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Florida’s St. John's Episcopal Church begins allowing same-sex marriages

Nada Hassanein
Tallahassee Democrat
Walton Sun

Gay couples attending St. John's Episcopal Church can now marry within the church after the local congregation's vestry released its decision recently allowing the change.

For the past year, a consultation group of nine long-time parishioners at St. John's met to discuss the change through a process of "prayerful discernment," explained rector Dave Killeen, who has been at St. John's for the past decade.

The consultation group then advised the vestry, which ultimately made the decision to allow same-sex marriages at the congregation.

"We want to do our very best to care for God's people at St. John's," Killeen told the Democrat. "All couples will be treated equally... We want to make sure everyone feels comfortable and has a place here at St. John's — that they know they are loved and valued."

At its 2015 general convention, the Episcopal Church approved same-sex marriage ceremonies in the church. It also redefined its canonical language for marriage to gender-neutral terms.

But at that time, bishops could still decide if the same-sex marriage could be offered at a particular diocese, Killeen said.

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At the next general convention in 2018, the church passed a resolution to expand the decision to local pastors on whether or not to allow it within their own congregations.

"When the rules changed, what I realized was that it was only going to be a matter of time before same-gender couples requested a marriage," Killeen said. "I wanted us to be prepared for that."

When he preached last Sunday about the decision, Killeen said the message he wanted to convey to his parishioners was one of inclusiveness.

"Whether you agree with the decision, you disagree with the decision or you’re confused... everyone has a place at St. John’s, and we are unified in our love for God and our love for Jesus," Killeen said about his Sunday sermon.

Last month, the United Methodist Church, one of the largest denominations in the nation, proposed to split the church after years debating same-sex marriage, USA TODAY reported.

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Fourteen years ago, Eric Dudley, an outspoken opponent of homosexuality, served as rector at St. John's Episcopal Church. He led from 1995 to 2005, when he left and founded St. Peter's Anglican Church in Tallahassee, taking half the St. John's congregation with him. He was forced to resign from St. Peter's in August 2018 after allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment.

Reach Nada Hassanein at nhassanein@tallahassee.com or on Twitter @nhassanein_.

This story originally published to tallahassee.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the new Gannett Media network.