Synopsis of the 2005 "National Week of Prayer and Vigils"

Soulforce declared Nov. 6-12, 2005 a "National Week of Prayer and Vigils" to help change the hearts and minds of the Roman Catholic Church’ hierarchy as the U.S. Catholic Bishops met in Washington, D.C. For the first time Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) and DignityUSA collaborated with Soulforce to collectively pray together. Thousands of people prayed the special prayer that was written specifically for the week. Letting the Spirit lead us, the focus this year was more on prayer than in the past. Several cities held vigils, trainings, letter writing programs, as well as educational movies, and special Masses. They have shared their powerful experiences with us.


Soulforce Southwest Florida

Soulforce Southwest Florida vigils during the 2005 National Week of Prayer and VigilsSoulforce Southwest Florida held a vigil in front of the Chancellery of the Diocese of Venice from 4:30 to 5:30 pm on 10 November 2005. We had 18 people including two priests (one Episcopal and one Roman Catholic), a pastor of Trinity MCC Church in Sarasota, and the Moderator of the UFMCC Church, Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson.

In addition we had the president of the Sarasota PFLAG, the coordinators of INTEGRITY SWFla, and the former President of DIGNITY Sarasota.

We began last month with a proposed letter asking Bishop John Nevins of the Diocese of Venice to speak with a committee about the approaching Conference of Bishops in Washington. The five person committee consisted of the representatives of Soulforce, MCC, Dignity, Integrity, and PFLAG. The letter was then taken to meetings of all of the groups and additional signatures were asked for. We had a total of 42 signatures on the letter sent to the Bishop.

At the vigil we asked everyone to wear white or red t-shirts, and made a Rainbow stole (a la the ones used at ELCA in Orlando) for each individual to wear. There were large signs for each group and the Soulforce banner, and if the vigilers did not hold one of these they held one of the "STOP spiritual violence" signs.

Soulforce Denver

Soulforce Denver vigils during the 2005 National Week of Prayer and VigilsSoulforce Denver staged a silent vigil Saturday afternoon outside the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception to dramatize the devastating effects caused in the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people by Catholic Church hierarchy’s public statements and actions and to bear witness to the intrinsic dignity and worth evident in the lives of LGBT people. Earlier in the day, we also staged a workshop including a panel discussion and training in nonviolence.

The 25 members who participated in the workshop and vigil felt it was "powerful", "organized" and "excellent". The three panelists, Rick Smith, Bob Popovich, and Randy Cummings (all leaders in various local faith communities) led an especially engaging discussion.

Ann Minzer, a 70-year-old woman with stage 4 breast cancer and stage 4 lung cancer was so excited about the opportunity to participate, wrote to Soulforce Denver afterward, saying:

"Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to participate in the Vigil today! I appreciate your caring and being so protective of me… This was a truly pivotal day in my life. As I stood on the corner… I asked myself, ‘Why does this make me so happy?’ I meditated as I watched the cars go by, heard the honks, heard someone ask, ‘What is spiritual violence?’ and the reply, ‘I don’t know’, and listened to the one man and his ‘finely’ dressed wife, still wearing a name tag from some event, walk in front of our line and sneer as he read the signs out loud. The answer came to me. I was so happy and peaceful because I had broken the bonds of cancer and felt ‘real’ again!!!
Many hugs, Ann Minzer"

Soulforce St. Louis

St.Louis vigil during the 2005 National Week of Prayer and VigilsOur vigil was more exciting than usual. We had approximately 55 people attending. A group of about 40 ‘counter vigilers’ appeared. We were on the steps of the cathedral. They processed back and forth on the sidewalk in front of us, saying the rosary, and singing ave maria. We’re not sure what group they were from. There is a COURAGE group here, so that could be it. The women all wore LONG skirts, no pants. A few seminarians.

As our vigil ended, the police arrived, having been called by the good priests in the rectory above, to get us off the steps. Our group shook hands and greeted the counter vigilers, sharing viewpoints, etc. All remained peaceful. This is the 2nd year that Catholic Action Network has joined Soulforce in our vigils.

Soulforce New York City

On Nov 16th, Soulforce NYC sponsored and Interfaith Prayer Vigil and Writing Campaign at the St Francis Xavier Catholic Church (Jesuit) in New York. The Vigil coincided with the actual US Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in DC. The bishops at the Conference were informed of this service. Close to 70 people attended this deeply moving service which was presided by clergy and representatives of 10 traditions,. They included straight, gay, lesbian, and transgendered people representing the faith traditions: MCC Church, Episcopal, Eastern Orthodox, Jewish, Buddhist, Methodist, Dutch Reformed and Catholic.

The pastor of St Francis Xavier and the Catholic nun who established the St Francis Gay and Lesbian Catholics Group 13 years ago greeted the group warmly and presided as well. DignityNY also presided and prayed with us for the Spirit to touch the hearts and minds of our bishops and all our religious leaders. After the prayer service, participants were asked to sign two letters, one to the United Methodists’ Juridical Committee and the other to Archbishop Edwin O’Brien who is heading up the Vatican site visits to all American Catholic Seminaries. People also received training on writing their own personal letters to the Archbishop or to The Juridical Committee as people of various spiritual paths concerned about the grave injustices being handed down to LGBT people and their families. Music during the service was provided by the well known gay musician, Gerry Dieffenbach.

