have a narrative to undergird empire and as theologian Walter Wink described it, an ur text of redemptive violence.

Against this narrative, we have Genesis 1 where one God creates all creation. It’s a creation that exists in harmony and essential unity with all life in symbiotic relationship with each other. It is, as God says, good. Into this creation, God brings humankind, male and female, as stewards of creation, dominion understood in the sense of caretaking and responsibility, not power over or domination. Whereas the power of Marduk is confined within the walls of his empire which must be protected with threatening wilderness, wild beasts and perhaps wilder people outside, in Genesis 1, there are no walls and all creation is good and under God’s authority. So whose God is more powerful? Genesis 1 becomes the supporting narrative for a non-hierarchical interdependent creation. This is where our journey  begins.

To hear an interview of Wes Howard- Brook by Pastor Brashear and Russ Jennings, go to Russ’ podcast Love in a Dangerous Time


Saturday, April 25, 2015

The 3rd Sunday in Easter: Have you anything to eat?


The PDA volunteer work crew from Sacramento Presbytery
Today we have our friends from the Sacramento Presbytery with us. We’ve got 8 volunteers from the Presbyterian Disaster Assistance program to do a week’s worth of reconstruction work with us, under the leadership of my longtime friend Jeanie. (Marsha finds it a fun thought that we qualify as a Presbyterian disaster.) Andre has come to lend his voice and jazz musician Adam Birnbaum is our musician.
Pat and Larry decorated again

As we do throughout Easter, we begin with Alleluias. And the traditional greeting:

One: Christ is risen!
All: Christ is risen indeed!

Our first hymn is  Come Ye Faithful Raise the Strain. And for the first time in a long time, we get one of Andre’s jazz improvs on Psalm 4. Today’s gospel reading is LUKE 24:36B-48
Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence
44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you — that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things.”

I start my reflection with the question:
Have you seen Jesus this week?   Just wondering…was he on one of the posters of the victims of police shootings at the rally last Tuesday at Union Square? With Cornel West and Eve Ensler and Arturo O’Farrill? Did he spend the night in jail? Was he with the one who came in to my office last week, the one who we helped find housing who said you helped me can you help him? Asking me to contact our Reachout friends and write a letter to help get his friend a place to live. Passing it on, you might say. Or was he the one who needed a home? Was he at the PCUSA DC training on Mass Incarceration last Friday? Maybe a cell mate of my friend whose 39 year old son has been in since age 17? Or did he come from Sacramento with a hammer and paintbrush? Have you seen Jesus this week.?

Rising…resurrection living…that’s our topic, that’s our theme…today the question is…do you have anything to eat? We’re looking at what the disciples saw, reported…
Let’s set the context….after Easter morning, in the late afternoon, two unsuspecting characters were walking along the road to Emmaus and were taken by surprise by a stranger. And they walk and talk and ask the stranger to stay for dinner and when he breaks bread, they recognize him…like Mary needed to heart her voice, and Thomas needed to see the wounds, it’s this familiar act, they must have shared with him so many times….those must have been great meals, not the food so much, but the fellowship…during the revolution in Nicaragua, the usual form of address was companero, the one I break bread with …like our word companion…with the Latin word for bread in the middle..Jesus was before all else, their companero, the one they shared bread with…and in that act, they knew him..

