Integrity Chapters Take Active Role in Parish Ministries, Outreach

          During Pride Week in Key West for the past three years, the Integrity chapter based at St. Paul’s has hung pride banners on the bell towers of the church and displayed pride flags on the flag pole and the rectory balcony as a visible sign that all are welcome in that parish.

          The Key West Integrity group, formed in 1995, is one of three active Southeast Florida chapters of the national organization of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Episcopalians and their families and friends, founded 30 years ago to work for full inclusion of all persons, regardless of sexual orientation, in the life of the church. The other two chapters, both started in 2001, are Integrity Ft. Lauderdale, based at All Saints, and Integrity Palm Beach, based at St. Andrew’s, Lake Worth.

          Pride flags are only the most obvious sign of the ministries of the three groups. Activities range from worship and education, to a variety of fellowship events, to fund raising, social outreach programs and personal evangelism, especially in the gay/lesbian community.

          Perhaps most significant is the chapters’ commitment to full involvement and leadership in the life and ministries of the parish.

          “The leadership and members of Integrity are also the leaders and workers in the parish,” says Tom Bacon, co-convener of the group at St. Paul’s.

          The chapter has presented prayer books to newly confirmed members of the parish, and works with the ECW to gather Christmas gifts each year for a needy family. Before St. Paul’s new rector, Fr. David Wilt, arrived last spring, members of Integrity held a garden clean-up at the rectory, planting news flowers and shrubs, mulching the beds, power-washing the deck and painting the deck furniture.

         “St. Andrew’s is rich in leadership culled from the ranks of Integrity,” says Integrity Palm Beach Convener Vance Oden. “Integrity members serve on our Vestry, sing in our choir, sit on outreach committees, and participate in parish fundraisers.”

          Integrity Ft. Lauderdale makes an annual financial contribution to its host parish, All Saints, helps to provide the barbecue dinner after the monthly Saturday evening Eucharist and sometimes hosts coffee hour after Sunday services. The chapter also contributes to a community program called the Pet Project, which provides pet food and supplies to persons with AIDS, so they can afford to keep their pets despite their substantial medical expenses. At a pool party held in July this year, members collected more than 300 pounds of pet food and supplies.

          Both the Key West and Ft. Lauderdale chapters are supporters of Our Little Roses Home and School, the ministry founded by Diana Frade for abused, abandoned or orphaned girls in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

          After learning last year that some persons who had been supporting girls at the home had withdrawn their support in protest of Bishop Leo Frade’s votes at General Convention on issues concerning homosexuality, the Ft. Lauderdale Chapter committed itself to support Our Little Roses. A special holiday donation was made last December and almost $900 has been donated this year. The chapter also sponsors a girl.

          On Oct. 30, the chapter will sponsor a benefit performance of the one-woman play Dreams of Martha Stewart at All Saints, with proceeds going to Our Little Roses.

         Monthly meetings of the Integrity groups begin with Eucharist, and continue with dinner and a program. The Palm Beach chapter, which meets the second Saturday of the month, has featured speakers including representatives of the Anti-Defamation League, Lambda Legal (an organization working for full legal rights for gays and lesbians) and hospice, as well as local celebrities.

          Fr. David Jenkins, convener of Integrity Ft. Lauderdale, says their programs “are varied; some focus on spiritual development, some are educational, some are purely social, while others aid our involvement in social and justice activities, including the funding of human support services”.

          All three groups emphasize that their membership includes heterosexuals concerned about justice and inclusion, and that the chapters are supported and encouraged in their ministries by clergy and congregations.

          The Key West chapter regularly holds its meetings at the rectory, hosted by Fr. Wilt and his wife Sandy.

         Oden says that the Palm Beach chapter “was welcomed by St. Andrew’s Rector, Fr. Bill Hamilton, and Deacon Patricia Masterman. They were soon joined by Canon Richard Nolan who became Retired-Priest-in-Residence at St. Andrew’s and an Integrity chaplain… One of the most gratifying aspects of our fellowship is the continuing presence of our heterosexual friends; usually one-third of those attending fall into this category.”

         One of the stated purposes of the Ft. Lauderdale group is: To assist as a resource for dialogue, education and personal interaction for dispelling prejudice, increasing understanding, and building acceptance for all people.

         “All Integrity meetings, activities and membership are open to everyone,” says Jenkins. “A regular portion of our membership and those who attend meetings are heterosexual persons who value and support our ministry in and to the Church. One need not be an Episcopalian to attend or belong to Integrity.”

          He adds, “This is not a parish-based ministry, but one for people of all parishes within easy traveling distance…We wish to be a ministry for all lesbian/gay Episcopalians, their friends, and any others seeking a spiritual support community, regardless of parish affiliation.”

          The Integrity groups clearly understand that their work is evangelism. The Key West chapter runs an ad in a local weekly magazine, inviting members of the gay community to attend St. Paul’s, and Bacon says the campaign has brought new members, not only to Integrity, but also to the parish.

          At St. Andrew’s, where the Integrity service, dinner and program attract more than 50 people each month, Oden says the congregation has seen an unexpected benefit: “The presence of our Integrity chapter has also attracted new members from the straight community, people who simply want to worship in an atmosphere of tolerance, acceptance and diversity.”

Addendum: Integrity-Palm Beach also contributed to Our Little Roses Home and School.