Timeline of St. Mark’s Journey Toward LGBTQ Inclusion
St. Mark’s began its journey toward welcoming homosexuals. The Rev. William M. Baxter and the Vestry approved a request from the Mattachine Society, the first gay men’s group in DC, to hold regular meetings in the parish hall in the early 1960s. Around 1966, the Mattachine Society asked the Vestry for permission to hold a dance in the nave. A tie vote was broken by The Rev. James R. Adams, Rector, who voted “no.”
In 1969 the Mattachine Society met at St. Mark’s and interviewed editors to start a mimeographed leaflet entitled the Gay Blade, which ultimately became the gay newspaper of record for DC. Source: Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington, by James Kirchick, pictured here. Note the reference to the clandestine meeting in a “Capitol Hill church basement.”
In November 1970, St. Mark’s allowed a dance jointly sponsored by the Mattachine Society of Washington, the Homophile Social League, and the Gay Liberation Front of Washington, with a live band and almost 200 people attending. A second gay dance was held at St. Mark’s in 1971.
In March 1982, St. Mark’s hosted the the first public concert of the Washington Gay Men’s Chorus (GMCW). St. Mark’s agreed after Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University withdrew its permission for GMCW to sing there and other public venues also declined to host the Chorus. In the late 1980s, our AIDS Task Force was formed, and the parish held a fundraiser in support of Episcopal Caring Response to AIDS as part of a parish dance. This fundraiser grew over the years and eventually became diocesan-wide.
In March, Rev. Adams preached “A Christian Response to AIDS” sermon, the first discussion of AIDS and the church from the pulpit.
Gay parishioners formed the Lavender Lions, later renamed Lambda Lions, as an ongoing informal network for gay parishioners and their allies.
In June, Rev. Adams testified before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Fiscal Affairs and Health (Committee on the District of Columbia) in support of domestic unions, having changed his position over the years. The Washington Post coverage of the hearing quoted an exchange with Rep. Clyde C. Holloway (R-La), who asked Adams if St. Mark’s was “predominantly gay” and if he was “a homosexual.” “No,” replied Adams to both questions. The Vestry denounced Holloway’s remarks; others called for an apology. Associate Rector Rev. Susan Gresinger presided at the off-site blessing of the commitments of same-sex couple Keith Krueger and Frank Lemay.
Parishioner Ed Turner organized an AIDS fundraiser with The Flirtations in 1995 to celebrate his tenth year living with HIV.
The Vestry called an openly gay interim rector, The Rev. Jim Steen. In farewell remarks, he asked St. Mark’s to consider formally blessing the committed relationships of same-sex couples. Former seminarian Rev. Ken Howard was tapped by Bishop Ronald H. Haines to chair the group that developed and to lead the renewed Dialogue on Human Sexuality in 1996.
The first openly gay Senior Warden, Rob Hall, was elected in a contested election. Our Christian Education program offered courses titled Boundaries of Our Tolerance and Gays of Our Lives; the course description of the latter read as follows:
“In our everyday lives, we meet people of different sexual orientations. These encounters generate feelings of fear, love, curiosity, anger, respect, and discomfort. In this class, we will have the opportunity to examine our responses to God’s creation of people with varying sexual orientations.”
At the summer annual parish retreat at Shrinemont, a group of gay and straight parishioners wowed the gathering with a high-energy drag performance under their group name, The Safety Girls. Periodically over the coming years, The Safety Girls appeared at other parish celebrations. A parish-wide inquiry was formed to explore the blessing of same-sex unions in 1997, chaired by parishioner Bill Jordan.
Bill Jordan’s sermon in 1998 on the work of the task force to consider blessing same-sex unions and the St. Mark’s Gospel newsletters that year (November & January) offered diverse opinions on the question, “Should St. Mark’s Bless Same-Sex Unions?”
In July, St. Mark’s approved a Policy Declaration on the Blessing of Same-Sex Unions. Parishioner Jim Kelly published a book, A Skeptic In The House of God, which included a chapter on gay life at St. Mark’s.
The first two liturgical celebrations (Blessings) of same-sex unions were held in July (Ron Kolanowski & Art Engler and Shelley Webb & Jen Lloyd). The following year the Vestry approved funds from both celebrations to restore and rededicate the rainbow painting at the high altar, Our Lord Enthroned in Glory. The restoration was done by artist and parishioner Jane Sherman. The child of a same-sex couple (Lou Bayard & Don Montuori’s first child, Seth) was baptized.
Our rector, The Rev. Paul R. Abernathy, sent a letter to the parish “taking the pulse of the community” about same-sex marriage. A town hall meeting with approximately 80 attendees was held, with no one opposed to consecrating these ceremonies. That October, the Vestry unanimously approved a resolution “declaring the support of the Vestry of St. Mark’s for the legalization of same-sex marriage; and, support [of] our clergy and elected lay leadership in speaking publicly, at their discretion, to make known this position.” Later that month, Rev. Abernathy testified at the DC Council Hearing on Marriage Equality in support of same-sex unions.
In June, following DC’s legalization of same-sex marriage, St. Mark’s was the site of the wedding of Paul Albergo & John Edwards, the first same-sex couple to be legally married in DC by our clergy, the Rev. Paul Abernathy. Bishop John Bryson Chane approved the ceremony, which is believed to be the first recognized by the Washington Diocese of the Episcopal Church as a regular church marriage. This was before the Episcopal Church Convention approved a liturgy for same-sex marriages.
The Lenten sermon series The Journey of Inclusion of LGBT Persons and Our Church, explored religion and sexuality. Included was a sermon by The Right Rev. Gene Robinson, retired (NH), the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church.
The Vestry called The Rev. Michele Morgan, an openly gay priest, first as Interim Rector and then as Rector in 2017. Read her interview with the Washington Blade, 2018.
The first two liturgical celebrations (blessings) of same-sex unions were held in our parish.