From the 7th – 9th November nearly 200 advocates of a rite of same-sex blessing gathered at Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis Missouri, to develop a strategy in preparation for the next General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 2003. Claiming the Blessing is a collaboration between three groups – Integrity, Oasis and Beyond Inclusion – with a primary witness to, by, and for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgendered individuals in the Episcopal Church. The gathering included representatives of 38 states, with almost a quarter of the participants serving as deputies to the 2003 General Convention.
The conference opened with a Eucharist at which the Rev. Susan Russell, executive director of CTB, preached to what she called “a persistent people [who] belong to a most persistent God.” Russell said, “Our persistent God does indeed seek to change us…but the change God desires for us is not our sexual orientation but our theological orientation. It’s not our gender identity but our spiritual identity.”
In her opening remarks, the Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton, a member of the CTB steering committee and rector of St. Paul’s in Chatham, New Jersey, traced the origins of the gathering to the 1998 Lambeth Conference, which passed a resolution declaring homosexuality to be “incompatible with Scripture.” “We came away from Lambeth deeply wounded and limping, but still walking,” Kaeton said. “We saw what they did…We came away outraged, and remain outraged, that some members of this elite group of people in purple shirts dare to claim that they, and they only, speak the mind of the world-wide Anglican communion. “We are focused and coalesced around a single task: to obtain authorization for the development of a liturgical rite of blessing of the faithful, monogamous relationship between two adults of any gender at General Convention 2003.”
The Rev. Michael W. Hopkins, president of Integrity, presented the gathering with a draft document addressing the theology of same-sex blessings. “The Theology Piece,” is a compilation of resources designed for use in congregational, diocesan and community settings. It includes a “Theology of Blessings” statement and a Q&A pamphlet, and will eventually include a curriculum exploring the “theological, pastoral and ecclesial implications of full inclusion of LGBT people in the life of the church.”
“To bless the relationship between two men or two women is … to declare that this relationship is a blessing from God and that its purpose is to bless God, both within the context of the community of faith,” the document declared. “If the church believes that same-sex relationships show forth God’s blessing when they are lived in fidelity, mutuality, and unconditional love, then this blessing must be owned and celebrated and supported in the community of faith.”
Participants then broke up into small sessions to address concerns such as the challenge of preaching an inclusive Gospel, finding theological resources for gay & and lesbian “family values” in the church, and doing evangelism in the gay and lesbian community.
Former Presiding Bishop Edmond L. Browning was the celebrant at the conference’s closing Eucharist, with the Rev. Robert Taylor, dean of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle, preaching.
The eight questions asked in ‘The Theology Piece’ can be found on the Every Voice Network web site. Every Voice’s subtitle is ‘Anglican Voices Uniting For Justice’: