New same-sex rites resolution emerges

Blessing may appear in Enriching Our Worship
August 2, 2003

The cognate committee on Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music offered a compromise resolution Sunday on preparing rites for same-sex blessings that would allow for local option.

The new resolution, which combines resolutions C005, B007, C022 and C051, directs the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music to prepare “rites for possible inclusion in Enriching Our Worship by means of which support and blessing may be expressed for same-sex relationships with the permission of the ecclesiastical authority."

The resolution now goes to the House of Bishops for consideration.

The committee announced its decision less than an hour before deputies began to debate the election of the Rev. Canon Gene Robinson of New Hampshire as the Episcopal Church’s firstly openly gay bishop. The new resolution is intended to sanction developing rites for blessing same-sex unions while allowing those opposing such rites to follow their consciences. Committee member the Rev. Kendall Harmon of the Diocese of South Carolina will issue a minority report on the resolution.

“We think we have a resolution that has the big-tent aspect of B007” while including a provision for developing the new rites, said the Rev. Frank Wade of the Diocese of Washington, chair of the deputies committee.

Resolution B007, passed unanimously by the Province IV bishops and a majority of its synod, sought to allow those on both sides of divisive issues to continue to minister within the church and to avoid attempts to resolve “either our diversity of opinion or diversity of pastoral support” legislatively.

The committee voted to recommend the rites be developed for Enriching Our Worship instead of the Book for Occasional Services because each bishop has the authority to authorize its use within his or her individual diocese, Wade explained.

The resolution notes that “differences exist among us about how best to care pastorally for those who intend to live in monogamous, noncelibate unions; and what is, or should be, required, permitted or prohibited by the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church” concerning their blessing.

It reaffirms previous conventions’ resolutions affirming homosexuals’ “full and equal claim ... upon the love, acceptance and pastoral concern and care of the Church” and saying that their monogamous, noncelibate unions are expected to be “characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God.” The resolution also “recognizes that such relationships exist throughout the church” and says that “local faith communities are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions.”

The resolution states that “our baptism into Jesus Christ is inseparable from our communion with one another, and we commit ourselves to that communion despite our diversity of opinion and, among dioceses, a diversity of pastoral practice with homosexual persons.”

The committee met and voted in executive session, which is not open to the public, but a loud “aye” and a chorus of the doxology audible in the hall outside signaled the committee’s decision.

“The attempt is to work on both sides of the aisle,” said Bishop Henry Louttit, Jr., chair of the bishops committee and a member of the Province IV bishops who originally endorsed B007. The goal is to “allow both sides space to live” and keep either side from feeling they had “beat the hell” out of the other side – or had it beaten out of them, he said.

The vote was unanimous among those attending – the majority of the committee – with one abstention, Wade said.

Louttit said the near unanimity of the vote surprised him. “I thought we might get a sort of consensus.”

“Neither side is going to be real comfortable,” Louttit predicted.

Wade said he was pleased with the substitute resolution and expected to support it as a deputy. The committee aimed “to make a very clear statement as to what our choices are as a church” so the convention can make a clear decision, he said. “I think it’s a good resolution because it’s clear.”