The "big tent" Church

Holy Wisdom Monastery Prayer & Worship, Sunday Assembly Leave a Comment

by Jim Smith, Dignity/USA program manager

As the official institution of the Catholic church in Madison, WI continues down a Razinger-esque path of rigid uniformity and parochialism—the “small chapel” of church referred to negatively by Pope Francis—the Dignity community in Madison brings some fresh air to that beautiful city. From their inception, they have joined with the Episcopalian LGBT group Integrity to worship, serve and build relationships together. Taking very seriously Vatican II’s clarion call to build bridges between communities of different denomination and faith, Integrity/Dignity (I/D) of Madison didn’t waste time. Through these many years they have managed to sustain this ecumenical community, and their worship and prayer reflects this wonderfully.

I/D Madison invited me recently to lead a presentation and discussion on the Minnesota efforts to defeat the 2012 anti-marriage amendment, and then to pray with them at their weekly Saturday liturgy. The presider led with gorgeous prayerful force, and the congregation of young men, middle-aged and elder women and men seemed to flow into the ecumenical prayer with ease.

The next morning, I joined several I/D members to attend another ecumenical liturgy. The “Sunday Assembly” of over 250 at Holy Wisdom Monastery filled this bright, new, beautiful worship space, and we were led by a Presbyterian minister who is also….a Benedictine Nun. Yes, you read it right. The monastery was formerly home to exclusively Roman Catholic Benedictines until the 90s when they requested to separate from the jurisdiction of the local bishop, but remain within the Benedictine Federation. They then embarked on a campaign to cultivate a truly ecumenical Christian community. Wow. Have they ever succeeded.

On that Sunday of my visit, the community baptized the infant of a lesbian couple, and when the presider proclaimed the words “This Christian community welcomes you with great joy”, it was obvious to me of the integrity of that statement! We heard a powerful homily by a lay woman in the community who unapologetically called that church to stand actively with their LGBT sisters and brothers in the work toward full equality and dignity. It was Solidarity Sunday, and I was proud of Dignity’s initiative in creating this moment a number of years ago.

And then, yet another special moment in that Eucharistic liturgy. As we settled back into our chairs after Communion, we were led in the song“For All the Children”, the same song performed for the music video a number of us produced back in Minnesota last year. It is a song of our prayer and support for our LGBT youth. When we reached the words in the 4th verse “…as against all hate we stand”, Donna Miller, also a member of Dignity, actually stood. Within 10 seconds, everyone in that church was standing. It was one of those graced moments, when the Spirit of spontaneity and love was powerfully present.

Here’s to a “big tent” church, where all saints and sinners are truly welcomed, where there is room for any with a hunger for mercy and justice, a thirst for God. Here’s to Integrity/Dignity Madison and to Holy Wisdom Monastery.


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