Resolved, that bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church. . . .”
With the above wording, the 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, which met in Anaheim, California, July 8–17, opened the door for blessings of gay and lesbian relationships throughout the church. The measure passed overwhelmingly with a two-thirds vote of the convention.
The Reverend Lisa Hunt, rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church of Houston and co-convener of Integrity Houston, notes, “They’re recognizing that marriage and civil unions and domestic partnerships are happening civilly throughout the country,” but also clarifies that “the blessing rite will be at the discretion of the diocesan bishop. [The bishop] has the discretion now to make that ‘generous pastoral response.’ ”
Integrity is the national organization working for full inclusion of LGBT Episcopalians in the life of their church. Integrity Houston was recognized at a recent national celebration for being the third largest contributor to a fund for a media and hospitality effort at the general convention.
While this makes for a watershed moment for the national church body, the impact will vary from diocese to diocese. The Reverend Blake Rider, currently rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Poughkeepsie, New York, was the first, and remains the only, openly gay priest ordained in the diocese of Texas, which took place in 2005. He points out that “the blessing of same-sex unions, partnerships, marriages—whatever word is used by the couple—has been the practice in the diocese of New York for years.” This diocese does not include the whole state of New York, but does include New York City.
For the diocese of Texas, which remains staunchly traditional in its definition of marriage, the issue is somewhat trickier. “The blessing rite will be at the discretion of the diocesan bishop,” Hunt says. The Right Reverend Andy Doyle, bishop of the diocese of Texas, “has said publicly that he wants to have thoughtful and respectful conversation about these issues,” Hunt says, “and Integrity Houston intends to take him up on that. We want to be full partners in that conversation.”
Also approved at the general convention is a measure that will open the door for more openly gay bishops. At present, there is only one such Episcopal bishop, The Right Reverend V. Gene Robinson of the diocese of New Hampshire. A second is not an immediate likelihood. A position for bishop has to be open, and a qualified candidate has to be presented. As Rider says, “How the bishops vote on the consent of another bishop is always within their own heart and soul. There has not been a gay candidate put forward for confirmation since Gene Robinson.”
With some crying “schism” over these votes, much remains to be seen how this will affect the church’s future. For now, Episcopalians appear to be moving forward. —Neil Ellis Orts