So the two guys, already late in the day, walk the seven miles back to Jerusalem…anxious to tell the disciples…and all of a sudden, Jesus is there…don’t ask how he got there…and he says, Shalom….peace…
And how do they respond? 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost.
And how does he respond? As he did to Thomas…
Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 
And although they feel joy, it was too much to believe…so what does Jesus do? He asks for something to eat…(It’s been a pretty long day after all…) And they offer him broiled fish. (Several were after all, fishers…) And he eats….
What is the gospel writer trying to tell us? That this was a flesh and blood rising…even this risen, resurrected one could hunger and need food and nourishment…that just as Christmas was about incarnation, so too is Easter…God made flesh…(John puts this story on a beach…at breakfast…here, we’re still on Easter night..)
And then he connects his story with the Bible story they all know…and before he’s done, tells them to take this story to all nations…as witnesses…that’s what it means to be a disciple…to be  a witness….
So what is this supposed to tell us about our rising? Our resurrection living?
First of all, it’s not about metaphor. We are being challenged with flesh and blood reality. Go wrestle with that. There’s no how here. There may be a why. But at the end, it’s just an IS.
Believe me, I have struggled with that my whole adult life. Je suis Thomas,  le incredule…I survived for years on the power of metaphor…but I feel I’m starting to get it… it has to be flesh and blood….
And we are to be witnesses…what do we witness? How do we witness? It’s got to be flesh and blood real.. He asking for something to eat…

My Easter ended perfectly with the meal we served at the women’s homeless shelter…no fish this time, though Kate can put out  mean salmon…but we did have lamb and ham..he wants  to break bread…he wants to walk the road with us…he wants a place for the night to rest his head…and yes, he wants to breathe…
SO your job for next week? See if you see Jesus…maybe carry a notebook, or just put a memo on your smart phone…
I want to close with a poem by John Updike, not usually one of my favorites, but with this one he took me by surprise…

Seven Stanzas at Easter
Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.
It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.
The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that–pierced–died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.
Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.
The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.
And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.
Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.
John Updike, 1960.

We enter into our prayers by singing
Lead me, guide me along the way
For if you lead me I cannot stray
Lord let me walk each day with thee
Lead me, O Lord, lead me

And then there’s a joyous passing of the peace all around. Andre treats us to a an artful
Fairest Lord Jesus as we pass the plates.
a circle of friendship

And we close the service with Christ is Risen Shout Hosanna to the tune of Beethoven’s Ode to joy. And it feel something like that.

After our post worship conversations, Don from Sacramento, the construction manager of the team, and I will head down to Home Depot in Chelsea to get all the supplies needed for the week’s work.

I get back to the church in time for Noche’s  final flamenco singing class. The song that begins Si alguna vez va a Cadiz a el barrio de Santa Maria, tu veras los gitanitos bailando con alegria is working its way inside of me. We’ve been working on it all week. Since it’s the last class, there are bottles of wine and Spanish sherry and cheese and later chicken. Voices are singing open and full. I learned from el maestro Juan Ogallo that you riff on the open vowels, the a’s and o’s. It’s like una ventana entro la alma…To do it on the i (sung as e in Spanish) sounds like you saw a mouse. So I did learns something. 
Talking with Juan about flamenco singing

Around 7 PM, I’m in the lobby. In the sanctuary, the francophone African fellowship is finishing it’s service with vibrant soul stirring song. Upstairs in McAlpin Hall the Stop Mass Incarceration Network is working diligently and determinedly on their next action.
The Stop Mass Incarceration Network
And in Martin’s studio, the flamenco fiesta continues. I think to myself, this is how it is supposed to be. 

Rock stars and prophets


The following blog entry was written not about West-Park but about the conference at Stony Point bringing together the pioneers of the movement for lgbtq inclusion in the PCUSA. It's special focus is on the role of the Presbyterian Health Education and Welfare Association's role in  that journey. Pastor Brashear was a two term PHEWA President and continues to serve on the board. It's also important to note that the first More Light church was West-Park. Some have called its 1978 Moire Light statement the religious stonewall. It's a legacy to live up to. 

Rock Stars and Prophets

Rock Stars and Prophets: Generations of Justice and Love was the name of the gathering at Stony Point April 8-10. And that’s exactly who showed up. Under the auspices of That All May Freely Serve, it was a homecoming gathering and celebration for around 85 saints who had been involved in the decades long struggle for lgbtq inclusion the PCUSA.  And was also an opportunity to gather those  stories while we still can, to do  documentation and preservation of a history while it is still with us.
Jim and Janie Spahr remember

Looking around the room, I realized how important that was. While there was a contingent of the second and third wave of leadership, most of us were in our 60’s, 70’s, even 80’s.  Our stories need to be recorded now. When the leadership group from the 70’s got up to report, someone noted that there was only one male clergy in a group that had been devastated by the AIDS pandemic.  Looking around the room, I also noted the decades of stolen ministry, lost ministry. Well, not exactly, because many had been in constant faithful ministry only denied official denominational recognition by the church they loved leaving them in a state of ecclesiastical house arrest as internal exiles.

