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Gay, lesbian priests describe expectation of celibacy to serve in Diocese of Florida under Bishop Howard

Bishop Samuel Howard of the Diocese of Florida. Photo/Diocese of Florida

By David Paulsen

Episcopal News Service

In 2013, while a parishioner at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Tallahassee, the Rev. Susan Gage discerned a calling to the priesthood. At the time, clergy in the Diocese of Florida warned her the discernment and ordination process there favored straight aspirants over openly gay and lesbian Episcopalians.

She had a longtime partner and was not willing to be singled out for celibacy as a lesbian. Still, she met with Bishop John Howard to see if he would allow her to pursue a call. His response left her speechless.

“’While you might have a call, we have a rule in our diocese that we do not ordain people who are partnered and gay,’” Howard said, according to an account of the conversation Gage provided to ENS in a phone interview this week.

“This whole situation is very sad to me,” she told ENS. “It’s just terribly sad.”

Another priest reached by ENS, the Rev. Gee Alexander, is canonically resident in the Diocese of Florida and has served there since 1998. He is currently an associate priest for pastoral care at St. John’s Cathedral in Jacksonville. Alexander also is gay, and by his own account, during his 25 years of ordained ministry in the diocese, he has remained celibate. It was his choice, but Alexander says he was given no other option.

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