- The Washington Times - Friday, May 21, 2004

A conservative Episcopal group will protest a same-sex “wedding” taking place today on church property in the rural community of Leonardtown in St. Mary’s County, Maryland.

The ceremony involving two lesbians is so controversial among the members of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church that it was moved out of the sanctuary and into the parish hall. The church’s pastor, the Rev. Paula Halliday, decided to not participate.

The Episcopal Diocese of Washington is supplying a cleric to conduct the same-sex ceremony, which is drawing an estimated 160 guests.

The Washington chapter of the American Anglican Council (AAC), a conservative Episcopal group, has released a statement about the afternoon ceremony.

“There exists no scriptural foundation for such a blessing and a legislative vote at the General Convention can never replace the authority of Scripture to make something blessed in the eyes of God,” says an open letter from the AAC to Washington Bishop John B. Chane. “Christian marriage is a life-long, monogamous union between a man and a woman.”

St. Andrews officials refused to comment on the matter and would not release the names of the two women in the ceremony.

The controversy has appeared in one article in a local newspaper in this rural community eight miles from the naval air station at Patuxent River. The Chesapeake Bay peninsula community, which has 18,000 military employees at the station, is considered to be more conservative than the metropolitan Washington area.

“This is against the grain of Southern Maryland,” said Wes Courtney, one of a group of Episcopalians from Christ Church in Accokeek who will drive to Leonardtown to monitor the ceremony.

“People are very up in arms about this” he said, as this is the first known same-sex ceremony in any of the region’s many historic Episcopal churches.

Diocesan spokesman Jim Naughton pointed out that church-sanctioned same-sex blessings have been taking place in the diocese since the late 1970s, and that an official diocesan liturgical rite for such ceremonies should be ready by June.

Mrs. Halliday wrote the congregation, which draws between 100 and 110 people on Sundays, in a March letter that she was planning to conduct the ceremony, Mr. Naughton said.

“She got 53 responses,” he added, “saying it was a great idea and [they were] supporting it.”

A group of 13 parishioners then drafted a dissenting “open letter to the vestry,” which is the governing body of an Episcopal parish.

“We feel that the rector’s actions run contrary to both Scripture and to specifically articulate thoughts from the Bishop [Chane] … that such ceremonies would not take place in a vacuum; that is, without meaningful consultation with the vestry and with the congregation. That has not happened,” the letter said.

One parishioner who signed the letter and who asked to remain anonymous, said parishioners thought Bishop Chane would stick to a statement he made in an Oct. 15 letter to the AAC, in which he indicated any blessing ceremony should be a joint decision of the rector (pastor), vestry and congregation.

“Now he is saying, ‘That is not my position.’ We have got a very clear difference in communication,” the parishioner said. “That is causing a huge conflict down here.

“Everyone in the parish is not united on this subject. Quite a few people oppose this,” the parishioner added.

The St. Andrew’s vestry met Tuesday night to discuss the matter and decided to move the ceremony from the 18th-century church building into a nearby parish hall. The vestry voted unanimously, with one abstention, to approve the compromise, Mr. Naughton said.

“It seems this parish went out of its way to accommodate differing views,” he said.

Mr. Naughton added that Mrs. Halliday will not attend the ceremony because of stress from the recent suspension of her husband, the Rev. Christopher Halliday, from ministry at St. George’s Episcopal Church in nearby Valley Lee, Md. The diocese has forbidden Mr. Halliday from performing any priestly duties for the next three years “after he admitted to conducting an adulterous relationship with a woman outside the country,” according to the diocese.

“As clergy, we are given a sacred trust,” Bishop Chane said in a statement. “When we cross that line, it’s a very serious business. It does great damage to those of us in [the priesthood] and to the congregations.”

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