A life-size cardboard cut out of Howard Warren, God’s Glorious Gadfly,
Howard Warren presente
of beloved memory greeted us as we entered the meeting hall reminding us of his witness. Howard was a rock star and prophet both. He was family, one of us. And never hesitant to call the church to task. Including us when we would hesitate in our witness.

I recalled some special Howard moments. Like his long walk in the opening worship service of the 1990 Baltimore General Assembly when he walked the whole length of the arena floor to stand silently in front of outgoing moderator Price Gwynn with a sign that read Shame. While nervous security guards stirred, Moderator Gwynn proceeded as if Howard were not even there.

When I wrote about this event later, I referenced the retired jerseys of Baltimore basketball greats hanging from the rafters.  I wrote something like,
In an arena that once was home to basketball greats like Wes Unsled and Earl(the Pearl) Monroe, no one ever moved across that arena floor with the grace shown by Howard Warren in his long walk last night…
Later, Howard said to me, In my whole life, I’ve never had anything about me described as athletic. I kind of like that…
(Does anyone know who accompanied Howard on that walk?)

Or in 1993 at the Albuquerque Biennial. In response to the shameful disinviting of Janie Spahr to preach at the Center in Louisville, Howard in his wonderful way, rose with a motion to accuse then Executive Director James Brown of the sin of Sodom, meaning of course the failure to show hospitality. Of course, the Layman reported that PHEWA had accused brown of sodomy. Howard lived free of fear with righteous anger, humor gentle, ironic and fierce and love, big love.

Looking around the room, I see old friends like Janie Spahr, Lisa Larges, Chris Glaser. Others whose stories I am just learning as we weave our individual memories into one fabric.  I need to try and capture the ways PHEWA contributed to this journey.

How many knew that long-time PHEWA director Rodney Martin was a commissioner to that 1978 Assembly that made explicit the judging and exclusion of avowed and practicing homosexuals from ordained ministry even while making a hypocritical expression of welcome. And that Rod was the first commissioner to sign and file a dissent to that action.

Following that GA, Rod made PHEWA a safe place, a place of welcome, of home, for all, especially those who had been excluded. Not in pursuit of what the layman called the homosexual agenda, (I always loved that phrase) but because their ministries were our ministries. That’s all.  Chris Glaser and West Hollywood ‘s Lazarus project, Janie Spahr’s ministries lived under our tent at GA.

In that infamous 1993 Biennial, PHEWA passed a statement of inclusion which pcusa news director Jerry Van Marter’s headline had us joining the front lines of the ordination struggle. (If only…) [i] This would lead to PHEWA being made to pass through a GA gauntlet that included investigations and PHEWA Director being left naked of support and hung out to dry before GA. (Now PHEWA board member Doug Mitchell would help turn the GA committee from censure to additional financial support…) However, the aftershocks continued into recent times.

Again in 1993, the New Orleans Biennial made waves when John Park Lee Award winner Matt English, soon to die from AIDS, took the opportunity to deliver a jeremiad to the denomination.[ii] A COMANO statement ended by ironically comparing the welcoming response of a secular blues club, House of Blues, to that of the denomination.

When PHEWA narrowly escaped the death penalty at the 1995 GA, the Presbyterian Layman had this to say:

This article, on pg. 7 of The Layman, reminds me that PHEWA kept its denominational funding by less than 5 votes on the floor of the 1995 G.A., largely over PHEWA use of “responsible dissent,” advocating against G.A. policies on GLBTQ ordination.

