By Joy Leiker/Herald Staff Writer
MERCER COUNTY —
As the Episcopal Church breaks new ground with its approval in July of blessings for same-sex couples, a Sharpsville man said he's grateful for the steps the church has taken to welcome members who are gay.
For Roy Appel, 61, the vote by Episcopalian bishops at the church's General Convention is similar to laying out a fresh welcome mat.
"It lets other gay people know there is someplace they can go and be accepted and be loved ...," Appel said.
Appel has found that love and acceptance at St. John's Episcopal Church in Sharon. He moved here four years ago - after divorcing his wife of 34 years.
"I've been gay my entire life. I was married and had kids, thinking being married would change it, but it didn't," Appel said.
Appel's son disowned him, and has kept him from seeing his grandchildren. He's thankful he has a "wonderful relationship" with his daughter.
"I think my son will eventually come around, but it's just extremely difficult," he said.
"There's a lot of hurt that goes on in the gay community. A lot of people are ostracized. They don't feel like they belong anywhere," he said. "They've been told God doesn't love them. They're damned to hell. They can't belong.
"Just because you're a gay couple doesn't mean you don't want to have religion or have your life revolve around God and also revolve around the church," Appel said.
He and his partner, who declined to be identified for this story, live in Sharpsville. They plan to seek a church blessing of their relationship.
Those blessings are to become available to church members later this year, on the first Sunday of Advent.
The Rev. Adam Trambley, rector of St. John's, said the Episcopal Church approved a provisional rite - meaning there's a liturgical form for a congregation to use to bless same-sex couples. That rite will remain in place for the next three years, and then likely will be reviewed and refined at the next general convention.
"Same-sex blessing means offering a blessing to committed, monogamous, lifelong relationships," Rev. Trambley said. "It isn't marriage. Same-sex marriage has not been authorized. That's not what this is."
Technically, the church is calling it "the witnessing and blessing of a lifelong covenant," according to the wording approved at the convention.
The approval of the blessings isn't a sign of universal approval within the church. The split was clear at the general convention, where conservative bishops voted against the change, and some, including the delegation from South Carolina, left the meeting altogether.
In a letter to the members of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, Bishop Sean Rowe, a native of Sharon, said he would authorize the use of the rite in the diocese. But he added that no member of the clergy would be required to perform it.
"I support the step we have taken by authorizing a rite for blessing same-sex unions, but other faithful Episcopalians do not," the bishop wrote. "The Episcopal Church in Northwestern Pennsylvania is a place where people of good conscience can disagree about such matters. We respect and love each other and we are united in Christ, which is a bond stronger than any legislation or issue."
Rev. Geoff Wild, vicar of the Church of the Epiphany in Grove City, read the bishop's letter aloud to the congregation the previous two Sundays.
"There hasn't really been a reaction" amongst members, Rev. Wild said. None of the 50 members came to him to inquire about a blessing, he said.
It's the personal bond that the bishop referenced in his letter that's key for Rev. Trambley.
"There are people in a lot of situations whose lives have been broken and painful, sometimes through divorce, sometimes because they've been gay and been told in the past that they're no good or that God doesn't love them," Rev. Trambley said. "And as they work at rebuilding or building their lives, we've seen God at work in the midst of some of those relationships, and be a blessing to people. God has brought healing to them in their relationships and God has brought them to ministry."
That's certainly the case for Appel, who said the acceptance and love from his church has been key in healing the pain from his past.
"You're still accepted. It is a family. It is a Christ-centered family. You're involved in all the activities of the church, the covered dinners. It's just wonderful because you're accepted," Appel said.
"When you feel that your church is turning their back on you, your family is turning their back on you, your kids have turned their back on you, it's a very, very hard lifestyle."
Published Aug. 4, 2012, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.