[Episcopal News Service] Before Pete Buttigieg was a leading Democratic presidential candidate, he was a groom sitting nervously next to his soon-to-be husband in the Cathedral of St. James in South Bend, Indiana.
On that hot June afternoon in 2018, Buttigieg and Chasten Glezman became the third gay couple to marry in the Episcopal cathedral, ceremonies that were possible only after Northern Indiana Bishop Douglas Sparks in his first year lifted a diocesan prohibition on same-sex marriage rites. As mayor of South Bend, Buttigieg also was one of the most prominent grooms to be married at the cathedral, but the conventions of the altar can humble any man. The 37-year-old mayor describes in his memoir how he “fought to get the words of the vow out before my emotions could stop me.”
The Very Rev. Brian Grantz, dean of St. James, also remembers feeling a powerful emotion that day as he prepared to preside at the wedding: “Terror,” Grantz told Episcopal News Service, with a laugh and only a hint of exaggeration.
The security precautions were unprecedented for a St. James wedding, Grantz said, both because the mayor was atop the program and because same-sex marriage remained divisive in Indiana, a solidly red state in the politically purple Midwest. The couple’s guest list was strictly enforced at the cathedral doors. Reporters weren’t allowed inside, though they and the rest of the world were invited to watch the ceremony live on the cathedral’s YouTube channel.
That high-profile sacramental moment occurred as The Episcopal Church was turning a corner in welcoming LGBTQ Episcopalians after decades of debate over sexuality, though progress marched at an uneven pace. While Buttigieg has spoken openly about his faith, sexuality and marriage on the campaign trail, his diocese, until recently, was one of the most restrictive in The Episcopal Church.
Under Bishop Edward Little, same-sex marriage rites weren’t allowed within the diocese’s geographic boundaries, though Northern Indiana clergy were permitted to preside at same-sex weddings in other dioceses. Sparks adopted a more permissive policy in December 2016, after succeeding Little earlier that year. Since then, St. James is one of about a dozen congregations out of 34 in the Diocese of Northern Indiana that have chosen to offer the same-sex rites or are on that path. And in July 2018, a month after Buttigieg’s wedding, The Episcopal Church’s General Convention passed a resolution aimed at ensuring marriage equality churchwide.
Grantz would be the last to cast himself as an “apologist for same-sex marriage” – others are much more articulate in that role, he said. A wedding preacher’s audience isn’t just the couple being married but also the community that will welcome them as a married couple, Grantz said, and knowing that Buttigieg’s wedding would draw attention far beyond South Bend, he told ENS he also felt compelled in his sermon to affirm to the outside world that this union is blessed in the eyes of God.
“Love lives in the space between us,” Grantz said in his 15-minute sermon, which briefly referenced Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in the 2015 Supreme Court that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. Excerpts from that court decision also were among the readings Buttigieg and Glezman chose for their wedding.
“Today we hold up their life together as an icon, a window through which we can peer into the realm of God’s hope and will and intention,” Grantz said, “not only for Pete and Chasten, but for all of us and for the whole world. You are beloved of God and you were made for one another.”
The video of the ceremony has been viewed more than 20,000 times, but not all of the attention focused on the cathedral has been positive. After the wedding, Grantz began fielding voicemail messages, emails and letters attacking the church for its stance on gay marriage. The criticisms continued this year and tend to rise as Buttigieg makes national news, such as when he announced in January that he was exploring a possible presidential run. Buttigieg still finds time to make it to the cathedral’s services every few weeks, sometimes with his mother.
“People associate Pete with St. James,” Grantz said. That doesn’t surprise him, given Buttigieg’s ability to speak forcefully about his faith and how it underpins his call to public service. “It absolutely makes sense, just kind of in terms of who Pete is and the way he approaches life.”
And though the church’s same-sex marriage rites are relatively new, its core beliefs haven’t changed, Grantz said. “This is who we’ve been for a long time.”
