A historic Episcopal parish that counts U.S. President George Washington among its past vestry members has hosted its first blessing of a same-sex union.
The Falls Church News Press reports that two men were joined in a “Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” in the historic sanctuary of the Falls Church Episcopal in Falls Church, Virginia on Friday, August 22. The church property was won from departing Anglicans in a lawsuit by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.
The service, officiated under the direction of Rector John Ohmer, marks the first such celebration at the historic property. A court ruling awarded control of the property in 2012 to the Episcopal Diocese.
The couple is legally married in Maryland. The Commonwealth of Virginia does not recognize same-sex marriages, although a court challenge is making its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
According to the News Press, Ohmer affirmed the couple’s commitment to seek the blessing of their union, calling it “a relationship of mutual fidelity and steadfast love, forsaking all others, holding one another in tenderness and respect, in strength and bravery, as long as they live.”
Those familiar with the Episcopal congregation will not be surprised by the development. In October 2013 Ohmer hosted a forum for the congregation entitled, “The blessing of same-sex unions: Why? Here? Now?”
In December 2012, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia ordained its first openly homosexual candidate to the priesthood in a ceremony at the Falls Church campus.
The church has also had two partnered lesbians on staff, an interim associate who briefly served in winter 2014 and a summer seminarian from Virginia Theological Seminary. Both staff members were from the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.
The historic church, established in 1732, split in December of 2006 when over 90 percent of church members voted to depart the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, citing theological disagreements with the Episcopal Church. The Falls Church Anglican worships at the chapel of Columbia Baptist Church in Falls Church and Bishop O’Connell High School in neighboring Arlington.
The Falls Church Episcopal follows the similarly historic Christ Church in Alexandria, which announced it would begin hosting same-sex blessings in October 2012 after Bishop Shannon Johnston granted permission. Johnston himself presided over a same-sex blessing for a clergywoman in November 2013 at Holy Cross Episcopal Church in nearby Dunn Loring.