'Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant' recommended for provisional use

By Sharon Sheridan
Posted Jul 9, 2012

Committee member the Rev. Ruth Kirk, deputy in the Diocese of Delaware, said she supported adding the conscience clause “in the spirit of generosity.” Photo/Sharon Sheridan

[Episcopal News Service — Indianapolis] The General Convention Prayer Book, Liturgy and Church Music Committee approved Resolution A049 to authorize for provisional use of “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” beginning the first Sunday of Advent. The resolution now goes to the House of Bishops for action.

The rite, subtitled “Liturgical Resources for Blessing Same-Sex Relationships,” is part of “Liturgical Resources I: I Will Bless You, and You Will Be a Blessing,” developed by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. Congregations and clergy could use the liturgy with their bishops’ permission.

The amended resolution includes a provision that conscientious objectors or supporters of the liturgy not be penalized.

“The resolution asks the General Convention to authorize the liturgy for provisional use and calls for a review process before the next General Convention in 2015. This is clearly a work in process, and there is a place in that process for all Episcopalians, whether or not they agree with the action we are taking today,” Deputy Ruth Meyers of Chicago and Vermont Bishop Thomas Ely, chairs of the subcommittee on blessings, said in a press release. Meyers is chair of the SCLM.

The committee specified “provisional use” rather than “trial use” because the latter refers to prayer book revisions.

The resolution calls for SCLM to study further “how the blessing of lifelong, committed same-sex relationships relates to Christian theology and Scripture, and to reflect on the matter with our sisters and brothers throughout the Anglican Communion and with our ecumenical partners,” they said.

The committee amended the resolution to specify that Canon I.18.4 would apply, giving clergy the discretion “to decline to [preside at
any rite of blessing defined herein].”

It also specifies 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.”

The Very Rev. David Thurlow, deputy of the Diocese of South Carolina, proposed the “conscience clause,” which he modeled after language used in the Port St. Lucie clause (http://www.episcopalarchives.org/cgi-bin/ENS/ENSpress_release.pl?pr_number=77326). That clause was named after the Florida city in which the House of Bishops enacted a “mind of the house” statement in 1977 establishing that “no bishop, priest, or lay person should be coerced or penalized in any manner” for opposing or supporting the 1976 General Convention decision to ordain women.

Diocese of Springfield Bishop Daniel Martins said that those in the “increasingly isolated theological minority would be greatly comforted” by the added clause.

The Rev. Kevin Matthews of the Diocese of North Carolina expressed concern that using the Port St. Lucie language “will be inflammatory in the other direction.”

The Rev. Ruth Kirk, deputy of the Diocese of Delaware, said she supported the amendment “in the spirit of generosity.”

“I think it adds a level of comfort to those who feel persecuted in the church,” she said.

Although the amendment passed, Thurlow later voted against A049, saying that he “in conscience cannot agree with this, and I want that to be clear.” He will write a minority report to go with the resolution.

The committee decided not to include language allowing for the rite to be adapted for other pastoral situations, which could be interpreted to include some opposite-sex relationships.

— Sharon Sheridan is a member of the Episcopal News Service team at General Convention.


Comments (20)

  1. The Rev. Scott Arnold says:

    My God, “the increasingly isolated theological minority.” ReallY?

    What a pompous (and historically inaccurate) thing to say.

    1. Samuel V. Wilson, Jr. says:

      I totally agree with the Reverend Scott Arnold: the statement is both pompous and inaccurate. One should know better.

      BTW, if a man and woman want to have blessing of a committed relationship, why cannot they also have this rite available? If not, are we not being discriminatory? Does anyone see how tortured the process? What a mess! As a heretofore moderate on such issues, I am increasingly hardening against the “tap dance” language that is being used to “thread the needle” of this resolution for adoption. This convention’s work in some respects is beginning to the take on the oeuvre of “we stand for everybody — thus, we really stand for nobody.”

  2. Len Freeman says:

    Scott, you’re sounding a little pompous, and ungracious, there yourself.

    1. Nanci Warner says:

      No, he is not. It sounds like he’s appalled at the pomposity of that sentence.

  3. The Rev. Al Minor says:

    The Episcopal church is feeling its way forward in this matter. It establishes a clear recognition of long-range committed same-sex relationships and an honoring of this by the Church, yet provides more time for an increased support to be established.
    Problems: — What relationship would the action of the church in affirming a same-sex “marriage” have with the state governments who do not yet affirm that? This blessing of a long range relationship is a recognition by the Church community and an infusion of any kind of grace that the Church can provide, for sure. But what about the states’ laws??????
    — Problem/ Opinion — I think a movement should be started to extricate the role of the Church as an agent of the state in this matter of marriage. It would simplify a lot of things…. and probably complicate them, too. I suggest an official and legally recognized marriage by the state generally be done FIRST, then a marriage in the Church, should it be desired. Many treat the Church as a decoration. I’d like to see that avoided. Legal rights are thereby established and clarified. If the church calles the long range relationship “marriage” at this point it may really be marriage which we can celebrate, but it ain’t legal … yet, and that is an important matter.