PHEWA has been criticized for its activism, lack of accountability, and disagreement (what it calls “responsible dissent”) with denominational policy. In response to these criticisms, the 1995 General Assembly called on the GAC to review PHEWA’s activities since 1992, monitor PHEWA in light of its Memo of Understanding with the PCUSA, and report the findings to the 1996 GA. That GA adopted two resolutions. One instructed the moderator to appoint a committee to address concerns critics have had about PHEWA’s exclusive membership and to clarify definitions of terms like “responsible dissent.” A separate action dealt with PHEWA finances and accounting standards and called on NMD to review the Memo of Understanding to “consider revisions to address the concerns of inclusiveness and political advocacy. ...” Among PHEWA member organizations are Presbyterians Affirming Reproductive Options, Presbyterian Association of Specialized Pastoral Ministries, Presbyterian Child Advocacy Network, Presbyterians for Disabilities Concerns, and Presbyterian AIDS Network. “One of the things we have to celebrate with PHEWA is its ministry with people in the trenches,” NMD Committee Chairperson Sandra Hawley of Bloomington, Minn., said. Trust “Trust” was a word used frequently at the NMD Committee meeting as members discussed the covenant draft. Referring to the draft’s first paragraph, which calls on the two parties to build a relationship of trust in the denomination, Steve Grace of Midland, Mich., asked, “How are you intending to do that?”

In the 1999 Biennial in San Diego, it was PHEWA’s display of the Shower of Stoles that once again put us in the spotlight and drew a vitriolic attack from the Layman.[iii]

That would be the last public venting related to PHEWA and the lgbtq inclusion struggle. Our insider/outsider reality always carried its inherent tensions. Yet we had our role, ouyr place, and our story belongs there along with Presbyterians for Lesbian and Gay Concerns, the More Light Church movement (later to merge), That All May Freely Serve (formed in response to the blocking of Janie’s call to ministry in Rochester)  and finally the Covenant Network who with the diligent organizing skills of Tricia Dykers Koenjg brought the liberal tall steeples into the political struggle.

In my 15 minute interview regarding the future, I pointed out how white the gathering was, a reality that has to be confronted moving forward. Now that inclusion so no longer the defining fault line between liberal and conservative churches, the issues of race and class will now have to be faced. (Thankfully thanks to those like Janie and Lisa, there has always been at least a voice, even if crying from the wilderness, seeing the connection in these issues.

Then there is this…yes, our polity has now been changed. But there can be no reconciliation without a process of amends. Around the circle were those who lived it out in the PCUSA out of devotion and love, their gracious gift to us. But there were also those whose pain led them to leave the PCUSA. To the Unitarians or Metropolitan Community Churches or United Churches of Christ. No one has to accept abuse forever. And others left the church entirely. How many cumulative years of ministry were stolen, that can never be given back? How do you repair broken hearts, wounded spirits? What kind of overture would open that conversation? What would Howard do?

Many thanks to Ray Bagnuolo
Ray makes a point
and TAMFS for pulling this all together and to Rick and Kitty Ufford-Chase and Stony Point for hosting.

Kitty and Rick Ufford-Chase

PHEWA Joins Front Lines in Struggle for Gay & Lesbian Ordination
-- Jerry L. Van Marter, *News*, Presbyterian Church
(U.S.A.), News Briefs - 9307, February 12, 1993.

Albuquerque, NM. -- With virtually no one in opposition, members
of the Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association
(PHEWA) voted Feb. 6 to join the front lines in the battle for
ordination rights for gay and lesbian Presbyterians.

In giving near unanimous approval (less than 10 of the 500
persons voting abstained) to four resolutions related to the
prolonged struggle for gay and lesbian ordination in the
Presbyterian Church, the association brushed aside concerns that
taking such actions might jeopardize the association's structural
relationship with its parent Social Justice and Peacemaking
Ministry Unit (SJP).

A memo of understanding between the two groups gives the
association the right to "responsible dissent" while working
within the framework of General Assembly policy.  The executive
director of the association is an employee of the General
Assembly.  The association receives about $80,000 from the
ministry unit's budget.

