The most visible Episcopal church in the U.S. is hosting its first openly transgender priest this month.
The Rev. Cameron Partridge is set to give the June 22 sermon at the Washington National Cathedral in Northwest.
Dean of the cathedral, the Rev. Gary Hall, said in a statement that he hopes Mr. Partridge’s presence sends a message of support for the transgender community.
“We at Washington National Cathedral are striving to send a message of love and affirmation, especially to LGBT youth who suffer daily because of their gender identity or sexual orientation,” he said. “We want to proclaim to them as proudly and unequivocally as we can: Your gender identity is good and your sexual orientation is good because that’s the way that God made you.”
The General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 2012 approved the ordination of transgender persons. The convention also approved a rite of blessing for same-sex unions, a decision that’s been a major contributor to the fracturing of Episcopal congregations. The cathedral performs same-sex marriages.
Mr. Partridge’s visit should be seen as nothing out of the ordinary, according to Integrity USA, a nonprofit that advocates for full LGBT acceptance within the Episcopal Church.
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“This is not any sort of shock. This is just a devout minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ who is being given an opportunity to preach the Gospel,” said Vivian Taylor, Integrity USA’s executive director who knows Mr. Partridge as a mentor. “If anything, this is giving folks the opportunity to see a transgender person of faith, living his faith in an honest and meaningful way that absolutely honors the Episcopal faith.”
Bernard Schlager, executive director at the Pacific School of Religion’s Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry, said the invitation was “an important and historic moment,” as well as “long overdue,” but warned it could also drive further separation within the church.
“As often happens, I think, justice issues such as the full inclusion of LGBT in the full life and ministry of the church are not embraced by everyone at the same time,” he said.
Dawne Moon, an assistant professor of sociology at Marquette University, called the cathedral’s invitation to Mr. Partridge “striking,” given that transgender people are having their voices heard in the national media.
“It seems that the Episcopal Church is working to keep its place at the forefront of the struggle within American denominations to show what some believe to be the all-encompassing nature of God’s love,” Ms. Moon said. “They are also showing themselves to be open to learning about what God and faith look like from many human perspectives, and not just the perspectives of those who conform to a particular social norm.”
Mr. Partridge is the Episcopal chaplain at Boston University and a lecturer and counselor for Episcopal and Anglican students at the Harvard Divinity School. He completed his transition to male in 2001, according to Boston University.
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Mr. Hall also announced that the Right Rev. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal priest, would be presiding the same service with Mr. Partridge. He retired from his post as a bishop in New Hampshire and now works at the Center for American Progress.
The service caps off two weeks of LGBT advocacy for the cathedral. It participated in this year’s Capital Pride events, and Mr. Hall said the service would include readings by local LGBT community members.