Monday, January 30, 2012

A Congregation Gently Pushes It's Rector: Celebrates 20 Years of Blessings

Integrity co-sponsored a two-day celebration at All Saints Church in Pasadena, CA this past weekend which told the story of how two men who wanted to commit their lives to one another, gently pushed their Rector until he agreed to bless their union, and how the Vestry and a Task Force on "God, Sex and Justice" studied and prepared the parish to move forward with the unprecedented blessing. Integrity President The Rev. Dr. Caroline Hall represented the organization at the event and here is her account of what took place. 

It was like a family reunion at All Saints, Pasadena last Saturday. Over one hundred and fifty people gathered to remember and celebrate the twenty years that have passed since All Saints celebrated its first same-gender union in January 1992. They certainly weren’t the first church to bless a same-gender couple, but All Saints is high-profile and their decision to go ahead made news the Los Angeles Times and was reported nationally by the Episcopal News Service.

I was fascinated that Rector Emeritus George Regas shared that it was a difficult decision for him. Not the decision to bless same-gender unions but the decision to buck church teaching. He said, “It was hard for me… there was something about violating the churches rules on marriage that had a different feel about it.” What made him do it? The gentle persistence of his congregation.

In the early 1980s gay and lesbian people started making themselves known at All Saints, and they formed a group – GALAS. Regas, then the rector, joined them in a potluck and Q &;A session twice a year, “It was,” he recalled, “my first experience of going significantly into a gay or lesbian person’s life…. Every time I would go [to GALAS] they would push me to bless their unions but I questioned how to put it into practice and still keep my job”.

The Rev. Dr. George Regas & Mark Benson

Mark Benson and Phil Straw were among those who pushed Regas further. In November 1986 they first asked for a blessing on their union. When Regas offered to do something quiet and small in his office they politely declined. They had something else in mind – a service just like straight folk.

And that’s what they got, eventually. In 1990, George announced his intention of blessing same-sex unions. After a congregational Task Force on "God, Sex and Justice" had spent a year introducing the idea to the wider congregation and developing plans and protocols, the blessing went ahead. It wasn’t a small wedding. Yesterday we saw footage of the day itself with procession, banners, choir, the whole nine yards.

It didn’t stop there. All Saints has continued to support LGBT inclusion every step of the way. They supported Bishop Walter Righter during his heresy trial for ordaining a gay man; they organized the conference “Beyond Inclusion” to provide momentum for the LGBT agenda at the 1997 Philadelphia General Convention; after the Denver 2000 they supported the development of the Claiming the Blessing collective which went on to organize support for Bishop Gene Robinson’s confirmation in 2003.

Bishop Gene Robinson & All Saints' Rector Ed Bacon
Did I mention that Bishop Gene was there yesterday? And Bishop Mary?  Together. It was history making... because the two Bishops have never spent time together getting to know on another.

The Rev. Dr.Caroline Hall, Louise Brooks & Cindy Smith
I got to hang out with Louise Brooks, Integrity Board Member and Director of Communications; Jim White, the LA Diocesan Organizer, longtime Integrity volunteer Randy Kimmler; as well as Cindy Smith, Provincial Coordinator for Province 8. I also got to meet for the first time Jamie Hebert who is a Producer for the forthcoming dvd, Voices of Witness: Out of the Box, who was there with his husband, actor and comedian Alec Mapa, sharing about their experience finding All Saints and why they are choosing to bring their son up in this inclusive congregation. It was certainly a gay day.
                                                                               Producer Jamie Hebert & Actor Alec Mapa

My thanks go to the good people of All Saints for all they have done to make the Episcopal Church truly welcoming, and for the beacon of hope they are for so many, that there can be a home for us here. Special thanks go to Canon Susan Russell for her work in putting this celebratory festival together to remind us how far we have come in just two decades.

To see video of the event go to the All Saints website.

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