Under an agreement worked out between the association's board of
directors and SJP officials, no money from the unit or staff
time by PHEWA executive director the Rev. Mark Wendorf will be
committed to the association's effort to change the
denomination's ordination policy.

The actions taken by the association included:

* Adoption of a "Statement of Inclusion" (see below);

* Adoption of a statement that reads: "We celebrate the gifts of
lesbian, bisexual and gay persons and support their ordination

*Endorsement of a "Declaration of Conscience," a statement that
has been circulating widely in the Presbyterian Church protesting
the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission's decisions
setting aside the call of the Rev. Jane Spahr, an avowed lesbian,
to Downtown Presbyterian Church in Rochester, N.Y., and revoking
the certification of avowed lesbian Lisa Larges by Twin Cities
Area Presbytery as ready to receive a call;

* Adoption of a statement condemning homophobia and calling for
the church to be inclusive of gay men, bisexuals, and lesbians.

Prior to the vote on the resolutions, former PHEWA interim
executive director the Rev. John Scotland sketched the history of
the relationship between PHEWA and the denomination and outlined
the dangers of taking actions that run counter to current General
Assembly policy.  "There are those in the church who are waiting
for us to make a mistake.  If we choose to give up our life on
this, let's know it going in."

During floor debate, Spahr, director of a ministry with gay and
lesbian persons and their families in San Rafael, Calif., rose
and said, "The cost to PHEWA may be money, but the cost to gay
and lesbian people is death."

Laurene LaFontaine of Denver, Colo., added, "If we kow-tow on
this issue, then our commitment to justice is empty.  If we act
out of fear, then we are standing on sand; if we stand on the
rock of justice, God will take care of us."

In a related action, the association approved a resolution urging
the overturning of Amendment 2 in Colorado, a measure passed by
voters in that state Nov. 3 prohibiting the extension of civil
rights to gay and lesbian persons.  The association also asked
its board of directors to monitor the introduction of similar
legislation in other states and to alert synods and presbyteries
in those states where such legislation is introduced.

The group also approved a resolution supporting President
Clinton's decision to end the ban on gay and lesbian persons in
the military. -- Jerry L. Van Marter, *News*, Presbyterian Church
(U.S.A.), News Briefs - 9307, February 12, 1993.

PHEWA Statement of Inclusion
(adopted Feb. 6, 1993)

In an era when the world is bent on warring factions,
seeking 'ethnic cleansing',
fueled by segregation and divisiveness,
built upon casting out the different,
and working for disharmony;
In an age when the church is caught up in the evil and sin of
persecution, unrighteous name calling, trial and judgment, and
sectarian division;

The Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association
of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.),
led by the Holy Spirit,
and informed by the ministry of Jesus the Christ,
proclaims itself to be an inclusive community,
accepting those who are cast out by society,
welcoming those who are dispossessed,
and including those who are oppressed.

PHEWA tries to be a community where
people are accepted for who they are,
free under the grace and salvation of God,
free from persecution and attack,
free from fear of reprisal,
and protected by the mercy of Christ.

PHEWA will continue to be a community of diverse opinions,
where different ideas may be proclaimed without fear of attack,
where honest discussion overcomes angry rhetoric,
where diversity is proclaimed over segregation,
acceptance over judgment.

PHEWA will continue to proclaim the message of justice and mercy,
crying out for those with no voice,
joining with those who are seeking a voice within the church,
serving sisters and brothers in the ministries of health,
education and welfare.

Entering the PHEWA community, individuals and networks
agree to abide by these gospel standards,
accepting each other in love,
disagreeing with mercy, uniting for justice,
and serving with compassion.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

[ii] 19-Jan-95


                     by Jerry L. Van Marter

Editor's note:  This story contains some language that may be
offensive to some. -- Jerry L. Van Marter

NEW ORLEANS--Ravaged by the AIDS virus that one day soon will kill
him, the Rev. Matt English seized the last opportunity he will
probably have to speak publicly to lash out at those in the
Presbyterian Church and society he said have made him feel like he
"has been tossed in the trash and discarded like a leper."