    1. Norm Morford+ says:

      The European model of two events — first a civil uniting and later a church blessing has a lot to be said for it — not just for gay people, but heterosexual as well.

      1. Angela Fraser King says:

        Basically we have that now – except that the two are rolled into one, and many (heterosexual) couples do not realize that the priest is doing all the civil/legal paperwork for them. They know they need a state license, but often have no idea that the two events – civil and church – and in fact separate. If THAT understanding were made clearer by every clergy person, the debate might shift a little.

      2. Ann-Marie Montague says:

        Norm’s comment is right on cue! I have heard several priests say the church should get out of the (civil legal) marriage business and just do blessings. Besides, the two people involved, regardless of their genders, are the ones who actually perform the ceremony through their commitment to each other. What is there not to bless about that!!??

  4. Jesse Snider says:

    Some of us think the church moves too slow, and that the church, i.e., the people, dwell on silly things like gay marriage when starving children, the homeless, and other MDG’s need attention. Let them marry with the blessing of the church and then LET’S GET ON WITH IT ALREADY LOL

    1. Russ Manley says:

      Silly? I don’t know who you are, Jesse, but you are treading on very thin ground. As Someone once said, “men will have to answer for every careless word they say.” This Church blesses dogs and cats, guinea pigs and goldfish – but not two people made in the image of God who want the same respect and dignity you do for whatever relationship you have?

      Go watch this, and tell me you still think “gay marriage” is silly:

      1. Ben Neuhaus says:

        I’m not sure that’s what he’s saying. As far as I can tell, he’s saying that the opposition and the resulted torturous, twisted wording of new blessing that resulted from it are misguided as the church has much larger issues on its plate. But I could be wrong, it’s hard to get these things across via text.

  5. Chuck Jenkins says:

    The only sin still recognized by the Episcopal Church in the USA is making someone else feel uncomfortable.

  6. Charlie Rouse says:

    Where can one find the roll call vote on these resolutions?

  7. John Clemens says:

    Only a hetero or “non” sexual would refer to someone’s lifelong relationship as “silly.” Only self-centered cowards choose to ignore the pain they cause and have the audacity to refer to themselves as the persecuted minority. This blessing is indeed a step in the right direction but until the church recognizes my relationship fully as marriage, blessed by God, there is plenty of work to be done regardless of the petty discomfort it might cause a few bigots in the pulpit.

  8. Doug Desper says:

    What’s amazing to me is the huge amount of energy, time, funding, and accomodation that our Church has spent and is spending on a very, very small minority lifestyle in the Church – all in the name of inclusion and justice. How about spending much more equal time on addressing the boiling point dissatisfaction in the pews over our cultural captivity to “all things new”. It looks as though enough will never be enough.

    1. Ben Neuhaus says:

      The same could be said to the opposition to this measure as well. Why not just allow the church to marry gay and lesbian people and move on to more important issues? Does it harm your ability to be in church if that church affirms same-sex relationships? I promise you it is hard for people who support same-sex marriage to be in a church that continues to discriminate against a “minority lifestyle” regardless of their sexuality. So this is a flashpoint of the church because it is important to both sides of the debate, and “why are we still talking about this,” argument can be said to both sides who want the debate to end, just with it to end in their favor.

  9. Ryan Taylor says:

    I’ve been trying to follow this issue online and would greatly appreciate some insight/direction… especially if you’re at the convention:

    Yesterday’s post on this website titled,”Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music Subcommittee statement on blessings” states, “The resolution proposes that bishops be able to authorize adaptation of the resources to meet the needs of the people in their dioceses, particularly in states with legal marriage equality or civil unions for same-sex couples.” (fifth paragraph)

    Does that mean the local bishop can amend the liturgy to marry same-sex couples in states where the law allows same-sex marriage? The tone of this post seems to suggest that the liturgy is only a blessing following a civil ceremony – the church will not perform same-sex marriages.

  10. George Born says:

    A promising development. The main thing is that same-sex couples might — if the House of Bishops approves — have the blessing of the church they love. For me the question of civil marriage is separate. In states where gay marriage is legal, couples could choose to seek both civil and church recognition of their relationships. In states where gay marriage is not legal, couples could at least enjoy some institutional and community recognition that their relationships matter. Through these small steps, maybe we can help heal this broken world –

  11. RB Clay says:

    Per the 2010 census, same-sex households made up 0.56% of all US households. I wonder how many other new liturgies will be needed to accommodate others with differing views of marriage. Multiple partners, open marriages, extra-marital relationships, who can say no to love?

  12. Nancy Mott says:

    I totally agree that civil marriage (a relationship to the state) and sacramental blessing/marriage (a sacramental witness of God’s grace) are and should be seen as totally different matters. Civil marriage, with its thousands of secular benefits, is a matter of civil rights. Important and a matter of justice. Witnessing and blessing represents acknowledgement of God’s sacramental grace. Both are important to me. But as a Christian, the witness and public support of my community of faith (www.stlukesknoxville.org in the Diocese of East Tennessee) is by far the top priority.

Comments are closed.