(Editor’s note: The Church of Ireland is holding a two-day special Synod on the place of LGBT people and the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle of San Diego was invited by Changing Attitude Ireland to tell his story about being fired as a gay priest 32 years ago and to call the church to reconciliation in Christ. The following text is also available in the video, which was shown to the Synod on March 9.
The Church of Ireland has historically been an evangelical church with strong connections to East Africa. Ogle reminds them that his longstanding commitment to the church in Uganda began with his home Church of Ireland as a teenager. He invites his home church community to speak out against all forms of discrimination in Uganda and in other parts of the Anglican Communion. 76 countries still criminalize LGBT people and half of them are members of the Commonwealth and largely Anglican.)
Hello to my friends in the Church of Ireland and members of this important Synod. My name is Albert Ogle and you probably know my story. 32 years ago, I was fired as a priest because I was in a committed relationship with my partner, Frank.
March 9 is my 58th birthday, so you are in my thoughts and prayers as you meet.
Looking back 30 years, it was here in St. John’s Cathedral Church in Los Angeles that I found the courage to celebrate Holy Communion again at this very altar. To add insult to having just been fired by my boss, John Neill, Archbishop McAdoo of Dublin told me he could never recommend me for a job working with children. This stereotypical nightmare was a kind of crucifixion. Frank and I limped to London, loosing home, friends, identity and I could not bring myself to celebrate or preach for over two years. I finally moved here looking for a place to belong where my gifts could be shared.
It was at this very altar that I was surrounded by a small group of friends who believed in me and a bishop who licensed me to be a priest. I was resurrected!
Looking back I have served as a priest in 7 parishes and created healing institutions in North America and Uganda. I am fortunate to be one of the longest serving openly gay clergy in our Communion.
A thought to contemplate: Which is the greater sin, homosexuality or homophobia?
Homophobia is dangerous because it gives permission to otherwise intelligent and loving people and institutions acceptable ways to dehumanize and obliterate the identity and contribution of others. Human beings become disposable non-persons. I know, because it happened to me. I am now working with 76 countries where it is currently illegal to be LGBT and the churches have a powerful role in maintaining these former colonial laws, as we had in Ireland as I was growing up. Half these countries are in the Commonwealth and largely in Africa. My love of Uganda began as a teenager with you in Belfast through the Church Missionary Society (CMS). It is heartbreaking to see what the churches in Uganda are doing in the name of God to LGBT people. Lifetime imprisonment, dehumanizing misinformation and fear, all contribute to a global climate of hostility that your decisions can affect for good. And so, we need your help.
I have tried to be faithful to my ordination vows taken with some of you in Lisburn Cathedral so long ago. I have tried to keep the space open to welcome Jesus and the friends of Jesus around this table. This space of Grace allowed John Neil and I to reconcile and for him to license me to officiate again in my home Church of Ireland. I know John’s apology was real when he said “Faced with this situation today, I would have handled it all very differently.” I could forgive him and renew our deep connection to one another. Your discernment and decisions this week may open new spaces, not only in the Church or Ireland but throughout the Anglican Communion. Saying No to the criminalization of LGBT people begins with an invitation to come to the table of Grace as ordained and lay people. Our love is good. Our ministry is valid. Our relationships heal and sustain God’s fragile creation. Do not exile us from the place God is calling us into. Believe in us that we too can be faithful to our vows, commitments and to the wider mission of the church.
In the end, the issue before us may not be about sexuality but about being faithful. Can LGBT people be faithful in our vows of ordination, marriage and baptism as Christian people?
May God bless you.