Bishops propose solution for full access to same-sex marriage rites

June 29, 2018

“Liturgical Resources 1: I Will Bless You, and You Will Be a Blessing” was one of the rites General Convention authorized in 2015 for trial use. Photo: Church Publishing Inc.

[Episcopal News Service] Three bishops have proposed a resolution on same-sex marriage that “seeks to ensure that all of God’s people have access to all the marriage liturgies of the church, regardless of diocese, while respecting the pastoral direction and conscience of the local bishop.”

Long Island Bishop Lawrence Provenzano, Pittsburgh Bishop Dorsey McConnell and Rhode Island Bishop Nicholas Knisely said in a news release late on June 28 that their Resolution B012, is “an attempt to move the church forward in an atmosphere of mutual respect, reconciliation and the love of Jesus Christ.”

The resolution continues to authorize the two trial-use marriage rites first approved by the 2015 meeting of General Convention without time limit and without seeking a revision of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

“Given our particular time in history, this resolution provides a way forward for the whole church without the possible disruption of ministry that might be caused by the proposed revision of the Book of Common Prayer,” the three bishops said.

Resolution B012 proposes that access to the liturgies be provided in all dioceses, without requiring the permission of the diocesan bishop. Instead, congregations that want to use the rites but whose bishops have refused permission may request and will receive Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) from another bishop of the church who would provide access to the liturgies. DEPO is a 14-year-old mechanism devised by the House of Bishops for congregation that disagree with their diocesan bishops on matter of human sexuality and other theological matters.

Access to the rites has been a sticking point from the beginning in a small number of dioceses.

General Convention in 2015 authorized the two marriage rites for trial use (Resolution A054) by both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. The bishops and deputies also made the canonical definition (via Resolution A036) of marriage gender-neutral.

The Task Force on the Study of Marriage said in its Blue Book Report it found widespread acceptance of the rite across the church except that eight diocesan bishops in the 101 domestic dioceses have not authorized their use.

The task force is proposing (via Resolution A085) that convention require all bishops in authority to “make provision for all couples asking to be married in this church to have reasonable and convenient access to these trial rites.” It also would have convention say that bishops will “continue the work of leading the church in comprehensive engagement with these materials and continue to provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this church.”

Episcopalians who support that effort have been active ahead of convention. Claiming the Blessing, which formed in 2002 to advocate for the “full inclusion of all the baptized in all sacraments of the church, according to its website, has published an advocacy piece. Some Episcopalians in the Diocese of Dallas have developed a website called “Dear General Convention” that includes videos and written stories about people who cannot be married in that diocese.

The task force’s Resolution A085 also calls for adding the trial use liturgies to the Book of Common Prayer. And, it proposes changes to the prayer book’s other marriage rites, prefaces and sections of the Catechism to make language gender-neutral.

The Episcopal Church includes 10 dioceses in civil legal jurisdictions outside the United States that do not allow marriage for same-sex couples. Since church canons require compliance with both civil and canonical requirements for marriage, convention in 2015 did not authorize the trial liturgies for use in those dioceses.

Five Province IX diocesan bishops and one retired bishop representing the dioceses of Ecuador Litoral, Ecuador Central, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Honduras had warned the task force that if convention makes changes about marriage that would force them “to accept social and cultural practices that have no Biblical basis or acceptance in Christian worship,” the action would “greatly deepen the breach, the division and the Ninth Province will have to learn to walk alone.” The bishops of Colombia and Puerto Rico did not sign the statement.

To address their concerns, Resolution B012 also calls for a Task Force on Communion Across Difference, “tasked with finding a lasting path forward for all Episcopalians in one church, without going back on General Convention’s clear decision to extend marriage to all couples, and its firm commitment to provide access to all couples seeking to be married in this church,” the three bishops’ news release said. The task force would seek a path consistent with the church’s polity and the 2015 “Communion across Difference” statement of the House of Bishops, prompted by bishops who objected to convention’s actions on marriage.

Five bishops, three who refuse to authorize the rites and two of the five bishops who signed the Province IX statement, said on June 28 that they will implement Resolution B012 if it is passed.

“Should the proposal before us pass, we would entrust in charity congregations that do not read Holy Scripture in this way to the care of other bishops in the Episcopal Church with whom we remain united in baptism,” they wrote. “While we cannot endorse every aspect of this proposal, we will be grateful should it help us all to continue contending with one another for the truth in love within one body.”

Provenzano, McConnell and Knisley praised that pledge. In addition, they said,since the canons of the church state that General Convention may set terms and conditions for trial use rites, the terms and conditions specified in this resolution have by extension canonical force. All bishops are obliged to abide by these terms and conditions, as by canon law. We believe that they will hold if challenged.”

The proposing bishops contend in their news release that their proposal “allows conservatives to flourish within the structures of the Episcopal Church, but not at the expense of progressive congregations in conservative dioceses. While at first glance it may sound unnecessarily complex, it is a ‘middle way’ that makes room for all in one church.”

 – The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is the Episcopal News Service’s senior editor and reporter.

A previous version of this story gave the wrong name for the Diocese of Pittsburgh bishop. This version corrects that error and cladifies that the proposal would require bishops to grant all requests for Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight.