In the weeks and months that followed my formal letting go of being ordained ("renunciation of the ordained ministry" is the official term for it in the Episcopal Church), I began to notice a clear pattern emerging in people's responses to the news. People who didn't know me all that well but who knew about the on-going brou-ha-ha in the Episcopal Church around the ordination of gay clergy and the blessing and marrying of same sex couples often assumed my departure was about that. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
One source of dismay for me is even knowing that a sizable portion of Episcopal clergy who have chosen to renounce their ordinations falls into that camp--leaving the Episcopal Church in protest over the ordination of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, the first openly gay priest to be elected and consecrated as bishop (there have been "closeted" gay priests and bishops for aeons). Some have left in order to join the Roman Catholic Church or some other safe haven for "traditional interpretations" of Scripture, at least as far as homosexuality is concerned. Some have perhaps left because they've grown too soul-weary or have been badly burned by resistance to their efforts in support of gay rights in the church.
In any case, there was a stretch of time when I seemed to be hearing those responses so much that I wished (and even imagined) I were wearing a sign that read: "It's Not About Gene Robinson"! Now that I think of it, it amazes me that I heard that so often, because I wasn't exactly spending oodles of time around churches and church people in 2008. (Ah, my memory is clearing--I also heard that quite a bit, after David and I had departed from parish ministry in 2006. I've done a bit of clumping of memories.)
In late spring of 2008 I had the deep satisfaction of being able to speak about this publicly in the presence of Gene Robinson himself when he was speaking at Portland High School to Maine students, teachers, and supporters of GLSEN, the Gay Straight Lesbian Education Network. After his animated talk and questions from students, a slew of local clergy and religious leaders were invited to stand and introduce themselves and be on hand as resource people to the high schoolers. I had been invited by someone who didn't realize I'd recently renounced my ordination and who, when she learned of it, thought that a former clergy person simply added another religious story and more variety to the mix.
There in the presence of Gene Robinson and about a hundred others, I described my recent action renouncing my ordination and said: "It is a source of sadness and frustration for me that many people assume my decision was in some way about Gene Robinson, and I am truly delighted to be able to say in Gene's presence that that is not the case. My decision was a matter of believing that in order for me to be freely and fully myself, more fully alive and happy, that I needed to let my ordination go."
When I told the group that I sometimes wished I were wearing a sign saying, "It's not about Gene Robinson", Bishop Robinson chimed in: "I wish you were too!"