He expressed “a weariness” at needing to make that point over and over to those who attack the church.
As for Episcopalians in Northern Indiana, Grantz said they hold a mix of conservative and progressive views on a range of issues but generally have grown to “coexist around a vision of Jesus and a hope that is beyond any one of our experiences of faith.”
‘We were welcome’
South Bend, the seat of the diocese, is a Rust Belt city of about 100,000 residents near the Michigan state line. Home to the University of Notre Dame, it has been a city in decline since Studebaker shut down its car-manufacturing operations in South Bend in 1963, and economic rebirth has been a top political challenge for Buttigieg since he was elected mayor in 2011 at age 29.
The young mayor and formal naval officer has always called South Bend home. He has called The Episcopal Church his spiritual home for just the past decade.
Buttigieg was baptized in the Roman Catholic Church as a boy and attended a Catholic high school, but “by the time I was an adult, I didn’t view myself as Catholic,” he said in an interview with CNN. His father was Catholic, but his mother “identified more with the Anglican faith.” He began attending Anglican services in England while studying as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University, and upon returning to South Bend about 10 years ago, he started attending services at St. James.
“It was a mix of faith but also of community that really made it the right place to be. And, of course, the fact that we were welcome,” he said.
The diocese’s spirit of welcome has evolved markedly but gradually during Buttigieg’s lifetime. Grantz has witnessed much of that evolution firsthand since 1988, when he began serving as youth ministries coordinator under Bishop Francis Gray. At that time, women were not allowed to serve as priests in Northern Indiana despite General Convention’s approval of the ordination of women back in 1976.
Gray’s views generally reflected the more conservative side of the diocese, Grantz said, though in 1990 the bishop shifted course and began ordaining women to the priesthood.
Diocesan leadership remained conservative when Little was consecrated as bishop in 2000, and in 2003, when General Convention faced the threat of a split in the church over whether to ordain the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, Little spoke in opposition in the House of Bishops.
“If we confirm Gene Robinson as a bishop of the church, the unity of this house will be shattered forever,” Little said. Despite the objections of Little and other conservatives, a majority of bishops consented and Robinson was approved as bishop of New Hampshire.
Little also blocked diocesan clergy from blessing same-sex unions based on a liturgy endorsed by General Convention in 2012, though he acknowledged then that some in his diocese “yearn” for such a liturgy.
Gay couples won the right to civil marriage in Indiana by court decision in 2014, a year before the U.S. Supreme Court extended marriage equality nationwide. Mere days after the Supreme Court ruling, General Convention made trial-use marriage rites available for same-sex couples – but only on approval of each diocesan bishop. Little and eight other conservative bishops refused.
Little, in an interview for this story, said he respected Episcopalians who held views different from his own. He saw his willingness to allow clergy to travel outside his diocese to perform the rites as something of a compromise.
“Even during my time as bishop of Northern Indiana, the diocese really was quite diverse in terms of where people came down” on such issues, Little said. Whether conservative or progressive, “it was important to see ourselves as linked together in Jesus.”
Grantz spoke highly of Little personally. “He is as genuine as the day is long, and you could always disagree with Ed and that was OK, as long as you were clear about your position,” he said.
Some in the diocese, however, were growing frustrated with Little’s positions.
“LGBTQ Christians in Northern Indiana were making their voices heard more and more, and they really were crying out for an equal place at the table,” Grantz said.
Change in leadership opens a door
Sparks was elected bishop on Feb. 6, 2016. He previously served as rector of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Rochester, Minnesota, where his congregation spent more than a year in discernment before deciding to welcome same-sex couples interested in marrying in the church.
“Not every decision is best made by taking an up or down vote. … I’ve learned the hard way that sometimes listening and prayerfully engaging in education and reflection and prayer over a period of time can lead to a consensus that would not have even been imagined possible,” Sparks told ENS.
