News

F.C. Episcopal Celebrates Diversity With LGBTQ Rector

The new rector at the Falls Church Episcopal is Burl Salmon (right), shown here with his husband, Bob Henkel. (Courtesy Photo).

It’s come full circle now for the faithful at the historic Falls Church Episcopal Church. In 2004 a majority of parishioners followed their then-rector out of the Episcopal denomination in protest of the election of its first openly-gay bishop the year before. Not only did they vote themselves out, aligning with a notoriously anti-gay Nigerian Anglican sect instead, but they then proceeded to illegally occupty the historic church campus in the center of the City of Falls Church for the next seven years before all legal options were exhausted and they were finally forced to leave.


In the meantime, what became known as the “Continuing Episcopalians” of the congregation, held fast, welcomed to worship in the fellowship hall of the Falls Church Presbyterian Church across E. Broad Street, while being prohibited by the now-Nigerian Anglicans from setting foot on the historic church property, including its small sanctuary that pre-dates the American Revolution and spent time occupied by both sides in the Civil War but primarily as a temporary hospital for Union soldiers.


But now all has come, as they say, full circle. That is, with the historic property restored to its rightful owners, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, in 2014, its faithful continuing Episcopalian congregation voted in 2021 to call as its new rector the openly-gay Rev. Berl Salmon, who along with his husband, are the new face of the church as its growth surge, begun with the reclamation of the property and the yeoman work of its first minister, the Rev. John Ohmer, continues on. Ohmer’s selection was made with the help of the diocese.


Thus, the openly-gay Rev. Salmon became the first rector called to the church by a recruitment process involving entirely its own vestry and denomination since their restoration to their rightful standing in the center of the Falls Church community.


“I feel very strongly that we are called to welcome faithful LGBTQ folks to this church,” Rev. Salmon told the News-Press. “This is a vibrant congregation with a lot of energy and young families,” he said.


The church has joined others in Falls Church, including the Falls Church Presbyterian, Christ Crossman and Dulin United Methodist Church, profiled on the front page of the the February 27 News-Press (“Local Churches Welcome LGBTQ Individuals”) to reach out with signage and other measures to let LGBTQ folks know they are welcome. It is a lot of welcoming in a small city the size of Falls Church, and is augmented by the fact that the News-Press’ owner-editor Nicholas Benton is openly gay and brings a rich history as a “pioneer” of the modern LGBTQ movement. Benton brought gay pioneers the late Frank Kameny and Lilly Vincenz to speak before a standing room only crowd at the then-Stacy’s Coffee Shop in downtown Falls Church in the early 2000s.


With the defectors expelled from the historic site, the continuing Episcopalians have led their church to host a series of pro-civil rights events, hosting marches and seminars sponsored by the Tinner Hill Foundation and the Falls Church Social Justice Committee’s co-sponsorship with the News-Press of a panel presentation in 2019 in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, recognized as the starting point of the modern LGBTQ movement.


Among many other things, the church also dedicated a stone seeking forgiveness for the deployment of African-American slaves in the construction of the original church in the 18th century.


The Rev. Salmon began serving the Falls Church Episcopal church as its rector on July 1 last year.


He is a native of Natchez, Mississippi, attended Millsap College and Yale Divinity School where he received his Master of Divinity degree. He came upon concluding his Associate Ministry for Pastoral Care, Christian Education and Outreach at the Bethesda-By-the-Sea church in Palm Beach, Florida, and now lives in the F.C. Episcopal’s rectory in Falls Church with his husband, Bob Henkel.