Another disappearing priest mystery

Today's gay-marriage story in the Washington Post (the newspaper really needs to develop a logo for this regular feature) focuses on another complication in this major change in the laws of the District of Columbia. What happens when one of the two partners is not a citizen of the United States? However, what caught my eye was yet another indication that mainstream newspapers are not quite sure to do with religious titles in churches that have unique ways of talking about their their clergy.

Read carefully.

When gay couples were given the right to marry in the District earlier this year, John Beddingfield and Erwin de Leon were among those who quickly obtained marriage licenses. In April, the Woodley Park couple -- who have been together for 12 years -- quietly exchanged vows before a justice of the peace.

Yet even as they pledged to stand by each other in sickness and in health, Beddingfield, 46, the rector at All Souls Episcopal Church, and de Leon, 44, a doctoral student from the Philippines, were aware that their marriage still hadn't guaranteed them the same rights as heterosexual couples. The District recognizes their marriage, but the federal government does not. The country that had given de Leon a home, given him an education and given him Beddingfield would not allow him to start the process of becoming a citizen, even as it extends that benefit to the foreign-born spouses of heterosexual U.S. citizens.

Once de Leon's student visa runs out next year, he will likely be forced to join the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

The story goes on and quotes some key voices on both sides of this controversial issue. That's fine.

However, did you note that Beddingfield is the "rector at All Souls Episcopal Church"? In other words, he is the parish priest. Judging by the fine details of the parish website, it appears that he is a priest of a congregation that considers it part of the high-church Anglican tradition. Thus, parishioners would almost certainly call him "father."

Thus, shouldn't that be "the Rev. John Beddingfield" -- the title given at the website -- or even "Father John Beddingfield?

Did his status as a pioneer on this social issue somehow cancel out his ordination? All it took was one or two clicks of a mouse to find out that he is, in fact, ordained. In fact it appears that the story of his ordination is quite interesting and is linked to the debates about the ministries of noncelibate gays in mainline Protestantism in this day and age. At the parish website, we read:

The Reverend John Beddingfield was called to serve as Seventh Rector of All Souls Parish September 1, 2007. Prior to All Souls, Father Beddingfield served as Curate at the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin in New York City and as pastor of several Presbyterian churches.

A native of North Carolina, Father Beddingfield studied economics and religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He holds a Master of Divinity is from Princeton Theological Seminary and a Master of Sacred Theology from the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church. He is currently enrolled in the Doctor of Ministry program in congregational development at Virginia Theological Seminary. He is an Associate of the Order of the Holy Cross and a member of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem.

Now, I do not think that the fact that Beddingfield is also a member of an Anglican monastic order would affect his title. I would assume that if he had not been ordained as a priest, he would be called "brother." However, it appears that he was ordained in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), but left to join the more gay-friendly confines of the Episcopal Church. Then he was ordained as a priest.

When did he join the order? It does not really matter, in terms of this issue in Associated Press style.

So, a question for the Washington Post copy desk: Is Beddingfield ordained or not? Is he a priest?

Photo: From the website of All Souls Episcopal Church.

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