Report: 30 Soulforcees Prayerfully Vigil at the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops

November 16, 2001

Washington DCThe power of silent prayer and vigil changed hearts and minds this week at the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops. Starting on Sunday at 2:30 as the bishops came into the Hyatt Hotel on Capitol Hill, they were greeted by almost three dozen Soulforce volunteers standing prayerfully on the sidewalk in front of the driveway. All chose to ignore us that first evening. We left to do our spiritual preparation for the evening and were there again the next morning at 6 AM in the cold morning wind. Again we appeared to be invisible to the clergy going in and out of the hotel.

We had decided this year to attend the Bishops Mass on Monday evening (where we had vigiled outside the year before). Entering the shrine with our Soulforce shirts on, we sat in twos and threes. Prior to the Mass there was an announcement that those who were there to receive communion as a protest would not be served. During the Mass there were a number of disruptions concerning issues of womens ordination and peace activists concerned about the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The three Catholics who wished to receive communion sat together, with our Soulforce shirts on. Just prior to receiving communion we removed our shirts but retained our rainbow crosses, and approached to receive communion. We were clear we were doing this for strength for the journey, not as a protest. All three of us were given communion and we returned to our pews, and after prayers donned our Soulforce shirts again. Most of us were not able to actually witness the Rainbow Sash situation, but later heard that some actually received the cup, contrary to the announcement that they would be refused. So at least one priest courageously stood by his convictions and granted the sacrament of healing to members of the Rainbow Sash.

After Mass was over, we hurried back to the hotel to be there when the Bishops arrived. As the busses arrived, we spontaneously broke into the beautiful Taize hymn ‘Stay Here And Keep Watch With Me’, as the bishops disembarked. The result was stunning. For the first time there were smiles and waves and acknowledgment by most who got off the busses.

Almost at the very end as the last bus dropped them off, one of the bishops came up to us on line. He held our faces in his hands and with tears in his eyes, looking each of us squarely in the eyes, told us of God’s love for us. He walked the entire line greeting each and every one of us. We gave him and his assistant a rainbow cross and he blessed it and put it on.

The next day, we were again there at 6:30 A.M. waiting to greet the Bishops as they came and went from the hotel. A few continued to be open to us, but a large number returned to the blank stares wed received at the beginning. During the lunch hour break, we began to call the rooms of the bishops we had written, asking them to come down and pray and speak with us. At least five of them did.

During the day several other bishops approached and chatted with us as we vigiled. Much to our delight that afternoon as we vigiled as the meetings ended for the day, two nuns who were participating in the conference, asked if they could stand vigil with us. This was an amazing act of courage, as they could clearly lose their positions in their diocesan offices.

Wednesday we returned to total silence and prayer, remembering all who had suffered from the outdated theology of the Church. We ended our vigil on Thursday morning with civil rights songs and a sense of exhilaration at the numbers of people whose hearts we had clearly touched. Now we are committed to following up with all those we spoke to asking them how we can help them begin the process of full and total acceptance of all God’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender children. There are so many wonderful stories that all have to share and this is just the beginning of the dialogue. Clearly something new was happening and we place our trust in God to help the seeds planted this week to grow into fruition.

Kara Speltz, Catholic Co-chair

SOULFORCE IN D.C. at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops
Personal Observations by Cindy Hadden / Seattle, WA

About 30 Soulforce volunteers spent November 11-15, 2001 in Washington D.C. in long, cold vigil lines. We were outside the Capitol Hill Hyatt Regency where UCCB conferencing Catholic Bishops met and stayed.

As I left Seattle, I was in awe of the presence of fear and of courage of those flying in the air. National Guard numbers and automatic rifles increased as we flew closer to D.C. We were told by the pilot as we prepared for takeoff from Charlotte, N.C. that during the last 30 minutes of the flight no one would be allowed to get up from their seat or the plane would automatically be "re-routed."

I found myself suddenly in at least two holy wars; that of terror created by Osama Bin Ladin’s religious beliefs, and that of the fundamental right religious beliefs in our own country that create terror, pain, spiritual and physical death to our gay brothers and sisters. I was sad, but felt I had a purpose for the second time to be in D.C. with the bishops.

Our best efforts to end the debate, plant seeds of truth and gain trust, using non-violent methods showed some balance of spiritual and intellectual maturity that certain bishops simply had to acknowledge this time. I remember last year a bishop walked by late in the cold night and simply commented that we "looked cold." But not one bishop came out to talk or pray with us.

This year not so. Throughout Sunday and Monday they ignored us as usual, no eye contact was made. But ultimately there were at least five bishops who did come out and pray with us! Something happened.I choose to believe this happened in part because we promised not to disrupt mass on Monday evening. Rather many of us went to mass, removed our coats exposing our many Soulforce messages on our shirts, sat in two’s throughout the cathedral and sincerely worshipped God with them.

Some of us struggled (I, in particular) with embracing a proper attitude to do that. As I sat down, the couple next to me reviewed us and immediately moved closer to the front as if afraid and needing to be closer to God by moving closer to the bishops. For a moment, my sense of "insecurity" was the same. But in the end I realized the sincerity of many to who the Creator has revealed his/herSpirit.

The presence of the Spirit was scattered, but there and alive. I knew that wherever we were at that moment in our spiritual journeys and differences, we we were all meant to be there. I truly believe the bishops felt there would be an uprising from Soulforce. There were outbursts from groups pursuing ordination of women priests and the war in Afghanistan. Those who disrupted the service were promptly removed by the D.C. police. I was amazed at their courage to give voice.

I felt the Creator viewing over a crowd of children. When the outbursts began, I felt God gently admonishing at least one of the 300 adorned bishops to stand and go over and take care of that hurting child. Those bishops who also heard that gentle command know who they are. I thought, why can’t they come (rather than call out the guard) and comfort, listen and make plans to talk to those experiencing such pain?

Later after talking to other Soulforcees, I learned in a deeper way that to do that, the church would be admitting there is "oppression." I realized that our work is still not done. That it is a long and mysterious non-violent path we have chosen. With all the arrests taken place over the last 1 years (6 times for me) we came to understand more fully that someday Soulforce too may have to speak out some way, somehow in a church service in order to unearth the seeds of homophobia and bring the truth.

In Jesus’ day it was a common practice for the "superior" to backhand across the cheek those deemed "inferior" (primarily women). That is what happened when the Catholic Church ushered police into the cathedral to take away those who disrupted. For all intense purposes they "backhanded" them. But, Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek, facing full on our adversary and offering our other cheek; only this time as a full equal. If slapped again, there may be a consequence, an action that must be taken. I felt I (maybe Soulforce)turned the other cheek at that moment, for I believe we too wanted a voice.

Rather than slap us completely though, some 5 or 6 bishops came to our vigil line that evening and the next day to talk to us and to pray with us. We are making some progress. Pray for our Soulforce leaders that we will find the non-violent, creative ways to continue relentlessly bringing truth to the Protestant and Catholic Churches.

Meanwhile perhaps even more ministers, pastors and priests will choose daily to respond to the Spirit’s call to "end oppression" caused by mis-truths and misinformation. No doubt there will be a climbing continuation of justice exhibitions in our church services in the future. Until that day, we know seeds have been planted and people are slowly trusting and responding . More hearts and minds were changed this year in D.C. at the UCCB. More hearts and minds will change The bishops have our demands including that they appoint a blue ribbon committee to study Catholic policy on homosexuality and examine current medical, scientific and biblical evidence. We cannot and will not look back; our motives being as pure/just as the end we seek.

Please go to regularly and volunteer and contribute when you can.

Peace & Love,
Cindy Hadden / Seattle, WA

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