The Rev. Bayani Rico stands with his son Andrew at Ascension Episcopal Church in Vallejo. The church is openly accepting of gay and lesbian congregants, including Andrew. (Lanz Christian Banes/Times-Herald)
Before the Rev. Bayani Rico could take the reins of Ascension Episcopal Church in Vallejo, he asked his interviewers a simple question.
“Where do you stand on the LGBT issue?” Rico said of the lesbian, gay bisexual and transgender people’s roles in American churches.
For Rico, the question wasn’t one of abstract theology or church doctrine — it was personal.
“I don’t want to pastor a church where my son will not be welcome,” Rico recalled telling the search committee for the 144-year-old congregation.
It turns out that neither Rico nor his son Andrew had anything to fear.
“It’s a safe haven,” said Andrew Rico, 27, of the church his father has headed since 2007.
Based on the acceptance he and other gay members of the congregation felt, Rico hopes to let other members of the LGBT community know how accepting Ascension is.
Like many young gays or lesbians, Rico feared what his father would say when he found out he was gay. Adding to that anxiety was the fact that his father was a Christian minister — a religion that has traditionally rejected homosexuality and homosexual acts as sinful.
“He told me, ‘You’re my son, first and foremost, and will not change. I love you as you are,’ ” the younger Rico said of the conversation he had with his father.
That was a decade ago, when the reverend was a pastor at a Daly City church. In 2007, Bayani Rico was chosen to lead Ascension Episcopal Church. His son is the church musician.
But the inclusiveness of the congregation predated Rico’s tenure, Thomas Huish said.
The Episcopal Church in the United States, part of the worldwide Anglican Church, has had a long history of accepting the LGBT community, including the ordination of openly gay priests beginning in the 1970s. Last year, the church’s general convention in Indianapolis voted to offer religious blessings to same-sex couples. Offering the blessing is the choice of individual priests and their dioceses.
Still, that acceptance has not been without controversy. The ordination of a gay bishop in 2003 caused a major rift within the larger Anglican community.
Huish was an openly gay member of the church who married his longtime partner John Mathewson in 2008, when same-sex marriage was briefly legal in California before being banned by the narrow passage of Proposition 8.
Huish was also part of the search committee that ultimately chose Rico to lead Ascension.
“He blessed our marriage,” Huish said, noting that the couple’s new parish in Auburn did not.
The couple moved to that city about a year and a half ago, though still feel strongly tied to Ascension.
Like the experiences of Andrew Rico, Huish and his husband said no one at the Vallejo church has ever tried to change them, or judge them for being gay. Before he left Vallejo, Huish had hoped to establish a local chapter of PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) at the church — something that may still be realized.
Once Andrew Rico finds the time, he hopes to link up with local LGBT resources in order to let people know that there is an option for those who wish to worship in Vallejo.
“Just come and worship as you are — as you are — not as the way someone wants you to be,” Rico said.
Ascension Episcopal Church has worship services at 10 a.m. Sundays, 2420 Tuolumne St. For details, call (707) 644-5505 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact Lanz Christian Bañes at (707) 553-6833 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @LanzTimesH.
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