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Reflection: What Does It Mean To Be a Brother or Sister?

Reflection: What Does It Mean To Be a Brother or Sister?

By Thom Rock

Thom Rock of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church-Newport, shares a reflection on the 2016 Diocesan Convention of the Episcopal Church in Vermont: “Love Heals”

There was a profound presence at this year’s convention. There was courageous testimony given. And as that truth was witnessed, one could feel something sacred and holy settle over us in the cathedral. I felt it deeply.

Our special guests were four women from Thistle Farms, a community of women healing from domestic and sexual violence, prostitution, trafficking, and addiction. Joining them were representatives from several Vermont networks and agencies, including: Give Way to Freedom, the Committee on Vermont Human Trafficking, The Vermont Network Against Domestic Violence, DIVAS (Discussing Intimate Partner Violence and Accessing Support), and Lund (the agency formerly and variously known across the state as the Lund Family Center, the Lund Home, the Elizabeth Lund Home for Unwed Mothers, and originally—tellingly—as the Home for Friendless Women).

Lund, in fact, holds a special place in my heart, for it is where I came into this world. Before open adoption ever became the norm, before Roe v. Wade, before the pains of shame and secrecy and labor and relinquishment, a young woman I now know was named Rosalie walked up the stairs of the old Victorian mansion on Shelburne Avenue where “the girls who went away” went when they were in her position: alone, abandoned, and pregnant. Eventually, Ray and Edith, a loving couple who had already adopted a little girl from Lund, walked up those same stairs . . . and carried me out into what would become my family.

I loved my adoptive parents very much; they are both with God now. Where Rosalie is I do not know. I did petition the court, as an adult, to unseal the documents related to my adoption, but that process is fraught with omissions and redactions and hardly satisfactory. But in the process I did discover that I have two half-sisters. That’s all I know. And while I dearly love my sister with whom I grew up, I now know there are other sisters of mine somewhere out there.

All of this self-reflection is to say that the word that has been sitting on my heart all during our convention and ever since is just that: Sister. And how, after spending two brief days with Becca, Susan, Phyllis, and Rachel, our guests from Thistle Farms, I would be honored and humbled to call any one of them sister. They broke my heart. And made it larger.

I was reminded again of sisterhood on Saturday morning as we began our Eucharist. As a long line of clergywomen, each in her vestments, processed down the aisle in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the ordination of women as priests in the Episcopal Church—well, it was a stunningly moving moment of sisterhood. And of how, as our new friends from Thistle Farms insist, “In the end, love is the most powerful force for change in the world.” Standing there singing Alleluia with my husband, I was overcome with gratitude for this Episcopal family we’ve become a part of and that has adopted us, as it were.

I was deeply reminded that we were not only a diocese gathered at convention—a parliamentary body—but also a reunited family of brothers and sisters in Christ—the loving, living, life-giving body of Christ in the world. And that with that precious heritage comes certain responsibilities.

Our brother Paul wrote long ago, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Except too many of us still live as if those dividing and divisive distinctions define us. I am not denying that there surely exists gender inequality and its very real and costly ramifications. Rather I am entertaining the idea that maybe Christian sisterhood and brotherhood supersedes gender. And not only gender, but also race, creed, nationality, and religion. Indeed, perhaps even species.

Our sisterhood and brotherhood in Christ is not determined by our family of origin. We aren’t only brothers and sisters among these Green Mountains we all hold dear and call home; we are, as Bishop Ely and Presiding Bishop Curry remind, the Vermont Branch of a much larger family tree whose roots travel all the way back to Jesus of Nazareth. Neither do those branches compose an exclusively Episcopalian tree; our brotherhood and sisterhood extends, as the Right Reverend Christopher Coyne, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, reminded us on Friday afternoon: Christ is a relationship not a religion. In fact, the roots of our family tree are even deeper still: Just as we are brothers and sisters in Christ, we are, with our Jewish and Muslim siblings, sisters and brothers in Abraham.

The reflective questions remaining with me since convention are: what kind of brother have I been? And going forward, what kind of brother will I be?

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