The Church’s Path from Conservatism to Full Acceptance

When several TV stations came to do a news story about our parish, I deliberately avoided mentioning that we allow same-sex marriage. In doing so, I tried to protect the small but faithful community of our church from even greater aggression. And today, when LGBTQ people and their supporters face so much aggression and obstruction during Pride Week, I consider the story of how the Conservative Church has been transformed into an accepting and one of the most tolerant Christian churches in the world.

The Anglican / Episcopal Church was established in Georgia in 2018, which is traditional in terms of cult and doctrine, and progressive and liberal in terms of social doctrines (attitudes towards women, attitudes towards LGBTQ people and their role in the Church …). The St. Nino Episcopal Parish is part of the American Episcopal Church, which allows for marriage equality, which means that same marriages are held here in secret and they are fully involved in church life. Consequently, the St. Nino Anglican/Episcopal Parish in Tbilisi is the only church in Georgia where LGBTQ people can not only feel protected and fully equal, but also have the opportunity to be married here, which makes this church special in Georgia’s diverse religious environment.

The Episcopal Church is part of the “Anglican Communion”, which is the third largest Christian congregation (after the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches) and unites 80 million believers. Reforms in a large religious institution are the most difficult to implement, so the changes that have taken place in our church over the last 50 years have not been easy. Step by step, on the road to full inclusion, the Church first allowed the practice of communion with both white and citizens of color, as you know USAs segregation policies involved churches as well, communion also separated white people from people of color during communion. Our church was one of the first to break this tradition and with this gesture said that in the eyes of God all are equal. In 1977, our church was one of the first to begin ordaining women as deacons, priests, and bishops. In 1989, Barbara Harris was ordained a bishop, the first woman to do so (a high-ranking Barbara Harris was African-American, which is also a political fact within the racist state of the time).

The General Agreement of the Episcopal Church of 1976 promulgated a decree emphasizing that homosexuals are children of God and that they deserve to be accepted and cared for. In 2003, the Episcopal Church consecrated Gene Robinson Bishop of New Hampshire – an openly gay non-celibate priest who was the first openly gay bishop in all of Anglican communion. This fact caused a great deal of noise and criticism, and even within the church it caused a division and 100,000 people left the unity of the church. However, this did not dampen the Church’s desire to become even more inclusive and to express God’s love for all of His children. Since 2012, the Episcopal Church has enforced the rule of same-sex marriage as well.

The main goal of our service and ministry in Georgia is to provide pastoral care to faithful Christians who feel the desire to join the church, even though they are expelled and discriminated against from their own churches. Especially such are LGBTQ people, feminist women and their supporters.

When I first traveled to Germany as a teenager, I saw a large inscription on the church façade – “Church for Saints and Sinners.” I remember it surprised me and I did not stop thinking about it. And now I realize that the true church belongs to the saints and sinners, because there is no saint without sin and saint without a crumb of sin.

Thomas Lipartian

Priest of the Anglican Episcopal Church in Georgia

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