High-Church rites in Queens

HighHeelsYes, yes, yes, your friends at GetReligion got all the emails. We know that you saw Corey Kilgannon's story in The New York Times about the Rev. Louis Braxton Jr. and his ministry to the "tranny" streetwalkers of Astoria, Queens. We know that you want to know what we think.

Forget the religion beat, this is the brave new world of pronoun-challenged journalism.

The setup in the story is blunt and to the point. The key statement from the Times and the writer is clear: This is a religion story, right from the good-morning wakeup call at the top of the piece.

The groggy young adults reach for their makeup kits and fight for the lone bathroom. Once their makeup, hair and clothes are just right, they trudge into the living room, holding handbags and teetering on high heels, and sit facing an altar set up by Father Braxton.

An Episcopal priest, he says Mass and prays for their souls. He makes passing references to sins of the flesh, appropriately enough, since his flock has spent the previous night working as prostitutes on the "tranny stroll" near Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, where men go for quick sex with men who look like women.

These worshipers -- Princess, Kelly, Michelle, Skye, Gianni and Terry, all teenagers or in their early 20s -- are slender, stylish and soft of voice, and will smack anyone who questions their femininity or asserts that, biologically, they are still males.

One more paragraph a few lines later deserves special notice:

Father Braxton strongly disapproves of the prostitution, but he says kicking residents out for peddling their bodies would only make things worse. So as they leave the shelter dressed in skimpy outfits, he reminds them that the shelter door is locked from 2 a.m. until sunrise and leaves them with his standard parting wish: "I hope you get arrested."

The problem, for me, was not the subject material of the story. The problem, for me, was that this piece tells us the stories of several of the young men, but doesn't tell us much at all about their priest and how he makes sense of his ministry and the myriad moral and doctrinal issues involved in it. Then there is another issue: Is there anyone, anywhere, in his diocese who has any questions about the wisdom of his strategy?

Meanwhile, let me note two other things I have received an email or two about.

First, there are many, many Episcopalians -- especially high-church, Anglo-Catholics -- who use the term "Mass." The usual term is "Holy Eucharist," but it is not a mistake for the Times to say that this Episcopal priest is saying "Mass."

Also, the Episcopal Church practices open Communion, so there is no connection between the trade being practiced by these young men and their ability to receive Holy Communion. Are Confession and repentance issues for the priest and for them? The story does not address that question. As you would expect, there would be fierce debate within Episcopal/Anglican circles about whether that question would even be appropriate.

P.S. Note that the priest is called "the Rev. Louis Braxton Jr." on first reference and then "Father Braxton" on second. So this policy of religious leaders going by name only on first reference (click here for context) and then by their appropriate titles on second reference only applies to bishops and archbishops? And again I ask, what about other churches? This is confusing.

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