Bryant Surley-Strong was skeptical he’d ever see the day when he could get married in his own church.
“I know the congregation was always supportive, but it just wasn’t allowed,” Surley-Strong said.
But those worries are gone — forever — after he and his husband and 14 other same-sex couples who were originally married outside the church renewed their vows in a boisterous gathering at Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration.
“We’re just doing a little something tonight, no big deal,” the Rev. Casey Shobe told the hundreds who packed the sanctuary at the Far North Dallas Church.
About 40 more people watched the ceremony on a TV screen in the lobby.
“I feel blessed. It’s been a long time coming,” said Shayne Bonner, who renewed her vows with her wife, Tina, who she married in 2016 in Fort Worth. “This church has always been extremely supportive. It’s more emotional for us being able to share this moment with our families.”
The celebration included a Eucharist with the full Transfiguration Choir and brass — directed by Joel Martinson, who renewed his vows with his husband, David Reece — and a sermon from the Right Rev. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop ordained in the church in 2003.
Robinson also spoke at the committal of Matthew Shepard’s ashes at the Washington National Cathedral. Shepard, 21, was robbed and beaten to death in 1998 in Laramie, Wyo., in a case that galvanized support for hate crimes legislation that included sexual orientation.
Robinson’s sermon was laced with humor but was also deeply emotional at times.
“Turn around and try to absorb all the love for you in this room, please,” he told the couples as his voice cracked.
The crowd clapped loudly for about a minute before Robinson stopped them with, “We don’t want this to go to their heads.”
All of the couples were previously married in ceremonies outside of their hometown church, but a resolution passed last summer by the Episcopal Church’s General Convention provides for same-sex marriage ceremonies within the church, even if the presiding bishops are opposed.
In those instances, Resolution B102, which was passed in July, calls for bishops who have conscientious objections to same-sex weddings to make arrangements to provide another bishop to authorize those ceremonies for congregations that want them.
“We knew all along that our church wanted to marry us, they just couldn’t,” Mark Ramsay said as he stood next to his husband, Brian Corkins, at a post-ceremony reception.
Transfiguration petitioned for access to same-sex weddings in the fall, and in early December, Dallas Bishop George Sumner established a pastoral relationship between the churches and the bishop of Missouri, the Right Rev. Wayne Smith.
For Transfiguration, the issue wasn’t contentious at all.
“This was a joyful decision for us, and it was unanimous among our leaders,” Shobe said. “We are ecstatic to finally be able to offer the full blessing of God and the church to these faithful, committed members.”
After the ceremony, the couples and their supporters ventured outside into the cold to ring the church’s bell repeatedly, as is traditional for all weddings at Transfiguration.
“It’s very surreal. There are no words,” Tina Bonner said as she sat next to her wife. “It’s quite gratifying to have so many people on our side and to know that it is not wrong, it is not sinful and it’s not forbidden.”
Robinson repeatedly exhorted the couples and the congregation around them to be proud of their accomplishments and how far they’ve come.
“For a lot of years, you and I have been told that our relationships are not worthy of celebration, not worthy of God’s love, not worthy of God’s blessings,” he said. “Today, we put that aside forever. We know that it is not true, and our lives will show it. This day may feel like a miracle to you. That’s because i