LGBT at St. George’s

(LGBT) Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender at St. George’s

This issue was both a national church and then a Diocese issue concerned itself with ordination of priests and marriage. The marriage issue also affected the local church. However,  it was additionally an issue of welcome, fellowship and treatment of LGBT parishioners and how they became part of the church community.  

Ordination

In Feb., 1990 the St. Georgian reported on Annual Council of that  year. “A resolution was adopted that refers to the 1979 General Convention’s statements that “is it not appropriate for this Church to ordain a practicing homosexual or any person who is engaged in heterosexual relations outside of marriage; notes the bishop of Newark’s ordination to the priesthood of an unmarried an uncelibate person; and calls on the Diocese to reaffirm its commitment “to be faithful to the Biblical witness as it continues its discussion of matters of human sexuality”

In 1994 “sexual orientation” was added to the non-discrimination canons for ordination in the Episcopal Church. By 2003, the first openly gay bishop was consecrated; in 2009, General Convention resolved that God’s call is open to all.  In addition, canon law specifies that everyone have access to the governance of the church and lists “sexual orientation, gender identity and expression” as specifically protected from discrimination.   In 2012, discrimination against transgender persons in the ordination process was officially prohibited.

In many Episcopal churches the 2003 and, including St.George’s created a rift in membership with people leaving.  At. St. George’s, active baptized members had increased from 1999, from 1147 in 2000 to 1232 in 2003. However it dropped to 1097 in 2004 and did not reach earlier levels until 2006.  2004 was the year of an interim ministry which could have affected the statistics as well as the gay biship.  While baptized membership decreased, communicants continued rising from 857 in 1999 to 1023 in 2004

Marriage

The St. Georgian reported in Feb., 1990 on Annual Council of that  year. “A resolution was adopted that refers to the 1979 General Convention’s statements that “is it not appropriate for this Church to ordain a practicing homosexual or any person who is engaged in heterosexual relations outside of marriage; notes the bishop of Newark’s ordination to the priesthood of an unmarried an uncelibate person; and calls on the Diocese to reaffirm its commitment “to be faithful to the Biblical witness as it continues its discussion of matters of human sexuality”

Charles Sydnor reported in the Congregational meeting of 1991 of a rumor that he castigated as untrue  that he held a blessing of a union of two persons of the same sex.  He said it was untrue, it had not taken place anywhere and that “he would not allow such even to be contemplated, because it is illegal under the Canon Law of the Episcopal Church”

By 2010, the thoughts had changed on marriage.  It would be termed a “same sex blessing “but not marriage

The Diocese took up the issue that year in the following resolution was passed

“Resolution R-14s: Substitute for R-3 (Inclusiveness in Ordained Ministry), R-4 (Authorizing Rites of Blessing) and R-11 (Defining Sacramental and Civil Definitions of Marriage)

“Our Bishop is asked to empanel a group of clergy and lay people, including attorneys admitted to practice in Virginia and recognized experts on canon law, as well as knowledgeable clergy and lay representatives of a variety of theological perspectives on the issue of blessing same-gender relationships.      Such panel shall recommend consistent standards to be written into diocesan canons so that, if services of blessing same-gender unions are authorized, our clergy and people have a clearly understood and enforceable set of rules to guide the application of clergy discretion in providing pastoral care to same-gender couples seeking such blessings.”

The same sex  blessing issue was heard by a group established by the Diocese  under Ed Jones at St. George’s which spanned the Diocese in 2010.   

They were charged with setting the standard. They studied how other Dioceses had handled the issue and the liturgies used. The Bishop then scheduled open listening sessions throughout the Diocese 2010  and Jones made a report at the 2011 Annual Council (Convention).  The entire process to look at this issue spanned 18 months

The “Celebration and Blessing of a Covenant Relationship” service was approved by the Diocese in 2011 and a copy was distributed.

