Christ Church, the birthplace of the American Episcopal Church, is committed to welcoming any and all LGBTQ members, said the church’s assistant minister.
“For as long as I’ve been in the church, we’ve done all we can to invite all people into our sanctuary, especially our LGBTQ members. They are interwoven into the church’s fabric,” said the Rev. Susan Richardson.
Richardson officiated Christ Church’s first wedding with a transgender woman April 28 — “our first but definitely not our last.” She said the church makes sure to do more than talk about inclusion.
“We make it our mission not only to talk about being welcoming and inclusive to all, but rather it is seen in everything we do. We’ve had an active LGBT group in our church for years,” she said. “So much of everything that the church is involved with includes our LGBT members. Our pastor was in support of same-sex marriage before it was legal and performed many marriage-blessing ceremonies.”
Maryellen Madden was invited to join Christ Church two years ago by her wife, Judith Eugenie Graves.
“I had been away from the church for a long time. I grew up Southern Baptist and I thought the church left me before I left it,” Madden said, adding her experience at her newfound congregation was very different. “The first thing I noticed was something the ministers said at every service: ‘No matter where you are on the journey of faith, you are welcomed here.’ I instantly felt it. There does not seem to be a line of demarcation between the LGBT community and the rest of the congregation, like some places.”
Madden, a commercial-litigation attorney, “came out one day” as a woman in 2015. “I didn’t transition, I just came out. I had a lifetime of getting ready. I didn’t need any more time,” she said.
Madden’s previous 46-year marriage ended after that revelation, and she endured other losses, but she said she gained a community that supported who she was.
“Not every city is as accepting as this city. I had straight friends, LGBT friends and even my colleagues in support of my transition,” Madden said. “To think that, as a trans woman, I walked down the same aisle that Benjamin Franklin’s daughter did made me feel special and accepted in a way that I don’t often get to feel.”
The church, in Old City, was founded in 1695 as a parish of the Church of England. Its congregation included 15 signers of the Declaration of Independence, as well as American Revolutionary War leaders George Washington and Robert Morris,.Benjamin Franklin and Betsy Ross also attended Christ Church, which hosts public history tours and welcomes more than 250,000 tourists annually, making it among the 10 most-frequently visited sites in the Philadelphia region.
Kenneth Oakes, an LGBT member of Christ Church, said the congregation has always been inclusive to all.
“Christ Church is an open and welcoming church, not seeing people as gay or straight. It is a wonderful place to be a member,” he said.