It was a warm August day in 2008, surprisingly devoid of humidity, when Bryan Thompson worshipped in the pews of a downtown Charleston Episcopal parish as he normally did.

Two Sundays earlier, he and his partner of about 13 years, Edward Bryan III, had traveled to California to get married. But after this worship wrapped up, a retired Episcopal priest approached them.

He'd heard that Thompson and Bryan had married. But had their marriage been blessed?

Performed in a civil ceremony, it had not.

"How about right now?" Thompson recalled the priest asking.

Then, the man added: "God is in this."

Stunned, around 12:30 p.m., Thompson and Bryan stepped back into the hushed, empty sanctuary with two witnesses. The priest stood at the altar and blessed their marriage.

"It was as powerful an experience as my own confirmation," Thompson recalled. "I felt the Holy Spirit was there, and that we were blessed by the divine."

It also reaffirmed his faith in the church and clergy at a time when same-sex relationships were the subject of considerable anger and dispute, especially within churches.

"A man of the cloth has blessed my marriage from the altar," said Thompson, a cradle Episcopalian and the recent past warden at St. Stephen's Episcopal in downtown Charleston. "It may not mean anything legally. But it means everything from a human perspective."

The priest, whom Thompson said he promised to keep anonymous, risked much back in those days, when local Episcopal clergy answered to a much more traditional bishop. No more, though. Bishop Charles vonRosenberg on Tuesday gave priests in The Episcopal Diocese in South Carolina permission to perform a rite blessing lifelong same-sex relationships.

But back in 2008, the James Island couple felt overwhelmed by the priest's selflessness. Now, Thompson hopes other gay couples will receive the same blessing, minus the secrecy.

"It's wonderful. It shows the Holy Spirit is alive and well and living in the church and that love doesn't have bounds," Thompson said. "It doesn't have prejudice - not even prejudice authorized by the church."

Reach Jennifer Hawes at 937-5563 or follow her on Twitter at @JenBerryHawes.