Ascension-43rd Anniversary Mass

Homily Date

My name is Bryan Cones, a longtime member of this community,

          and once, along with Jill, Jerry Bleem, and others

          a part of our liturgical ministry.

I am now a presbyter in the Episcopal Church,

          and currently serve St. Augustine’s in Wilmette.

It’s a real gift to be back here again,

presiding  in this community of those who share

the priesthood of Christ.


When I left Dignity to continue my discernment

I eventually found myself at the Episcopal Divinity School

          in Cambridge, Massachusetts,

which has generally been known as the church’s “queer” seminary,

where Carter Heyward, a prominent lesbian theologian,

          among others, have taught.

When I got there I took a class in “queer theology”

          only to discover that the majority of what we learned

          I already knew—primarily because of the ministry

of this community to me.

There were new things to be sure,

          but I found that it was here that I learned

          not only about myself as a gay man,

but also something about the experience of being a lesbian woman,

even of the experience of bi and trans and intersex persons.

That wasn’t “book learning” though—

          it was the willingness of this community to share together

          the “truth of our lives” as Christians and as Catholics,

a point I heard Chris Pett make on NPR

after Cardinal George’s death.




Being “queer,” though,

captured my imagination as I thought about Dignity.

Depending on our generation,

          that word may be more or less helpful.

I notice nowadays that many younger people adopt “queer”

          to describe themselves,

usually as a refusal to identify as male or female, gay, straight or bi.

For them to be “queer” is to refuse a label,

or to make it a verb, to “queer” the either/or

that society often demands of us.

By doing so, we open up a space for new diversity.


And yet, isn’t Dignity, more than 40 years on, a “queer” community?

Hasn’t this community always refused to be pinned down,

          to be one or the other?

Hasn’t this community always insisted on the great “both/and”

          that defines the Catholic tradition at its best?


When I look closely at this community and our history,

I see that insistence on holding this space “between” either/or:

First, an insistence on being both “gay” (usually men) and Catholic,

          and eventually the inclusion of lesbian women as well,

          and then even more the inclusion of bi and trans as well,

though I imagine that our members who identify that way

          would encourage us to keep working on that.

And we’ve always had straight members:

many of them have been and are leaders in this community.




Once this community celebrated this liturgy in a “Catholic” space,

eventually having that right stripped from it.

And so this community had to “queer” what it means to be in

          “Catholic space”—discovering that it is wherever we are.

Perhaps worshiping in this Methodist home has even

broadened for us the meaning of Catholic.

That is certainly true in the ordained ministers

invited to lead this assembly:

I count presbyters from three churches here:

Roman Catholic and RC Womenpriests, Old Catholic, Episcopal.


And then there is human relationship,

with marriage long celebrated in this community

as open to couples regardless of gender.

And we have celebrated the many ways we have created families

at that very font.

And we have all along also affirmed the many life-giving relationships

          that appear in our communities,

from the Defenders in the leather community,

to the lifelong friendships and families of choice,

and the single lives many have lived,

all of which this assembly has sustained.


Perhaps each of us can think of other examples

of the way, over its 43 years,

this community has refused to be nailed down,

refused to surrender the queer and Catholic wisdom of both-and.



I think the Ascension is a marvelous feast

for us today for that reason:

The ascended body of Jesus is a wonderfully queer image.

Jesus’ body is no longer visible,

yet here he is, present with us.

We can catch a glimpse, but we cannot hold him—

we can’t nail him down.

He is both here and not, always just beyond our grasp,

          always beckoning us forward.

Like the church we long for, not quite here yet, still on the way.


Not that holding this queer space,

this both-and, has always been easy.

There have been both times of great energy,

          and times of exhaustion,

times of confidence and uncertainty.

It’s hard to be two places at once all the time,

          to constantly resist the easy labels that might comfort us.

Maybe it’s hard even for Christ to be both ascended

and here present as well.


It’s especially challenging when some, at least,

of what we have been working for,

          has indeed come to pass:

same-gender marriage and recognition of the families we create,

some slow steps toward greater understanding

of trans and bi and intersex persons.

Things have changed for our communities, a great deal.

Could any of us have guessed the speed of the changes we have seen?



And yet still there is work to be done,

still the poor wait to hear good news,

still the dead lie in their tombs, awaiting the word of life.

To whom will Christ send us now?


And so, an invitation:

For whom will Dignity hold this queer space now?

To whom will the considerable gifts of this community be directed?

Who is waiting for this community’s message of hope and freedom,

          that good news that the either/or is a big fat lie,

          that our God is a God of both/and,

in whom every created thing is affirmed and blessed?

Who is now excluded? Who has been forgotten?

Who needs this space to be nurtured and protected?


This community has been holding this space,

this queer space, this Catholic space,

for more than four decades.

That’s something to celebrate,

and for that we praise God,

as we also ask to whom God now sends us.