Atop San Francisco's Nob Hill, directly across from one of the old centers of municipal power, the Pacific Union Men's Club...
...stands another monument to community power, the 100-year-old Episcopalian Grace Cathedral.
After a couple of decades of being led by an amiable lackey to the wealthy, Bishop William Swing, the diocese just survived a controversial and contentious election of a new bishop this summer that threatened to tear the entire Episcopalian movement apart.
There were five candidates, and two of them were openly gay, which the conservative wing of the worldwide church abhorred. The choice settled finally on a relatively young cleric working in Alabama, the Rev. Marc Handley Andrus, who is white and heterosexual, which was seen as an appeasing gesture to the outside.
In reality, he was chosen simply because the local clergy in the Bay Area thought he was the best person for the job, who would actually pay attention to the work they were doing with their congregations. Their faith was rewarded on Thursday the 7th by the bold announcement that he wanted to lead a procession of the faithful from Nob Hill to the Federal Building in the Tenderloin to join the weekly peace vigil protesting the Iraq Invasion.
The long-standing cleric who actually runs Grace Cathedral, Dean Alan Jones (on the left, above, standing next to Bishop Andrus) "disagreed on tactics" with his new Bishop and offered the crowd of 200 a prayer on the front steps of the church but politely declined to be involved in the protest.
Bishop Andrus then offered a lovely speech about a bishop he had known who was one of the most adamant opponents of women being ordained in the church, but who eventually officiated personally over the ordination of his daughter. "Have you changed your mind, bishop?" he was asked, and in reply he said, "No, but I am acting from my heart."
Talking to Episcopalians on the route down the hill over the controversy, there were a variety of reactions to this rift, ranging from "it's good to be part of a church that allows for these kinds of disagreements" to "Dean Jones has always been a horse's ass."
The sight of an Episcopalian bishop with staff and full regalia marching through the Tenderloin was oddly surreal and wonderful.
The diocese had obtained a permit for use of the Federal Building plaza for the early afternoon...
...and the crowd was charming as it shivered slightly in the shaded expanse.
There was quite a bit of media there, including Steve Rubenstein of "The Chronicle" (on the right above, click here for his truncated story) and Jan Adams of the indispensable "happening-here" photoblog (on the left above, click here for her brilliant account of the event).
There were also lots of law enforcement men standing around...
...led by a Homeland Security guy puffing away on a cigarette the whole time who looked almost comically evil, as if he'd been hired to play the bad guy in a Steven Seagal movie.
The government also had undercover photographers taking pictures of every individual in the crowd, and they were not even remotely subtle in their subterfuge.
Bishop Marc, as he likes to be called, gave a short, sweet sermon that involved another disagreement with a more conservative colleague who had somehow mixed up the Old Testament of Vengeance with the New Testament of Mercy.
This was followed by a Eucharist conducted with army surplus canteens, which was a brilliant touch.
Markley Morris, the Quaker organizer of the weekly vigil on Thursdays in front of the Federal Building, gave a short speech on his horror at the entire phony "War on Terror" in the United States before receiving the host.
He then went to one of the doorways of the Federal Building and laid down on the ground, wrapping himself in a sheet as if it were a shroud.
He was soon joined by Bishop Andrus himself, who adjusted the cross around his neck so it wasn't splayed across the sidewalk.
Bishop Andrus soon decided that he was more comfortable sitting rather than laying, and he was joined individually by people who decided they had the courage to be arrested.
As a young man standing besides me stated, "I would love to join them but I can't. I'm in the Coast Guard and they'd kick me out."
This was an extraordinary act of courage by the new Bishop, one that should be emulated by the leaders of American clergy of all faiths everywhere, because unfortunately the newly elected Democratic majority in Washington, D.C. is just as much the War Party as their Republican counterparts.
If that seems hyperbolic, read the recent interview with Dennis Kucinich (click here) about how the Democratic caucus wants to throw even more money at a military solution to the Iraq War.
It's amazing that the majority of the American population, even after five years of steady propaganda by the elites running the current United States Empire, don't support the current Iraq Occupation on any level.
A polling organization called World Public Opinion has just released some startling findings which should light a fire under the backsides of a few politicians (click here for their site):
"A new poll by WorldPublicOpinion.org finds that three out of four Americans believe that in order to stabilize Iraq the United States should enter into talks with Iran and Syria, and eight in ten support an international conference on Iraq. A majority also opposes keeping U.S. forces in Iraq indefinitely and instead supports committing to a timetable for their withdrawal within two years or less."
Thank you, Bishop Andrus, for your leadership and welcome to San Francisco.