The Episcopal Church

General Convention 2012 Report I: Same-Sex Blessings

I did not have time during the Convention to blog as I had hoped.  My intention is to report on some of what I considered the most important aspects of our time together.  I’ll start with something I had been working on for years, the approval of same-sex blessings in our church.  Keep in mind that since the Convention only meets every three years, and only for a few days, our progress is always incremental.  That said, this convention’s actions were a milestone on our long journey.

I was surprised by how emotional I was when this finally passed in the House of Deputies.  It had already passed in the House of Bishops, so when we approved it, it was approved by the General Convention.  I had every expectation that it would pass, but when it finally did, I just wanted to weep.  This was a very big deal.  In the Episcopal Church, we express our beliefs in our liturgy, and to have an approved rite to bless same-sex relationships is a VERY BIG DEAL.

A pdf of the approved rite is here:  Liturgy revised 7-9-12

The resolution we passed was this:

Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 77th General Conventioncommend “Liturgical Resources I: I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing” for study and use in congregations and dioceses of The Episcopal Church, with the following revisions: (I have removed the long list of edits to the liturgy.) and be it further
Resolved, That the 77th General Convention authorize for provisional use “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” from “Liturgical Resources I: I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing” beginning the First Sunday of Advent 2012, under the direction and subject to the permission of the bishop exercising ecclesiastical authority; and be it further
The convention was presented a long document called “I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing.”  This document contained theological resources, resources for preparing a couple for their rite as well as a rite to be used.  The first “resolved” allows congregations to use this resource.  The second “resolved” allows the liturgy to be used if allowed by the bishop.
Resolved, That bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-sex marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church; and be it further

Resolved, That bishops may authorize adaptation of these materials to meet the needs of members of this Church: and be it further

Since we are in a state of flux in our church and our nation, there are dioceses with very different circumstances.  Some states allow same-sex marriage, others domestic partnerships, others have no provision to confer rights to same-sex couples.   Diocese within these states vary widely in their acceptance of same-sex couples.  These resolutions give all bishops wide latitude to allow, and modify, these rites for their particular circumstances.  While not explicitly stated, I expect there will be bishops who chose to modify this rite so it can function as a marriage rite.

Resolved, that the provision of Canon I.18.4 applies by extension to “Theological Resources for Blessing Same-Sex Relationships,” namely, “It shall be within the discretion of any Member of the Clergy of this Church to decline to” preside at any rite of blessing defined herein; and be it further

Resolved, That this convention honor the theological diversity of this church in regard to matters of human sexuality, and that no bishop, priest, deacon or lay person should be coerced or penalized in any manner, nor suffer any canonical disabilities, as a result of his or her conscientious objection to or support for the 77th General Convention’s action with regard to the Blessing of Same-Sex Relationships; and be it further

I was on the committee that edited this resolution before it was considered by the Convention.  These two paragraphs were added in our committee.   They were added to help those who were uncomfortable with blessings.  The first “resolved” is simply a restatement of the policy we already have for marriage.   Clergypersons are free to decline to preside at any wedding.

The second “resolved” was submitted by my friend, The Rev. David Thurlow, from South Carolina.  He did not want there to be any repercussions for people who were not comfortable with the church’s approval of same-sex blessings.  There was a strong conciliatory mood on the committee (and in the Convention.)  We wanted to find ways to be gracious toward the minority who were uncomfortable with the direction we are heading.   Someone on the committee added the words “or support for” so the protection would also apply to someone in a conservative diocese who was in favor of blessings.

Resolved, That the theological resource for the blessing of a life-long covenant be further developed by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music over the 2013-2015 triennium with specific attention to further engagement with scripture and the relevant categories and sources of systematic theology (e.g., creation, sin, grace, salvation, redemption, human nature); and be it further

Resolved, That the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music include the work of diverse theological perspectives in the further development of the theological resource; and be it further

Resolved, That the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music develop an open process to review “I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing,” inviting responses from provinces, dioceses, congregations, and individuals from throughout The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, and from our ecumenical partners, and report to the 78th General Convention.

These last three paragraphs point to the fact that our understand of blessings, and marriage, is in flux right now.   We are in the middle of an exciting time of growing in understanding of where the Spirit is leading us.   We passed another resolution about marriage that specifically addresses this.  I will write about this in another post.