Bangor minister, rabbi join clergy in Washington to call for GLBT justice

Posted June 24, 2011, at 8:31 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — It was the question about a frame that got the Rev. Elaine Hewes thinking on her visit to Washington, D.C., last month.

The pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church and Rabbi Darah Lerner of Congregation Beth El, who both lead congregations in Bangor, were two of four people from Maine who attended a conference May 22-24 called “Clergy Call for Justice and Equality.” Sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, it brought together clergy from across denominational lines to learn about issues facing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals and to lobby lawmakers.

“I loved the day of preparation,” Hewes said recently. “The question was: ‘What is the frame through which you see the world as a person of faith?’ For me, it helped me see what was at the heart of why I was going [to the conference]. For me, the ‘frame’ is a table at which everyone is welcome.”

Hewes said that idea meshed with what her bishop, the Rev. Margaret S. Payne, head of the New England Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, has expressed.

“She has said that our mission is to take down the walls that divide people, turn them on their sides and turn them into tables where all may gather,” Hewes said.

Lerner said she viewed taking part in the conference as part of the larger landscape of “prophetic Judaism.”

“As Jews, we are called to look at the world with eyes toward implementing a call for justice, not just for the Jewish community but for all,” the Reform rabbi said.

A portion of the program was focused on safety in schools for GLBT students. Some of what she heard sounded familiar. Students in her own congregation have talked about what it is like to be Jewish in a society dominated by Christians, especially at Christmas.

“One thing that struck me was the importance of story,” Lerner said. “What I mean by that is people’s real lived lives and how decisions being made by governments and by voters impact our lives.”

Lerner is the first lesbian rabbi to lead a Bangor congregation.

The other Maine residents who attended the conference were Katy Jane of the Religious Coalition Against Discrimination, based in Portland, and the Rev. Benjamin Shambaugh, dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Portland.

The Human Rights Campaign, of which the foundation that sponsored the conference is a part, represents 1 million members and supporters nationwide, according to information on its website. As the largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, HRC envisions an America where GLBT people are ensured of their basic equal rights, and can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community.

“Religious leadership has been critical in recent GLBT policy successes — the passage of the ‘Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act,’ marriage equality in five new states and the District of Columbia, and the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’’’  the website about the clergy conference said. “As people of faith, an inter-religious community committed to pursuing justice, we have made huge strides but much more remains to be done.”

Lerner and Hewes will be working in their congregations and the broader community to help make those strides.

• • •

“Building Relationships That Last: A GLBT Pride Relationship Workshop”

7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 30

Congregation Beth El, 183 French St., Bangor

945-4578

http://www.me002.urj.net/

Rabbi Darah Lerner of Congregation Beth El will discuss spirituality and strengthening relationships. Counselor Alex Stanley will talk about the building blocks of good relationships. Bangor attorney Jane Clayton will explain legal and financial considerations for GLBT couples.

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