Ceremony being held for rector, 20-year partner

–>About 300 people may have trouble finding a place to park Saturday when they attend a ceremony of blessing for the marriage of the Rev. J. Brad Benson and Carl Johengen.

“We’re up against the dairy festival, so we’ll see what happens,” said Benson, the rector of St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church on Liberty Street in Bath.

Saturday afternoon’s liturgy will include the blessing, Holy Eucharist and a sermon, Benson said.

He emphasized that it is not a wedding. He and Johengen, his partner of 20 years, were married May 28 in Sheffield, Mass., where gay marriage is legal, he said.

“It’s not a civil union. It’s a marriage,” he said. “In Massachusetts, marriage is marriage.”

Since Benson was installed as St. Thomas’ rector in May 2005, the congregation has been aware of his relationship with Johengen, he said.

“You might say, ‘What took you so long — 20 years?’ For part of that time, we were waiting for New York state to come around and change their laws,” he said.

“But it didn’t appear that was going to happen in the near future, and our 20th anniversary came up this June, so we felt that we might as well do that. That’s really mostly what was behind it.”

Johengen is the church’s co-minister of music with Roxanne Gaylord.

The congregation was not taken by surprise by the announcement of their plans in the church’s April newsletter, Benson said.

“Absolutely not,” he said. “There was lots of talk about this well in advance. I was the one who was shocked by the support from the congregation.”

Legal marriage affords the couple well more than 1,000 legal rights and responsibilities, Benson said. “Slowly, I’ve come to realize that Carl and I need those legal rights, and we are ready to step up to the responsibilities of legal marriage.”

This is not the first same-gender blessing to take place at St. Thomas, but he is certain it is the first for a rector.

“We are humbled by the breadth of support from the vestry, and that not one but three bishops have offered to be part of our special day,” Benson said.

Bishop Prince Singh, presiding bishop of Rochester, will preside and celebrate. Bishop Jack McKelvey, retired bishop of Rochester, will preach. Bishop Stephen Lane, former canon in the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester and currently bishop of Maine, will administer the vows.

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