29 June 2009 International united states: gay rights

Gods And Maidens

She's of Indian extraction, she's gay and she's a church rector. Winnie's story.
Gods And Maidens
Robert Hirschfield
Gods And Maidens
A Different Beat
  • Only 37, Winnie Varghese has been appointed as rector of St Marks In-the-Bowery, an Episcopalian Church.
  • She's gay, works for gay rights. The Episcopal Church passed a resolution in 1976 declaring gay and lesbian people as "beloved of God".
  • Her idea of spirituality: It's who we are on this earth, and how we treat each other on this planet.


Had she walked through the old St Marks In-The-Bowery Church graveyard on March 1, 2009, when she became the first woman of colour/Indian/lesbian rector of her church, Reverend Winnie Varghese might have wondered, "What would the dead think?" There in the graveyard, the bones of some of New York's most prominent Episcopalians rest beneath the square, flattened stones: Daniel Tompkins, the sixth vice-president of the United States; Peter Stuyvesant, the crotchety, 17th century Dutch colonial governor of New York. Varghese's father, a Christian Gandhian who took part in India's freedom struggle, was an accountant from Kerala, her mother a nurse from the same state.

The Episcopal Church is a liberal church, theologically and socially. In 1976, at its general convention, it passed a resolution declaring that gay and lesbian people are "beloved of God." Yet the slender, 37-year-old woman's ironic smile tells you that she knows she is one of society's marginals even as she occupies the highest position in the oldest site of continuous worship in New York. As an American, she is a radical in a conservative country. As an Indian-American, her sexuality is not accepted by her community in general, and her parents in particular. Her father is disappointed, bewildered, by her revolt against sexual conformity. Her mother tries harder to understand, but struggles with the issue of her family not accepting her because of her daughter.

Open doors: The St Mark’s Church in NY

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