All couples like to bring the New Year in on a loving note.
And what better way for two lesbian priests of the Episcopal Church to demonstrate their commitment to each other than in holy matrimony.
Before a jubilant crowd of 400 guests on New Year’s Day, the Rev. Mally Lloyd, former pastor at Christ Church in Plymouth, and now a ranking official of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, married the Rev. Katherine Ragsdale, dean and president of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass. And Bishop M. Thomas Shaw, the state’s highest ranking Episcopal official, presided.
No doubt, Lloyd and Ragsdale’s nuptial is historic. And both should be applauded for their courageous act.
The news of their wedding is traveling swiftly throughout the Episcopal Church. And while many of us here in Massachusetts — one of the few states that legalize same-sex marriages — rejoice of Lloyd and Ragsdale’s news, the fallout, which many are anticipating from the conservative arm of the church will, perhaps, not be a quiet storm.
The Rev. Mark Richardson, dean of the Episcopal Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, recognizes the possible storm that might ensue, but for now is downplaying the possible impact of Lloyd and Ragsdale’s marriage by conveying his blessings, stating, “I am grateful that their life together can have this public recognition.”
Lloyd hopes her fellow Episcopalians won’t focus on their nuptials as a “gay marriage,” but rather as “a commitment and marriage like any other.”
“We are asking God’s blessing, and asking the community and our friends to bless our marriage,” Lloyd told The Patriot Ledger.
Lloyd and Ragsdale are fortunate priests in that their union was legalized by the state of Massachusetts and “solemnized” in the language of the Episcopal Church.
But our first openly gay bishop, the Rev. V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, wasn’t so lucky.
The Reverend V. Gene Robinson said that he “always wanted to be a June bride.”
And in a private ceremony that took place five years to the day from when he was elected as the ninth bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire in the Episcopal Church, U.S.A., Robinson and his partner of 20 years, Mark Andrew, said “I do” in a civil union at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Concord, New Hampshire, in June 2008.
For those of us who gathered that June weekend at St. Paul’s, we came to do what the celebrant (an officiant, to you non-churchgoing folk) asked of us: “To witness the joining of Gene and Mark in civil union and to do all in our power to support them in their commitment.”
As the news of the Church’s first openly gay, noncelibate priest to be consecrated as bishop reverberated throughout the worldwide Anglican Communion half a decade ago, so, too, did the news of his civil union.
But a blogger reading the headline in Religion & Ethics that stated, “Gay bishop, partner plan civil union,” asked an important question: “If he is a bishop, why should he have a civil union? Shouldn’t he have a church wedding?”
The news of Lloyd and Ragsdale’s wedding will no doubt bring up the question of biblical heresy among conservatives.
But for those who will argue about the “authority of Scripture” it doesn’t hold weight here because the Episcopal Church has always been challenged on this issue.
For example, in the 1970s, the argument for authority of Scripture came up with the ordination of women — and so, too, did the threat of a schism. But in 1989, the Church consecrated its first female bishop — Barbara C. Harris. And conservatives were not only theologically outraged, but also racially challenged because Harris is African American.
And in 2006, gasps of both exhilaration and exasperation reverberated throughout the Anglican Communion when it was announced that Katharine Jefferts Schori would be the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church USA.
All this is no surprise, however, since the Episcopal Church has a history of taking the moral high ground on social justice issues.
On the theological rift concerning American slavery, the Episcopal Church rebuked the Bible’s literal interpretation, arguing that slavery violated the spirit of the Bible. Boston’s Old North Church, which played an active role in the American Revolution, served as a beacon for Paul Revere’s “midnight ride.” The Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Cumberland, Maryland, was a major stop on the Underground Railroad.
I remember the preacher at Robinson’s consecration. He was the Rt. Rev. Douglas E. Theuner who was succeeded by Robinson. Theuner preached about the necessary shift that must take place in the church in order for it to be inclusive of all people, not just with LGBTQ people. He said:
When we attempt to bring the margins into the center, we necessarily push the center to the margins. If Canterbury or New York, for instance, wishes to help Nigeria or West Indies move toward the center, then for everyone to continue to occupy the space available, Canterbury and New York must willing move toward the margin.
We who have been in the center don’t like moving to the margin, event to different places on it, but we must do that if we’re going to affirm the marginalized. That was the thrust of our Lord’s ministry. …Welcome to the life where Jesus lived it…on the margin!
For me, the joy in this moment of knowing about the holy matrimony of Lloyd and Ragsdale is that the Episcopal Church crawls toward inclusiveness, albeit haltingly, and in spite of opposition.
And for those of us on the margins in our churches and faith communities we need to see the principle of love in action.
The wedding of Lloyd and Ragsdale is one such example.
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