Charlottesville - home of the University of Virginia and the huge UVA Medical Center - continues to be among the most progressive cities in Virginia. Now, St. Paul's Memorial Church, an Episcopal parish, has taken things up a further notch in the progressive movement by announcing that it will begin to recognize same sex relationships and joins six other Episcopal parishes in Virginia to do so and accept the reality that committed same sex couples exist and deserve church recognition. WVIR-TV 29 has coverage on St. Paul's historic and welcomed decision. Here are some highlights:
A Charlottesville Episcopal church is taking steps toward recognizing same-sex unions. "It is another step along the road that this church has had in opening its doors to people. Particularly people on the margins," said Rector James Richardson.
St. Paul's Memorial Church sits right across University Avenue from the UVA Rotunda. And after months of deliberation, it's decided to stand up to officially recognize same-sex relationships.
"What we are doing is not in a vacuum, it is part of the wider church, not every part of the church is doing the same thing," Richardson said. "In the end it came to me to ask permission of the bishop about whether we could bless these relationships."
The church joins six other Episcopal congregations in the Diocese of Virginia approved to perform similar ceremonies.
'The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, has authorized seven congregations to provide a generous pastoral response to faithful same-sex couples in the context of a church service. "I am convinced – both theologically and experientially – that committed, monogamous, same-sex relationships can be faithful in and to the Christian life," noted Bishop Johnston. He also reiterated his firm commitment to supporting all congregations in the Diocese of Virginia, including those congregations who object theologically to same-sex blessings.
In his decision to bless and recognize same sex unions, Richardson turned to his congregation, his clergy, and even the Bible itself. He says the decision reflects the fact that the definition of marriage is changing.
"The Bible has a rather large latitude on marriage," Richardson said. "We think of it now as primarily for the mutual joy of husband and wife. That has led to an inevitable question - is it only men and women who can have the mutual joy of a committed, supportive, loving relationship?" Richardson doesn't think so.
"The steady progression of the episcopal church has been to open our arms of love and welcome more people and provide for them all of the blessings that the church provides," he said. "We can celebrate - you are in a loving, committed, faithful relationship. We celebrate it. You are welcome here and we bless it. And god blesses you."
Kudos to St. Paul's and the Diocese of Virginia. By this action, it gives testimony that not all Christians embrace fear and hatred of others. Would that more churches followed this example.