Saturday, November 12, 2005

Reverend Cromey's Sidewalk Communion

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.


Franny Egan said...

Dear SF Mike:
Great piece this is on Fr. Cromey and his living the faith. Why not Mass and Holy Communion on the sidewalk outside the Federal Building? This makes living your faith and belief in peace more relevent for all of us.
Fully formed human life is just as needful of nurturing as developing forms. And we need consistency of our belief, e.g. we cannot call ourselves Christian and then go execute or torture a prisoner or two just as indiscriminate fire and bombing into civilian areas is not acceptable.
If one believes in the sanctity of human life and then condones capital punishment, torture and military adventures, then one is truly inconsistent. Generally we don't examine such inconsistencies in ourselves, but here it would do us well to look at the issue logically.
The throwaway line "What would Jesus Do?"would be better posed in the negative. He would not execute criminals. He would not wage war on helpless nations. He would not torture prisoners.
Keep up the fine do you get such crisp photographs on your blog?

sfmike said...

Dear Franny: I love your "What Would Jesus Not Do?" Let's make it into a T-shirt with a few examples below the question -- "torture," "war on helpless nations" "execute criminals" and so on.

The crisp photographs are only because I take a lot of them and then edit out the blurry and boring ones. I also have an old Sony digital camera from 2001 that I used in FotoTales which I think of as The Magic Camera. I've tried later models with more pixels but none of them are as forgiving (of shaky hands, for instance) and with such beautiful color. Photoshop for cropping and adjusting levels comes in handy too.

Kit Stolz said...

Nice piece. I like the blend of pictures and text from what sounds like a very good, thoughtful man.

Sometimes those of us on the left-hand side of the political dial may forget that the religious right does not speak for all people of faith; it's demeaning to even think so. An example is the former pastor of the very popular and socially active All Saints Church in Pasadena, George Regas (sp?) who as you may have seen was punished with an IRS inquiry after speaking out against the war in 2004, even though he specifically did not endorse one candidate or another. In the last week All Saints has gotten a lot of support from believers of all varieties, even hard right-wing conservatives.

Someone wise once said that war was too important to be left to the generals; similarly, faith is too important to be left to the (so-called) conservatives.

markleym said...

It's a great piece, Mike - thoughtful, fully researched and delightfully reported. The pix, as always, are fabulous. And it's provoked perceptive comments. Atta go.

Anonymous said...


Way to enter the peaceful spirit of the event and blessings on Your First Communion.

Anonymous said...

This is very fine work. We are very proud to be your father and step-mother.
Dad and Margie

janinsanfran said...

Nice piece. I blogged the same event in the context of Veterans Day.

Have looked in on you before, but didn't realize we were in the same place in reality that day.

BTW, have made a similar discovery about cameras: it is not the pixels, it is the steadiness and the composition.