By LISA CAPOBIANCO
A message of “welcome” is what St. John’s Episcopal Church in Bristol hopes to send through a rainbow flag hung outside.
With the approval of the congregation, St. John’s Vestry recently hung a rainbow flag to welcome members of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community. Placed next to the church’s main sign outside, the flag is visible for all passing by Stafford Avenue.
“I hope it sets the tone that Bristol is a welcoming place for those in the LGBT community,” said David Woodford, who serves on St. John’s Vestry. “We need them—we need their vitality, creativity and their membership.”
For St. John’s, the timing of the flag’s planting could not have turned out better. On June 26, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5 to 4 that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage.
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy for the majority in the decision. “In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were.”
Just days after the court’s decision, the bishops of the Episcopal Church voted in Salt Lake City during the denomination’s national assembly to approve religious weddings for same-sex couples.
Recognizing same-sex couples has continued to be a controversial issue in Christian communities. Despite backlash from those with conservative views, St. John’s decided to support the church after Gene Robinson, a retired bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire who is widely recognized as the first priest in an openly gay relationship, was elected in 2013. After Robinson was elected as Bishop, many conservatives broke away from the Episcopal Church, some aligning with a more conservative branch of the Anglican Church.
“It’s a movement that has [speeded up],” said Woodford, adding how everything came together at the right time.
Woodford, who joined St. John’s about two years ago, saw a need when he noticed flags hung in other towns, but not in Bristol. After he suggested hanging a flag at St. John’s, the church community showed its support for the initiative.
“It’s long overdue,” said Woodford. “It makes the statement that this is a Christian community that integrates.”
The Reverend Ellen Tillotson, a missional priest at St. John’s, said she hopes the flag instills the message at all of God’s children are welcome, and are worthy of dignity. She said the flag is a true statement of St. John’s as a church community that cares for others, adding that the Episcopal Church welcomes anyone.
“They want to extend that care to anyone who wants to join us,” said Tillotson.
In the case Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that any couple regardless of their sexual orientation can obtain a marriage license and make their commitment public and legal in any state. Jim Obergefell is one of the plaintiffs in the case, fought to have the state of Ohio recognize his Maryland marriage on the death certificate of his partner, John. John died over a year ago from ALS.
“We wanted respect and dignity for our 20-year relationship, and…John had the right to know his last official record as a person would be accurate,” said Obergefell in a statement after the Supreme Court’s decision. “We wanted to live up to the promises we made to love, honor, and protect each other as a committed and lawfully married couple.”
By LISA CAPOBIANCO