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Before the Rev. Thomas James Brown became Maine’s first openly gay Episcopalian bishop on Saturday, he was struck by the timing of his consecration.
June is LGBTQ pride month, an occasion that a number of Maine communities have been celebrating with parades and other festivities — occasions all the more poignant because they come on the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riot that helped start the modern LGTBQ rights movement.
Bangor is holding its own pride parade on Saturday, and last weekend, Brown marched in Portland’s pride parade with his husband, the Rev. Thomas Mousin, who is also an Episcopalian priest.
“It was not lost on me that was a wonderful coincidence,” Brown said on Friday. “We call those ‘God incidences.’ It was great to hear the acclaim as we walked down Congress Street, down to Deering Oaks Park, to feel thousands of people cheer us on.”
After Brown, 48, was elected in February to be the next bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine by a majority of 261 clergy members and laypeople, he was consecrated into the new job during a ceremony Saturday morning at the Cathedral of St. Luke in Portland.
He’s the 10th bishop to lead the Maine diocese and replaced the retiring Bishop Stephen Lane — who also walked in Portland’s pride parade last weekend.
Brown, a Michigan native, most recently served for a decade as the rector at the Parish of the Epiphany in Winchester, Massachusetts. He was ordained in 1998 after receiving a Master of Divinity from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California.
To get to know his new diocese, which includes 60 year-round parishes and 18 summer chapels spread across all of Maine’s counties, Brown said he plans to gradually visit all those communities.
He’d like to continue the diocese’s efforts to either organize or support programs that help the needy, including the homeless, military veterans and people who have come to Maine from abroad seeking asylum.
While the Episcopal Church has generally been among the most welcoming of lesbians and gay people — electing its first openly gay bishop in New Hampshire in 2003 — Brown said that he’s also considering ways to embrace other members of the LGBTQ community who are transgender or more fluid in their gender identity.
“Especially for younger people, people under the age of 20, the idea of a binary gender construct is increasingly not something they embrace,” he said.
At the same time, Brown said there may be congregations that view the elevation of a gay man to the role of bishop as “egregious” or are uncomfortable with the broader LGBTQ community.
“I don’t think it’s common,” he said. “But I want to be the bishop to them too. It will mean being respectful and not hammering them about how to welcome trans folks.”
Above all, Brown said his ears will be open as he starts to travel the Pine Tree State.
“I’m interested in getting to know the communities I’m called to pastor,” he said. “That will take time. I’m looking forward to driving across the counties and listening. That’s a really important thing: ‘What do you need from your next bishop?’”