At the weekly peace vigil in front of the Federal Building on Golden Gate Avenue...
...the retired Episcopalian priest, Reverend Warren Cromey, decided to hold a mass for willing vigil participants on the sidewalk.
The tools of his trade were assembled on a small card table...
...and when he saw me taking a photo, Cromey said, "Don't forget the cross."
The charismatic minister's special mass drew a number of his old parishioners...
...who supplied us with cookies and coffee.
One parishoner wore his old Army uniform.
When asked what kind of uniform it was, he said, "It's an Army dress uniform that was phased out forever in the early 1980s. Actually, it was Elvis' favorite uniform."
There was plenty of media to cover the mass...
...which gave it a street theater feel.
Reverend Cromey is an interesting old leftist who has always seemed to be about twenty years ahead of the wider culture, whether advocating for gay rights in the early 1960s or the plight of the Palestinians in the 1980s.
This is an excerpt from a "gay, lesbian bisexual religion" website where there is a short bio of Cromey as a gay rights pioneer:
"The Rev. Robert Warren Cromey, retired Episcopal priest, was born in 1931, raised in New York City and lived in San Francisco since 1962. Cromey is married and has three daughters and six grandchildren. Even though he is straight, Cromey has been a long-time ally and supporter of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons."
"In March of 1963, Cromey preached a sermon at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco about homosexuals. The Gospel lesson for the day spoke of the Christian concern for the outcasts. He was interviewed on the radio and in the newspapers and suddenly was a "queer lover."
"In December of 1964, several gay groups sponsored a New Year’s Eve costume ball with proceeds to go to the Council. As the guests arrived at the event, police photographers took pictures of the 500 people who were going into the party. Some party-goers, including lawyers representing the sponsors, were arrested. Cromey and the other clergy were outraged. Seven of them called a press conference denouncing the police and their discrimination against gays. Later a judge admonished the police for their actions and all charges were dropped against party-goers and lawyers."
I've seen Cromey a few times at the peace vigil over the last six months but had never seen him with the accoutrements of his trade, so to speak. It was obvious he was a shaman, a witch doctor, a magician, whatever you want to call it. The energy he was channeling during his sidewalk mass was genuinely astonishing.
Last year, Cromey wrote an interesting article on the hijacking of Christianity in the United States by the fundamentalist right:
"How Morality Affects Politics
Not enough religion
Robert Warren Cromey
Tuesday, December 21, 2004
We liberals have denigrated religion so much that Christian conservatives wreaked vengeance in the recent election. I have been a proud member of the ACLU since my university days in the 1950s. I went along with the idea that we should keep prayer out of the public schools and prevent the teaching of the Bible and religion in public high schools and universities under the guise of separation of church and state.
We now have more than two generations of religiously illiterate university graduates. The possibility of teaching high-school and college students critical thinking of the Bible, theology, ethics and religion in general has been lost to millions of students. William F. Buckley Jr. ridiculed Yale for de-emphasizing religion in that Ivy League bastion in his 1951 book, "God and Man at Yale." Yale was founded to train young men for the ministry in the Christian Church. If that school abandoned its religious roots, then secular and state-run schools could safely counter any attempts to teach any form of religion on the university level."
"The Christian conservatives filled the gap with literalistic opinions about what Scripture says, swallowed whole by intelligent but untutored believers. Thoughtful teaching about religion was replaced by teaching that followed a religiously conservative party line -- anti-abortion, anti- homosexual and pro-creationism. The universities blithely went along, making fun of the fundamentalists, but not teaching the students any alternative because they were not interested in the Bible and religion as subjects worthy of their scientific and technological prejudices.
We waged war on teaching and practicing religion in the public schools on the flimsy grounds of separation of church and state and the First Amendment. But there can be no real separation of religion and society. The president, his Cabinet, the Congress and the courts are full of men and women who are members of churches and other religious institutions. Their decisions are influenced in some measure by their religious traditions. The president has made it abundantly clear he feels inspired by his higher power when he makes decisions. Like it or not, a huge number of U.S. citizens say they are members of some religion."
"None of them wishes to have an established church like the state churches of England and Sweden, Denmark and Norway. The Founding Fathers went so far as to say there will be no establishment of religion. But nothing prohibits people from expressing their religious beliefs in public, both personally and politically. Yet liberals have said that there must be a separation of religion and society, that anything religious is construed as establishing religion. Thus, liberals in general are seen as anti-religion, and not just for insisting on separation of church and state.
A further trouble is that the worship of science and technology has replaced religion in the hearts of the intelligentsia. People put their faith in these areas in the hope that they will solve our problems. That is indeed an act of faith, as there can be no evidence that it is true."
"We find it absurd that some people believe in the Biblical story of creation when we smart people know that creation is an evolutionary process. Of course it is. But how many know what the meaning of the creation myth really is? Do we know enough about the Old Testament to understand how this story has influenced literature, art, poetry, music and religion? How many of us liberal intellectuals know about how the Bible as a whole is the basis of Western law as well as Western civilization?
We have a great opportunity ahead of us. We must encourage critical thinking and study of the Bible and religion in schools and universities. Instead of mocking religion, we must make it a source of serious consideration and understanding. Members of religions must support leaders who are intellectually sound and rigorous in their religious teaching. It is time to beef up our understanding of what we are against by being informed about what religion is all about."
Not everyone took communion, but I did, making it My First Communion, and probably my last. Still, it was interesting joining with a larger community in a bonding ritual, particularly while praying for peace.