Kansas blessings policy upheld by narrow margin

October 22, 2002

The 143rd convention of the Diocese of Kansas narrowly defeated a resolution opposing Bishop William Smalley's policy of blessings for couples outside of marriage in a vote that was characterized by people on both sides of the issue as 'prayerful' and 'grace-filled.'

The convention took place October 18-19 in Overland Park, Kansas.

The resolution, which had been proposed by 12 priests and two deacons, urged Smalley to reconsider his policy and would have put the diocese on record as saying the policy 'does not reflect the mind of the diocese.'

The vote was taken by orders, a procedure that in the Diocese of Kansas usually is used for votes on major issues, most recently in 1999 regarding apportionment rates.

The vote was: clergy in favor of the resolution, 31; clergy against, 38; clergy abstaining, 7; lay people in favor of the resolution, 60; lay people against, 52; lay people abstaining, 12. A majority of votes cast in both orders was required for the resolution to be adopted.

Jean Crutchfield, president of the diocesan standing committee, presided over the debate and vote. Smalley relinquished the chair, saying he did not think it was appropriate for him to preside over this matter.

Discussion of the resolution ran almost an hour, with speakers in support of and opposed to the resolution alternating their remarks. More than a dozen speakers lined up at the two microphones, almost all of them priests, to make their views known.

Those in support of the resolution said they objected to the process Smalley used to issue his policy, which permits parishes to decide if they wish to bless the relationships of non-married persons in liturgies that may not resemble marriage. Several speakers said the bishop should not have acted unilaterally but rather should have waited for the church as a whole to move together on this issue.

Other speakers challenged the diocese to act prophetically on the issue of how the church treats homosexuals.

During debate another priest had indicated he felt torn by the resolution and could see merit in both sides, resulting in his decision to abstain. He asked Crutchfield to call for abstentions as well as ayes and nays once voting began.

In remarks made earlier to the convention, Smalley had called on those present to pause for prayer whenever anyone felt it was needed, needing only to say, 'Point of order, we need to pray.'

Delegates called for times of prayer throughout the deliberations of convention, including before the vote on this resolution. As delegates prayed silently, one person rose to offer the prayer for the unity of the church from the Prayer Book.

After the convention had concluded, Smalley noted that the debate had been cordial and 'showed the collegiality we enjoy in this diocese.' He said, 'We do differ from one another but can deal with our differences with respect and cordiality. The entire discussion was wrapped in prayer.'