     Barely able to walk or catch his breath, English spoke to the
Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association (PHEWA) Jan.
14 during its 1995 biennial conference after receiving its 1995
John Park Lee Award for outstanding social welfare ministry.  He
was honored for his work as executive director of North Dallas
Shared Ministries, an ecumenical social service agency supported
by 41 congregations in that city.

      After struggling to the podium to accept his award, English
drew guffaws when he wise-cracked, "You have just witnessed
`creeping socialism.'"

     There was little laughter after that.  In his acceptance
speech, English excoriated "fascists and fundamentalists in the
Presbyterian Church who believe only they know who belongs. ...
They want to exclude, but according to Jesus, as soon as they
exclude, they are out and everyone else is in -- the God of
exclusion is not the God we know in Jesus."

     He then criticized groups such as Presbyterians for Biblical
Sexuality, describing them as "penis-pushers who would stick a
penis on God so they can protect male dominance of the church and

     English questioned whether such groups have read the Bible. 
"Do they want a biblical sexuality in which polygamy is the norm,
not to mention harems and concubines and temple prostitutes?  Do
they want a biblical sexuality in which rape and incest are
commonplace and accepted behavior?  Do they want a biblical
sexuality in which Paul frowns on marriage?  I don't think they've
read the Bible at all," he thundered.

     English leveled some of his bitterest criticism at the Board
of Pensions.  "I've worked all my career to feed the hungry and now
I'm being starved by the Board of Pensions," he complained. 
English said that after he was forced onto disability by his
illness, his income declined by 75 percent.  He lost his house and
car and now moves from friend's house to friend's house in

     Board of Pensions representatives who were in attendance at
the PHEWA conference said English's income could only have dropped
so precipitously if he had opted out of Social Security (a choice
given to ministers on the grounds of sepAration of church and
state).  Pension and disability benefits are calculated on the
presumption of participation in Social Security.

     In a subsequent interview with the Presbyterian News Service,
Board of Pensions president John Detterick confirmed that the Board
had paid the maximum benefit allowed to English "given the
circumstances of his participation in the plan."  He added that the
details of each plan member's participation in the pension and
health plan is confidential information.

     Nevertheless, Board of Pensions staff member the Rev. Jack
McAnlis told the PHEWA gathering, "the church should find ways to
insure that no one falls through the cracks the way Matt has."

     English also claimed that Dallas-based Grace Presbytery has
neglected him.  "It feels like the Presbyterian Church has tossed
me in the trash, discarded me like a leper."

     But Christa Dixon, a member of Grace Presbytery, said that
English's AIDS-induced memory loss caused him to forget assistance
the presbytery has tried to provide.  She said the presbytery has
also had great difficulty locating English since he moved from
Dallas to northern California last summer.

     English said he left Dallas after losing his house "because
the Presbyterian mayor made destitution a crime in order to get the
homeless people off the streets before the World Cup soccer matches
arrived."  He also criticized government policies he charged make
medicine and nutritional supplements for AIDS sufferers either
impossible to attain or prohibitively expensive.

     "It's funny, though," English continued, "I find that while
the church has screwed me, God is good to me and I find Jesus all
the time in strangers."

     English also praised PHEWA.  "You keep me going from day to
day and I want to encourage you to keep on because out there on the
margins, among the marginalized, is where God's commonwealth in
Jesus is being created."

     He concluded by dedicating his award "to all the marginal
people of the world."

     A spontaneous offering -- bread baskets passed around the
luncheon tables -- collected $1,000 and was given to English.

                  Another Award Winner Responds

     Later in the day, at the PHEWA business meeting, the
association was praised by the Rev. David Cockroft for giving
English a time and place to speak.

     "PHEWA was at its finest as it presented the John Park Lee
Award to the Rev. Matt English at lunchtime today," said Cockroft,
pastor emeritus at Riverdale Presbyterian Church in the Bronx, N.Y. 
He made his remarks after receiving PHEWA's Rodney T. Martin Award
for sustained service to the organization.