Jim Dannals reported on same sex blessings to Vestry, May 2011:

“ For heterosexual marriages, the clergy acts on behalf of the state to perform the ceremony, which is a civil union. For the church there is the sacrament of marriage.  The Blessing of Same Gender Committed Relationships is not the sacrament of marriage since the Book of Common Prayer stipulates marriage is between a man and a woman. It is also not a civil union legally binding in the state of Virginia”

“The Blessing of Same Gender Committed Relationships would be a reception of the blessings of the Church.  When the congregation is ready, church can bless a same gender relationship as long as the liturgy does not look like the marriage ceremony.  It is a pastoral response, not a sacrament. The Bishop would allow different blessings on different occasions. In any case, we do not want the participants to feel that it is a second class ceremony.  The Church is acknowledging in the blessing that the love for each other is as significant as for a heterosexual couple. “

“Jim said the Bishop used the metaphor of the Anglican community as a large tent. If it does not include all people, then part of the tent comes down and becomes a wall. His goal is that no one will feel like a second citizen and their views will be valued.  He does not believe that anyone who is currently active in the community will leave.  For those who decide to leave, we would wish them well in finding a new community of faith.”

In June 2011 Jim reported that he held two meetings on the subject recently with 15 people attending the first and 20 at the second. There were no negative comments. Questions were asked to understand the issues involved.

In July , 2011 Jim has asked the Bishop’s consent to move forward in the process and the Bishop gave his consent.  Jim worked with Gay in designing liturgies for the ceremony. Jim has been notified by two couples that they would like to participate in the ceremony.

A second step was ti give another opportunity for the congregation to be heard on the issue and discuss, Listening sessions were held in the fall

in 2012, a provisional rite of blessing for same-gender relationships was authorized by the Episcopal General Convention.  They were called same-sex blessings but not marriage.  Bishop Shannon Johnston presided over the first same-sex blessing in 2013 of the rector of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Arlington and her partner. Same-sex marriages were not recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia.

In 2012, the first same sex blessing occurred at St. George’s. At the Vestry in April, Rev. Jim Dannals said the response was “positive”

In June, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to be married.

This came simultaneously with the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Salt Lake City.  At that meeting they debated the church’s understanding of sacramental marriage and the accompanying canonical definition of marriage, and whether to extend that definition to include same-sex couples. 

A Canonical change was made eliminating language defining marriage as between a man and a woman Resolution A036 and authorizing two new marriage rites with language allowing them to be used by same-sex or opposite-sex couples Resolution A054. The latter would depend on the bishop

A054 stipulates: “Bishops exercising ecclesiastical authority or, where appropriate, ecclesiastical supervision, will make provision for all couples asking to be married in this church to have access to these liturgies. Trial use is only to be available under the discretion and with the permission of the diocesan bishop.”

Thus by 2015, the canons of the church were changed to make the rite of marriage available to all people, regardless of gender. 

Inclusive

In 1976, both the House of Deputies and House of Bishops voted for a fully inclusive Episcopal Church, stating, “homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the church.”

Charles Sydnor took up the issue during his time and remembered the period

“In the 1980’s, a parishioner asked if I could help his friend who had moved here from D. C. after a painful separation from his partner of eleven years. When I counseled with him, I realized that his issues were the same as anyone going through a divorce, so I could be helpful in what I had learned about divorce counseling for heterosexual persons. As he recovered he shared his struggle early in his life to reject his gay identity with psychiatric help, and counseling, but he could not deny who he was. When I suggested that God made him the way he was and loved him the way he was, it was like the breath of the Spirit blew in and he asked if he could be baptized. I had concluded from my research and reading that our sexual identity is a function of nature, not nurture, and consequently we must say theologically that God made him gay. I came to believe gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons should have equal access to all the sacraments of the church even as heterosexual persons do.

“When a parishioner who was dying of AIDS asked me to acknowledge gay relationships at his funeral and let his friends in the gay community speak, quotes from my sermon and the service made the press. I got hate mail, but I also became known as a gay friendly pastor of a gay friendly parish. So much so that when the editor of the VA Episcopalian published an unfortunate editorial entitled “Gay is Not OK”, a parishioner came to me and said does this mean I have to leave, and I said emphatically, No! The editor lost his job after the editorial.”

In 1992, St. George’s hosted a World AIDS Day observance in Fredericksburg.

“I had become acquainted with Susan Vaughan of HIV/AIDS Support Services when I had ministered to our parishioner. So when they proposed participating in the World AIDS Day Candlelight March, I invited them to assemble here in our nave,  go march, and return for closing prayer and reception.

Afterward, at a candlelight walk downtown, a man confronted participants and called them “fruitcakes.”  It was that kind of attitude that had led Sydnor to host the event at St. George’s.

