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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
Having been raised steeped in the Episcopal tradition myself, I found much to enjoy about Walter C. Righter's book, A Pilgrim's Way. Some of my classmates from school are included in the book since, through legal or church activities, they were somehow involved in the case at hand. I worked with the AIDS Service Center of Pasadena, California, as a volunteer for a few years, and this was originally a "spin-off" of All Saints Church, a very gay- and lesbian-supportive Episcopal church in southern California. Not so strangely, I feel close to this material in more ways than just being a gay man.
Walter C. Righter and his wife, Nancy, are a couple I would like to meet. He was the retired Episcopal bishop who made headlines a few years back for having ordained an openly gay man, who was in a committed, loving relationship with another man. I still don't understand why any of this is such a problem for a single human being in the United States, let alone a church as generally liberal in such things as the Episcopal Church. I was baptized Episcopalian, went to an Episcopal high school, and certainly felt that of all the churches I'd been to, this was one of the more forward-thinking with regard to inclusion of what other churches considered outsiders — including gays and lesbians. It was a bit of an eye-opener to read this book, with its exposé of the horrendous politicking that goes on among clergy.
Righter very intelligently notes the link between misogyny in the church and an antigay stance. But more than this, he describes something thatIcan only call a spiritual allegiance to the true principles of Christianity. That spiritual allegiance, which, if we can disregard the brainwashing that rather shallow people use who seem to have read only the few passages in the Bible that condemn women, homosexuals, and others, is the wonderful revelation at the core of A Pilgrim's Way.
In A Pilgrim's Way, Righter tells of his experience as a man of the church being accused of heresy. Barry Stopfel was, to Righter, an ideal candidate for priesthood, and Stopfel's relationship with his lover was, according to Righter, better than many other marital unions among the clergy. This was in Newark, New Jersey, part of a diocese that Righter considered fairly broad-minded and a bit of a melting pot for the Episcopal Church. Soon, bishops were meeting to bring the charge of heresy, an accusation that had not been used in the church since the 1920s. The antigay and antiwoman stance of some of these bishops — many of whom are not supported in these views by their congregations — comes through fairly clearly. As with all churches, a small percentage of the whole turns out to be full of the rage-aholics, and Righter and his wife find themselves the subject of ecclesiastical and media scrutiny.
While this plays out to the public, and the Righters become aware of the growing support for their position, the story at times gets a bit bogged down in all the names of bishops, lawyers, and supporters and loses a bit of steam. However, what will enthrall you is the story of Righter, born in the '20s, and his enlightenment with regard to his belief in the message of Christianity, bound up with the discrimination against gays and lesbians within the church to which he devoted his life.
This is a fine journal of this history-making moment, as well as a story of one man thrown into the media eye, accused of heresy in his retirement by his own church, who withstood the politics and the pressure and found a higher ground. I would've liked more of Barry Stopfel and his partner's experience throughout this book, but I can understand that in many ways, Walter C. Righter penned this as a mission statement for the Episcopal Church to move forward into the 21st century. A Pilgrim's Way comes recommended.