     "This is one of the few places in this church," Cockroft said,
"where someone who is dying, someone who is angry -- an anger which
is not pleasant even without the language, which might have
offended some people -- can have a place."

     Cockroft, who said he "junked" his previously prepared
acceptance speech after hearing English, continued, "Sometimes
things cannot be done `decently and in order,' but who knows where
the Spirit is at work?  Maybe we saw the face of Christ today.  I
don't know.  All I know is that this beloved church of ours needs
to be shaken up.  We need to get beyond the petty squabbles that
seem to consume so much of our energy.  We need to learn, without
glossing over or covering up anything, how to live together." 

            One PHEWA Network Responds with Statement

     Also at the business meeting, Community Ministries and
Neighborhood Organizations (COMANO), the PHEWA-related network with
which English is affiliated, issued a statement intended primarily
for the press.  Read into the record by the Rev. Robert Brashear
of Pittsburgh, it said:

     "Everything we do we do out of the daily living out of our
ministries, ministries to which we have been called by God,
ministries for which we offer no apology.

     "Know that although only one of our networking groups bears
the name `community ministries,' each and every one of our networks
is a community ministry.  And we, together, constitute a community.

     "Know that if some of us are concerned about mental illness,
it is because there are those in our midst who wrestle daily with
those demons and we are called for Jesus' sake to wrestle with

     "Know that if some of us are concerned about alcohol and other
drug abuse it is because there are those in our midst who wrestle
daily with those demons and we are called for Jesus' sake to
wrestle with them.

     "Know that if there are those among us who are concerned about
disabilities, it is because there are those in our midst who
struggle daily with barriers, some physical and others only in the
human heart, and we are called for Jesus' sake to struggle with

     "And know that if there are those among us who are concerned
about AIDS, it is not because of any agenda to ordain anyone, but
because there are those in our midst who live and die daily with
AIDS -- gay and straight, male and female, adult and child.  And
we are called for Jesus' sake to live and die with them.

     "And know that if there are any of our elected officers who
are gay and lesbian, it is not because of any issue that we went
looking for them but because they were already here, in our midst,
endowed by God with ministries that we cannot give up or refuse to

     "So when you write about us, we call upon you to understand
what it means to live and speak within community, and if you cannot
understand, then, for Jesus' sake, respect the integrity of our
community and the dignity of each and every member of our

     "For we are not here because of issues, nor are we here to
argue about doctrine or theology, as much as they undergird all
that we do.  

     "But we are here to encourage and expand the living out of our
ministries -- literally ministries of life and death, whether that
death be the subtle death of exclusion by community or church, or
whether that death be the literal slow agonizing living death of
AIDS, or the sudden death of children shot dead on our doorsteps.

     "And so, for Jesus' sake, we invite you, we call on you and
those you report to, to join with us in these ministries, either
through your direct participation or through prayers of solidarity.

     "And if you do not so choose, then, for Jesus' sake, remain
silent and harass not.  Is it a witness to us Presbyterians that
a secular blues bar here in New Orleans has as its slogan: `Heal
Ever, Hurt Never'?"

                       A Note About PHEWA

     PHEWA is a voluntary membership organization of Presbyterians
dedicated to the social welfare and justice ministries of the
church.  It is related to the National Ministries Division of the
General Assembly Council and is organized into 10 networks that
focus on particular types of social ministry.

     The 10 PHEWA networks are Community Ministries and
Neighborhood Organizations (COMANO); Presbyterian AIDS Network
(PAN); Presbyterians Reaffirming Reproductive Options (PARO);
Presbyterian Association of Specialized Pastoral Ministries
(PASPM); Presbyterian Child Advocacy Network (PCAN); Presbyterians
for Disabilities Concerns (PDC); Presbyterian Health Network (PHN);
Presbyterian Network on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse (PNAODA);
Presbyterian Mental Illness Network (PMIN); and Urban Presbyterian
Pastors Association (UPPA).