Brian Corkins, left, and Mark Ramsey

Church of the Transfiguration plans a ceremony to bless members who had to marry elsewhere

DAVID TAFFET | Senior Staff Writer
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After years of disagreement between local Episcopal churches and the Dallas Episcopal diocese, Mark Ramsay and Brian Corkins will finally have their marriage blessed in their home church. They are among 15 couples set to renew their vows this weekend at Dallas’ Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration.

The Rev. Casey Shobe, rector of the Church of the Transfiguration in North Dallas, called this weekend’s blessing ceremony “the culmination of a lot of hope and prayer.”

While in most Episcopal diocese same-sex marriage was a settled issue years ago, in Dallas and a few other places around the U.S., objections by the presiding bishops prevented marriages from happening in some of the denomination’s churches.

Last year, at a denominational meeting, officials reached a compromise: Those bishops who object to same-sex marriage because of their personal religious views won’t be forced to change their beliefs, and churches that believe in marriage equality are allowed to perform marriage ceremonies and bless anniversaries.

An assisting bishop from another diocese will oversee those churches that disagree with their local bishop. While the obvious choice to take on that role for the Dallas diocese would have been the Rt. Rev. J. Scott Mayer of Fort Worth, Mayer already is the bishop of northwest Texas as well.

Instead, the Rt. Rev. George Wayne Smith, bishop of the Missouri diocese, will act as assisting bishop overseeing three Dallas churches that will begin hosting same-sex marriages this weekend. In addition to the Church of the Transfiguration, St. Thomas the Apostle on Inwood Road near Oak Lawn and the Episcopal Church of the Ascension on Greenville Avenue will welcome their same-sex-couple members to marry in their churches.

The Rev. Gene Robinson will participate in a ceremony at Church of the Transfiguration. Robinson, who is retired, was the first openly-gay man elected bishop in the Episcopal Church.

Shobe said 15 couples that married elsewhere will participate in the ceremony on Saturday, Jan. 19. Some of those couples had civil weddings. Others were married in churches of other denominations. And some accepted an offer by Bishop Mayer, who opened his diocese’s churches to same-sex couples from the Dallas diocese during the stand-off.

Shobe said Dallas Bishop George Sumner’s beliefs are firm and sincere. But, he added, in the Episcopal Church, his views on same-sex marriage were part of “a minority community.”

Shobe said he appreciates Sumner’s willingness to work with another bishop to accommodate Church of the Transfiguration and the other two. Of the denomination’s beliefs, he said, “we represent a wide range.”

Shobe made it clear that his church proudly “remains a constituent member of the Diocese of Dallas under a new assisting bishop,” and that Sumner and Smith have a good working relationship.

Shobe described the ceremony that he is so anxious to have in his church: “Fifteen couples will process in,” he said, and after readings and a sermon, they’ll stand.

“Those married civilly will be recognized,” Shobe said. Then those married in other denominations will be recognized, and those married in other Episcopal churches will be welcomed.

“And I will bless them,” he said in a warm tone that said more about how important this ceremony was to him and his church than words can explain.

Shobe explained there is a difference in the welcome for each of these groups. Those with a civil wedding will now be recognized religiously; those married in other denominations will now have their vows equally recognized by the Episcopal Church, and those married in other Episcopal churches will now be fully welcomed by their home church.

But, Shobe made clear, the couples’ memberships and marriages were already recognized by the church — with a few exceptions. “Prior to this,” he explained, “we couldn’t bless their anniversaries using language from our traditions.”

No new weddings will take place on Saturday. “Anyone who is not yet married gets their own wedding at a future date,” Shobe said. And that’s something he’s relishing.

Robinson, who will participate in the ceremony, served as the bishop of the New Hampshire diocese and recently preached at the committal of Matthew Shepard’s ashes at The Washington National Cathedral.

“Since his retirement,” Shobe said, “he’s been an advocate for marginalized people.”

Robinson will preach at the church and several dozen additional clergy will participate.

One of the couples participating in the ceremony is The Rev. Jerry D. Godwin and David W. Stinson. Godwin is a retired priest and former rector of Transfiguration who now lives in Washington State.

“After 30 years of ministry at Transfiguration Dallas, first as senior associate and then as rector of the parish, I, with my partner of 35 years and husband of seven years, joyfully return to Transfiguration for this celebration and renewal of our vows, along with those of several couples at whose weddings I participated outside the diocese and outside the church,” Godwin wrote in an email.

“If not an historic moment in the larger church, it most certainly is in the life of a local congregation known for championing social justice, first for the ordination of women, now for LGBTQ persons and always striving to respect the dignity of every human being,” Godwin said.

Michael Widmer and Alvaro Amador were married in Trinity Church Boston in 2012. Widmer was baptised at Transfiguration, and his mother, sister and childhood friends were all married at the church.

“I participated in all of those weddings, but never thought I could actually have a wedding [at his home church] myself,” he said.

So participating in this ceremony, Widmer said, was incredibly meaningful to him. Amador’s best man is flying in from Provincetown to participate once again.

Another participant in the ceremony is Transfiguration member Randell Christopher, who was married in a civil ceremony. While he said he and his husband would rather have waited for a church ceremony, his husband’s company was going to stop offering partner benefits after the Obergefell decision. So they opted for a simple legal marriage at the time.

“With God’s grace and Jesus’ commandments of abounding love, and in memory of the love and sacrifice of those who came before us, we rejoice and celebrate with gratitude and love this step forward in our personal life and our church’s life,” Christopher said.

Mark Ramsay and Brian Corkins said they are “absolutely thrilled” to be part of Saturday’s ceremony, and to “have our marriage blessed and acknowledged by our home church.”

After marriage equality became law in 2015, Ramsay and Corkins were married in an Episcopal Church in Ann Arbor, Corkins’ hometown. Shobe made the arrangements with the rector of the Michigan church. But, Ramsay said, having their marriage blessed by their own rector meant a lot to them.

Ramsay expressed his delight at the excitement among the congregation at Church of the Transfiguration, which he described as “90 percent straight, old and white. … They’re more excited about this than we are,” he said. “We’re grateful to be part of this congregation.”

-While the ceremony is open to anyone interested in attending, Shobe said he expects the sanctuary to be packed. In addition to the 15 couples’ invited friends and family, many members of the congregation, as well as many clergy from other Episcopal churches, are expected to attend.

The service begins at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 19 at Church of the Transfiguration, 15115 Hillcrest Road.