Massachusetts Bishop Alan M. Gates apologizes for removing female priest’s clergy collar during Easter Vigil

By David Paulsen
Posted Apr 15, 2024
Gates and the collar

The Cathedral Church of St. Paul’s video of the Easter Vigil on March 30 shows the moment when Bishop Alan Gates removed the Rev. Tamra Tucker’s white tab collar before saying “just kidding.” Gates has since apologized for the incident.

[Episcopal News Service] Massachusetts Bishop Alan M. Gates has issued a written apology for what he calls “an instant of altogether misguided mischief” in which he removed a female priest’s tab collar insert in front of those who were gathered March 30 at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Boston for an Easter Vigil.

The priest, the Rev. Tamra Tucker, leads The Crossing, an LGBTQ+-affirming congregation that is based at the cathedral and organizes the annual Easter Vigil there. The festive service is attended by several Boston congregations, including other Protestant denominations, with the churches’ members helping to act out Scripture lessons. A drag queen serves as emcee.

The incident between Gates and Tucker happened toward the end of the service while they and others were standing at the altar. Video of the March 30 service shows Tucker addressing worshipers to offer Communion instructions but momentarily forgetting the liturgical language for administering the elements. After Tucker joked about having recently returned from a three-month sabbatical, Gates stepped up to her and snatched the piece of white tab collar from her neck, placing it on the altar. Gates could be heard saying, “just kidding,” to a visibly surprised Tucker. Gates then picked up the white tab and handed it back to her, patting her on the back. Tucker then reinserted the white tab into the collar and proceeded with Communion.

“It was a devastating and demeaning act, which I regret with all my heart,” Gates said in his April 12 statement. “The Rev. Tamra Tucker is a valued colleague and fine priest whose leadership it has been my honor to affirm. It was not and would never be my intent to humiliate Rev. Tamra; however, that was precisely the impact of my action.”

When reached by Episcopal News Service, Tucker said she was not ready to speak publicly about the incident and declined to comment for this story.

Two other sources who attended the service and asked not to be named told ENS that Gates appeared to realize his mistake almost instantly, when Tucker and others were taken aback by his gesture. They described the service as an otherwise joyful occasion, typical of the Easter services organized each year by The Crossing.

Gates’ actions also drew the attention of the Rev. Jay Williams, the lead pastor of Union Combined Parish, a United Methodist congregation in Boston. Members of the congregation attended the Easter Vigil at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul. The next day, Williams referenced the incident in his Easter sermon, describing it as an example of “violent patriarchy and sexism.” Tucker’s wife, the Rev. Sara Garrard, serves as executive pastor of Union Combined Parish.

Gates “literally stripped Rev. Tamra of her clergy collar in public. You can’t make this stuff up,” William told his congregation, as captured on the church’s video of the service. “The male bishop tried to say it was a joke and apologize in public, but it’s no joking matter when a man publicly violates the personal space of a woman and symbolically strips her of her sign of ordination.”

The Crossing was founded in 2006 by the Rev. Stephanie Spellers, who now serves Presiding Bishop Michael Curry as his canon for evangelism, reconciliation and creation care. The congregation is rooted in a spirit of “radical welcome,” according to its website, and today, its primary ministry is to provide “a welcoming worship space for LGBTQIA+ folks.”

“We have always been a queer church. Trans, gay, lesbian, non-binary and other folks have always been a part of The Crossing,” the congregation’s website says.

Tucker, formerly from Oklahoma, moved to Boston in 2010 and joined The Crossing while serving in the Episcopal Service Corps, according to her online biography.  She earned her Master of Divinity degree from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific and was ordained to the priesthood by Gates in February 2019 at the cathedral.

Tamra Tucker ordination

Bishop Alan Gates ordained the Rev. Tamra Tucker, in red, to the priesthood on Feb. 23, 2019, in a ceremony at Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Boston. Photo: Bob Greiner/Diocese of Massachusetts

Gates is in the final year of his episcopate. He announced last May that he intended to retire at the end of 2024 and has called for the election of his successor. The election is scheduled for May 18. There are four nominees on the slate.

In his written statement, Gates extended his apology to Tucker, The Crossing, its members and others who were harmed by his actions.

“I misused my authority, failed to extend episcopal grace and transgressed personal space and boundaries. I am deeply sorry,” Gates said. “In our baptismal covenant we pledge to ‘respect the dignity of every human being.’ I seek forgiveness for my failure to keep this pledge, and God’s grace to renew that commitment.”

– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service based in Wisconsin. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.