Bishop Shannon Johnston of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia has presided over the blessing of a same-sex union, according to an Arlington clergywoman.
Mother Leslie J. Hague, rector of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Arlington was joined in “holy union” with her partner, Katie Casteel, at Episcopal Church of the Holy Cross in Dunn Loring on November 23. The afternoon blessing ceremony followed Hague and Casteel’s civil marriage in nearby Washington, DC exactly one year before. Same-sex marriages are not recognized by the Commonwealth of Virginia.
According to the September vestry minutes of St. Michael’s parish, Hague extended an invitation to every member of the church to the blessing ceremony. Hague and Casteel have shared a home for over eight years.
The blessing comes one year after Johnston granted the request of Christ Church in Alexandria to begin using a “provisional” same-sex blessing rite authorized by Episcopal General Convention in 2012. The blessings, despite using a modification of the church’s marriage rite, are not called marriage in Virginia as they are in the neighboring Diocese of Washington.
In his letter to Christ Church, Johnston wrote of how “support from such an iconic place as Christ Church will be very helpful indeed for the witness of our Diocese in this matter of pastoral care for all of our people…I look forward to working with you for LGBT inclusion in every way that I can.”
Hague has served at St. Michael’s since 2002. In 2011, Hague co-sponsored a resolution on diocesan litigation against departing parishes submitted at the Virginia Diocesan Council. The resolution affirmed “our continued support for the Bishop in his leadership to preserve Episcopal properties for the mission of the Episcopal Church by all available means, as requested by the Executive Board in 2006.”
“We are deeply grieved that those who have severed their ties to the Episcopal Church have continued to claim that our property now ought to belong to them, and that they have made this litigation necessary,” The background section of the resolution read. “[Retired] Bishop [Peter] Lee and Bishop Johnston have provided steady leadership, and we believe it is important that they have full latitude to determine which options are wisest in providing for the worship and ministry of Episcopalians in these locations for generations to come.”
Johnston’s time as Virginia bishop has been fraught with controversy over matters legal and theological. In late 2012 the diocese ordained its first openly partnered lesbian priest in a ceremony at the Falls Church Episcopal, while Johnston himself drew questions after sponsoring a diocesan clergy day with Jesus Seminar founder Dominic Crossan and later presided over a Good Friday service in which Retired Bishop John Shelby Spong decried the Nicene Creed as “a radical distortion of the Gospel of John,” asserted that several of the apostles were “mythological” and declared that Jesus Christ did not die to redeem humanity from its sins.