“At the closing I invited all present to join us in worship on Sunday.

During the vigil, Sydnor said, he told the crowd that all in attendance were welcome to worship at St. George’s. “And ‘all’ meant ‘all,’” Sydnor said. He wanted the doors shut to no one

“At the reception several persons thanked me and said it was the first time they as a gay person had been invited to church. There was good press coverage of the march and my participation. Later that week when I got to Williamsburg for the LARC Conference and called home to see how things were, Maureen said, “We are fine but the police are here; someone threw a well- aimed brick through the upstairs window where I was ironing and another though the kitchen door where Christina was doing homework.”  I had no proof, but always suspected it was a homophobic response to my hosting the AIDS march.

Fast forward to 1997

“In 1997 I attended the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Philadelphia as an advocate for ecumenical resolutions on behalf of The Episcopal Diocesan Ecumenical Officers Association of which I was a member. On Sunday morning before the convention began, I walked to the nearest Episcopal Church to worship. When I turned to exchange the peace, I met two guys with very colorful spiked hair who looked most uncomfortable. When they did not go forward to communion, I whispered to them  that in the Episcopal Church all baptized persons were welcome to receive. After the service we fell  into conversation and they invited me to lunch where I learned that this had been their first time in church in years since they grew up in a church that condemned homosexuality as a sin and they had felt they could not be Christian and gay. I took them to the convention booth for Integrity, the organization that supports gay rights in the Episcopal Church, and they met a gay priest and seemed to rejoice they had found a church they might be part of.

Sydnor said. “I came back [to St. George’s] and I said, ‘I think it’s time for us to be intentional about letting people of various sexual orientations know they’re welcome here.’”

“When I came back I told our vestry that story and proposed that we should become intentional and overt about welcoming persons regardless of sexual orientation and shared a draft statement similar to what you still have in your bulletin. I invited the vestry to candid and honest dialogue and after struggles they endorsed the statement. After that I would have sometimes have newcomers after church squeeze my hand and say thank you for welcoming me.”

“Not long after, the parish agreed to add sexual orientation to its statement welcoming people to the church regardless of race, nationality”

This was included in the 1997 Vestry minutes “St. George’s welcomes you to become a member regardless of race, nationality or sexual orientation.”

“When word of our statement welcoming all regardless of sexual orientation got around, I was invited by the FAMA to share my exegetical work on the eleven passages of scripture that mention sexuality.  I presented biblical scholarship supporting that the biblical passages do not address same sex relationships as we now know them. While some disagreed, I at least wasn’t kicked out of the group and later became the president.

“Later I supported the formation of PFLAG, parents and friends of gays and lesbians and was invited to do the same scripture analysis with them. I saw relieved faces as they realized that the bible does not require us to condemn homosexual persons.

“When Integrity of Northern VA asked if we would host a monthly Integrity Eucharist here I said yes, and it seemed to be a non- threatening entry point for some gay and lesbian persons who had been turned off by their own church to re-enter the Christian community.

Their goal – “To act as a catalyst for the full inclusion LGBT people in the community and the church as a whole.  We seek to live out our baptismal covenant of respecting the dignity of each and every person. 

They defined their activities “Provide opportunities for worship and fellowship for Christians and seekers in a welcoming environment. Host discussions and presentations with guest speakers regarding LGBT spirituality and social justice issues.   Reach out to the greater community through Fredericksburg Pride and other organizations and events .

They held services and met on Sunday evenings at St. George’s for many years. 

They also  brought in various programs:

  1. Feb, 2011 – Potomac Fever Ensemble of The Gay Mens Chorus of WDC
  2. May 10,11,12, 2013 – Love Makes a Family – LGBT and their families. This was a photo text presentation created by Family Diversity Projects. Photographs depict a variety of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people and their families of all races in familiar family settings. The photos were accompanied by interviews with each family member, who speak candidly about their lives, their relationships, and the ways in which they cope with the realities of prejudice, bias, and intolerance on a day-to-day basis
  3. Oct., 2013 Rock Creek Singers. “Rock Creek Singers (RCS) is a select, dynamic, chamber ensemble of 32 members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC, who sing a repertoireof a cappella and accompanied classical and contemporary music for audiences throughout the national capital region.

The group became inactive after that at St. George’s by 2014.

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