At Anniversary Celebration, Browning Praises Oasis' Ministry to Homosexuals

Episcopal News Service. June 26, 1996 [96-1505]

(ENS) Joining in an exuberant celebration of the seventh anniversary of Oasis, a ministry of the Diocese of Newark to gays and lesbians, Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning praised the organization for offering "living water" to those struggling in the "difficult and dangerous desert."

"Oasis. The name is about shelter, about nurture, about drawing aside from the dusty and dangerous road for refreshment, for rest and cool water," Browning said in his sermon at the service, June 4, at All Saints Parish, Hoboken. "The name 'Oasis' speaks volumes about what the larger culture feels like to many gay and lesbian brothers and sisters."

The ministry has "saved peoples' sanity and, in some cases, you have even saved peoples' lives," he said. Browning urged the congregation not to stay in the shelter of the "oasis," but to use the support they found to help the ministry's effects reach beyond the limits of the homosexual community. "I see that God is at work here, transforming the church through your witness, until the entire desert bloom," he said.

A colorful procession up one of Hoboken's main streets, led by a troupe of African drummers, opened the service and included banners from many of the more than three dozens parishes that sponsor the ministry.

Browning and Bishop John Spong of Newark were joined by Bishop Catherine Roskam, suffragan bishop of New York; Bishop Walter Righter, retired bishop of Iowa, who faced ecclesiastical charges for ordaining a non-celibate homosexual as a deacon; and Bishop Otis Charles, retired bishop of Utah. Charles, the only Episcopal bishop to have publicly identified himself as a homosexual, now heads Oasis West in San Francisco, the first of what Spong said could be other national and international offshoots of the ministry.

Spong praised Browning as a leader who has worked to the make the church a welcoming place for homosexuals while holding "this faith community together," at times "at incredible pain to himself." Browning, in turn, had Spong stand to receive his accolades, earning the congregation's laughter when he joked that he has had more cause to ask the outspoken Spong to sit down.

"I could not leave here without saying how deeply I love him, and how grateful I am for his ministry to the life of this church and not just to this church but to Christendom," Browning said. "I am grateful to be a part of the same church."

Ecclesiastical court ruling welcomed

Speaking shortly after a church court had dismissed the charges against Righter, Browning spoke of his relief to "not have to bear the burden of representing a church that views its own longstanding practice of ordaining homosexual Christians as a violation of its doctrine." And he welcomed a recent Supreme Court decision that ruled a Colorado ban on homosexual rights legislation unconstitutional.

He warned against the disruptive effects of using "legislation and litigation" to shape 'a culture's spiritual and moral journey," saying there was "no need for lay or court decision" in the household of God.

"Let us not believe that these struggles are over because a court decision has been rendered," he cautioned. "The political and legislative process does not complete the struggle for hearts and minds."

The efforts of homosexuals to win acceptance in the church and society is a basic element in the "struggle for human dignity," Browning said. "Never let anyone tell you that this cause is a 'special interest,'" he said. "The struggle for human dignity is not a special interest. Christians are diminished when even one is objectified and marginalized. Gay and lesbian Christians are not a part of the division of the church, but a building block of its unity."

[thumbnail: Oasis Ministry to Homosex...]