St Francis Xavier extended their welcome and hospitality afterwards with a wonderful reception. A week later people are still talking about that evening. It was truly a night of many miracles for us as we shared with each other and in a Catholic Church. The tone was serious as everyone knows what we face. But it was also celebratory in that we were all together-in one heart-with many faces. This is our vision for the world. SoulforceNYC was deeply moved and honored to have convened this event.

Naval Academy Professor Speaks Out: How to Make a PR Disaster

Naval Academy professor of English Bruce Fleming writes about the Equality Ride and the Naval Academy’s reaction in a commentary that appeared on Military.com. View the article by clicking here.

How to Make a PR Disaster

by Bruce Fleming

The military has to do better at interacting with the civilian world than it usually does. (In another column I’ll consider the converse, which is true as well.) Typically the military says that things are a certain way just because it says they are, and then circles the wagons against the larger society questioning that decision. If the military’s policies are defensible, as they may well be, it should to be discussing and defending, not refusing to do either with the society the military exists to defend.

My home institution, USNA, recently provided a good example of how not to do it. The incident, which was Topic A on campus for almost a week, was related to the military’s "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" (DADT) policy, the subject of an earlier column and hence on my mind. A group called Equality Ride announced it was going to come onto the Yard (as we call our base) to discuss the DADT policy, and to talk to midshipmen, officers, and faculty. Anyone can walk on with a picture ID, and we all talk to tourists.

The Academy should have seized the initiative and worked with Equality Ride to produce discussion. I bet the midshipmen would have even stayed awake for briefings on this subject.

Instead the Academy’s administration went into panic mode. The Washington Post quoted CAPT Helen F. Dunn (Chief of Staff): "Be advised that accessing the Academy grounds for the purpose of protesting or engaging midshipmen, faculty and staff, may subject you to arrest and prosecution." (The CAPT undoubtedly meant: "for the purpose of protesting or of engaging with midshipmen, faculty, and staff.")

Moreover, according to the Annapolis Capital , "Academy officials also prohibited reporters . . . from talking with midshipmen or academy faculty." So much for sharing information with the world the military is here to protect. Arrest someone for trying to talk to a civilian professor? Excuse me?

I’m sure the military thought the ensuing PR debacle was only another example of the liberal pointy-headed media taking swats at the military. But this wasn’t an example of gratuitous swats. This one the military did to itself, as it so often does.

Come the day of the protest itself, the panic had apparently subsided to some degree. The protesters were allowed in, as individuals, though they were still told by Dunn that they were not to "discuss gay rights with midshipmen" ( Annapolis Capital ). Why the terror at having midshipmen discuss things with civilians? The lame excuse offered was that our work would be disrupted. Midshipmen are perfectly capable of saying, "Sorry, I can’t talk. I have to be in class now." Was someone afraid that midshipmen would be corrupted by talking to the protesters? Should they disagree, the mids had as good a chance of convincing the protesters as the reverse, I’d say.

Not that USNA directives were even clear. Dunn’s initial e-mail had said to midshipmen: "we ask that you . . . stay clear of the protesters" and "politely refer questions from media or the demonstrators to the Public Affairs Office." The Academy’s Public Affairs Officer back-pedaled on this the next day, according to The Washington Post: "we were not telling them they could not talk to the protesters."

Really? Everybody in the military would understand an O-6 "asking" something as tantamount to an order. Many of the things people in the military do in fact anticipate an actual order — you figure out what the CO wants and find ways to give it to him or her. Clearly the Academy really, really didn’t want to talk about this one.

In any case they were too late, at least where my students were concerned. We’d already discussed the issue. In my plebe "Rhetoric and Introduction to Literature" the midshipmen learn to make coherent arguments and defend their positions. To the end of showing them how to do it, I have what I call a mini-speakers’ series, where I invite Academy grads (usually my former students) or other people with views on military issues to talk to them before we swing into the day’s Shakespeare (or whatever). We’ve had a SEAL, a LT(jg) serving in Bahrain, and an out-of-the-Navy nuke. One week we had Associate Professor Aaron Belkin of the University of California, who runs a think tank that supports research on DADT.

Dr. Belkin ran a very organized discussion, largely devoted to getting them to talk about their views. When I de-briefed with my students the next period, they were uniformly enthusiastic. "He was really fair," I heard. "It’s difficult to get people to talk rationally about something this crazy." "I wish he’d shared some of his views more," one woman said.

So my students were ready to talk about the Equality Ride people who arrived at our gates weeks later. They had ideas, they had views, they were articulate. Most of all, they were very interested. This was a policy that affected them. They’re going to have to deal with this issue one way or another as officers. Instead of letting them discuss with the protesters, which might have done some good in both directions, the Academy froze up, brought out the big guns, blamed those pesky civilians again, and in general produced a mess we didn’t need.

From the military’s point of view, getting civilians in line is like herding cats. But that’s only because the military hasn’t accepted that civilians think differently than the military does. Which means simply, they’re not going to get in line. So you have to be flexible and deal with them in terms they understand. That doesn’t include threatening to arrest them for talking.
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