- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 13, 2004

The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington conducted a blessing service yesterday for one of the country’s top homosexual rights advocates and his partner while protesters stood outside holding crosses swathed in black fabric.

One day after appearing on worldwide television as one of the lead participants in the funeral for former President Ronald Reagan at the National Cathedral, Bishop John B. Chane officiated at the 90-minute ceremony for the Rev. Michael W. Hopkins, 43, and his partner, John Clinton Bradley, 44.

About 180 people on hand at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Glenn Dale gave the two men a lengthy standing ovation after the bishop pronounced a “blessing of the covenant” and the two men hugged and kissed. Mr. Hopkins, who is pastor at St. George’s, was the national president of Integrity, the Episcopal homosexual caucus, for five years.

“You know, for me, this is not something unusual to do,” said the bishop, dressed in ornate gold-and-white vestments. “I mean, the church has been gathering to honor covenant relationships since the beginning of its written history.”

For him, “blessed covenant relationships,” he said, are “as normal as walking in and out of church on Sunday morning.”

The ceremony was also the premiere of a new diocesan rite for same-sex blessings, drawn up by a task force co-chaired by Mr. Hopkins. It began with a “covenant hymn” set to the tune of “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” a traditional church Advent hymn.

It culminated with the two men taking each other by the hand and pledging to each other a “covenant with you before God and the church.” Mr. Hopkins briefly choked up as he said his vow.

It included a blessing of the rings that already were on the fingers of both men as they stretched their hands toward the bishop. The two men wore dark suits and leis.

The Rev. Susan Russell, current chairwoman of Integrity, gave the sermon, calling the proceedings “that which is natural, infinite and yes.”

“It was a huge honor,” she said about her part in the ceremony. “Michael and John Clinton are beloved friends of mine and I was overwhelmed to be asked to be the preacher at their wedding.”

The ceremony, which attracted at least a dozen clergy, was followed by a reception featuring lavender cloth-covered tables and purple orchid centerpieces. Outside, seven protesters issued a statement saying Bishop Chane acted “against the unequivocal witness of Scripture.”

“It grieves us that, as the bishop of this diocese, whose obligation is to guard the faith and unity of the church, he would so publicly and willingly violate the clear and consistent teaching of the Bible,” it said.

Same-sex unions and homosexual clergy have been allowed for years in the Diocese of Washington, which lists 14 homosexual “marriages” in its clergy directory.

It was not the first time the two men had engaged in a blessing rite. The 2003 Episcopal Clerical Directory lists Mr. Hopkins as being “married” to Mr. Bradley on April 4, 1992.

Conservatives slated a simultaneous evening prayer service at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Bladensburg to protest the same-sex ceremony.

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