Grantz, who has served as cathedral dean for the past 11 years, describes Sparks as an “activist,” a bishop who feels comfortable participating in protests and marches but also one who is “very clear scripturally,” careful to ground his advocacy in his faith.
“The diocese was really not used to that,” Grantz said, but Sparks never tried to hide that side of himself as a candidate for bishop. Most of the candidates fell on the more progressive side of social issues, Grantz said. “I think Doug was pretty clear about that. But if you weren’t listening, you didn’t get it.”
Sparks spent his first six months as bishop in discernment on the diocese’s policy toward same-sex marriage before issuing his letter in December 2016 that outlined a “consensus process” for congregations to offer the rites to couples who request them. Before taking that step, the rector, wardens and vestry would solicit input from parishioners. At the same time, Sparks highlighted canonical law that gives individual clergy members the discretion “to decline to solemnize or bless any marriage.”
“I take seriously our baptismal commitment to respect the dignity of every human being which includes honoring the theological diversity among us,” Sparks wrote.
Back while Little was still bishop, Grantz had approached one longtime couple in his congregation, Paul Hochstetler and Randy Colburn, and asked if they were interested in traveling north a few miles so he could marry them in “the next church up the road,” in the Diocese of Western Michigan, based on Little’s compromise policy. They declined.
“We had always though it would be nice to get married in what had become our home parish, so we didn’t really want to go someplace else to do that,” Hochstetler, 74, said in an interview with ENS.
After Sparks opened the door, Hochstetler and Colburn reached out to Grantz to ask about the possibility. It was a simple service, but Hochstetler and Colburn still felt part of “something special and momentous” on Dec. 30, 2017, when they became the first gay couple to marry at Cathedral of St. James.
Many people from the congregation attended. “The support, it was very gratifying,” Hochstetler said. “We felt very uplifted.”
Six months later, after Buttigieg’s and Glezman’s wedding, a protester began standing outside the cathedral every Sunday holding anti-gay signs. Grantz describes him as harmless, but the cathedral also has fallen victim to minor vandalism – a flag pulled down, human waste left on the steps – as well as the barrage of hate mail. The messages are scanned for threatening content and then discarded.
Other responses to Buttigieg’s wedding and his defense of it on the campaign trail have been filled with hope.
The Rev. Steven Paulikas, a New York rector who wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times about Buttigieg, told ENS his social media feeds filled with positive reactions to the mayor’s wedding, “an interesting overlap of church friends and LGBT friends.”
“It was a high-profile same-sex wedding in an Episcopal cathedral,” said Paulikas, who married his husband in 2014. “It was nice to see visibility in a place that wasn’t one of the usual suspects of where queer things happen.”
Paulikas, 40, grew up in Michigan and, like Buttigieg, didn’t begin identifying publicly as gay until well after college. In his New York Times piece, Paulikas said he initially “resolved to push my sexuality as deep down from view as I could” to follow his calling to the priesthood. “Yet it was my church that ultimately coaxed me out into the fullness of the person God created me to be.”
“That’s what’s so exciting and life-giving about what our church is doing right now,” Paulikas told ENS. He was ordained in 2008 and now serves at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Brooklyn. “All this change has actually happened very quickly. Maybe not quickly enough for some people.”
Buttigieg, one of two Episcopalians running for the Democratic nomination, defended his marriage in a speech in April to an LGBTQ political action group. By that time, Buttigieg was drawing increased national attention as much for his faith as for his sexuality. He addressed part of the speech to Vice President Mike Pence, a conservative Christian who opposed same-sex marriage as Indiana’s governor.
“My marriage to Chasten has made me a better man. And yes, Mr. Vice President, it has moved me closer to God,” Buttigieg said. “If you’ve got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.”
It was a statement that contained echoes of his wedding day. Buttigieg, in his memoir, recalls Grantz’s “moving sermon, assuring us that we were made for one another by God.”
– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.