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We began the Season of Advent with the Candle of Hope: one single flame lit on the wreath — a symbol of the liberating light of Christ we all carry within us as we prepare once again to celebrate the coming of the one who loved us enough to become one of us. Today I want to celebrate that hope in the work and witness of someone who has served as an icon of that hope in the Episcopal Church for decades: Tom Ely, Bishop of Vermont.

This week Bishop Ely announced his plans to retire (in 2019) after what will have been 18 years as the Episcopal Bishop of Vermont. He has not only been a light of hope for the good people of that diocese throughout his tenure, he has been a beacon of love, justice and compassion throughout the church … particularly through his work to end gun violence and fight discrimination against LGBTQ people.

I could go on and on — but the story I want to share as we end this first week of Advent 2017 is one from the last day of General Convention 2006.

The Episcopal Church was deep in the throes of what I have come to call The Inclusion Wars. After a ten day convention consumed by threats and warnings that the Episcopal Church would be voted off the Anglican Island for including LGBT people in general and ordaining them as bishops in particular, a last-minute piece of legislation (2006-B033) was rammed through and adopted … calling the church to refrain from “consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.”

It was a de facto moratorium on the ordination of any LGBTQ people — and a gut punch to all those who had been working for the full inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments. We were devastated.

That night we were gathered in a hotel meeting room, finishing up the packing up of what was left of the “nerve center” which had served as the organizing center for our witness to God’s inclusive love at General Convention 2006. And in walked the Bishop of Vermont.

He sat on a folding chair in the middle of a pile of boxes and — surrounded by dismantled computers and our disheveled dreams — he listened to us. He cried with us. And he committed to continue to walk with us in the holy, challenging work of healing the disease of homophobia which infects our church, our nation and our world.

He was literally a candle of hope in a very dark moment in that arc of history we’re promised bends toward justice. I will never forget that moment. I will never fail to be grateful. And — God willing — I will never fail to remember that sometimes when a candle of hope is all we can be it is everything we are called to be.
In moments of set-back and challenge and devastation and in the face of the worst that the church or the world … or the White House … can do we can still — like the Bishop of Vermont — be a candle of hope. Show Up. Listen. Cry if needed. And then commit to continue to change the world. A candle at a time. An inch at a time.

Today’s Advent Meditation is by Susan Russell … All Saints’ Senior Associate for Communication.