This week, the 77th General Convention of The Episcopal Church commended and approved for provisional use “Liturgical Resources I: I Will bless You and You Will Be a Blessing,” for study and use in dioceses and congregations of church.
Contained within Liturgical Resources I are liturgies for “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant in a same-sex relationship,” specifically intended for the blessing of the monogamous lifelong relationships of same-sex couples.
The use of these liturgical resources is authorized for provisional use beginning the First Sunday of Advent 2012 (Dec. 2), under the direction of and subject to the permission of the Bishop exercising Ecclesiastical Authority in each Diocese.
It was not a surprise that this decision was made.
For over 40 years, The Episcopal Church has been grappling with issues related to human sexuality. This liturgical resource rose out of that conversation. It is not a compromise “marriage rite,” but a pastoral accommodation intended to address the needs of a particular group that we in The Episcopal Church consider to be full members of Christ’s Church through Baptism and Grace.
I summarize The Episcopal Church’s decision to provide this liturgical resource for the blessing of these life-long covenants as follows:
The Episcopal Church sought ways to make a “generous pastoral response” to our Christian gay and lesbian brothers and sisters seeking the Church’s blessing for their life-long, committed and monogamous relationships.
The Episcopal Church is responding now because a number of states have already approved marriage or civil unions between persons of the same sex. Until this current legislation, our Church did not have a liturgy to bless those relationships.
The Episcopal Church teaches that all baptized persons are full members of the Church. Therefore, as a matter of both Faith and witness, we choose to provide a prayerful framework within which we will order our common life around the blessings of these relationships.
This blessing liturgy is not required to be used by any clergy person. Clergy wishing to use it must have the specific permission of the local bishop. Most bishops allowing the blessing liturgy expect the lay and clergy leadership in a congregation to study the rationale behind the nature of the Church’s blessing and will require the leadership’s support for using the blessing liturgy locally.
This brief description of what our Church has done in providing this rite of blessing oversimplifies a complex and controversial issue. I am convinced that the decision was prayerfully reached. It seeks to bring order, honesty and hope to persons who have often been marginalized from full participation in the life of the Church.
This decision is consistent with the inclusive witness to Christ’s love that The Episcopal Church has made over the years. By it, we continue to proclaim that neither race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability or age will prohibit baptized persons from full participation in the life and witness of the Church.
Rev. Don E. Johnson is Episcopal Bishop of West Tennessee.