ECUSA same-sex rite to be developed

Bishop John B. Chane of Washington has named two priests — the former national chairman of Integrity, the church’s lesbian and gay caucus and a divorced mother of two sons — to head a new diocesan task force on same-sex blessings. The Revs. Michael W. Hopkins and Susan N. Blue are in favour of same-sex blessings and both have performed several in the 40,000-member diocese. The rite should be ready by June.

The task force has six members and will study sample rites throughout the country to develop one that is “classically Anglican in tone and format,” according to diocesan spokesman Jim Naughton. The Episcopal Book of Common Prayer has no such rite, and Episcopalians declined to mandate such a ceremony at last summer’s Episcopal General Convention in Minneapolis.

Mr. Hopkins, co-chair of the task force and the rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church in Glenn Dale, said he has performed eight same-sex church blessings in the past decade. “We have been asked to prepare a rite for people for whom marriage is not available,” he said. “We want to make sure there’s a standard in the diocese, so that what is used is good liturgy. Having a standard will help many other congregations to consider it, who are not performing it now.” He estimated a half-dozen out of 94 congregations in the diocese are performing same-sex rites.

Susan Blue, the co-chair, is rector of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church near Dupont Circle. She was divorced after being married for 23 years and has two sons. She has performed commitment ceremonies for lesbian and gay partners for the past five years.

A representative for the Washington Chapter of the American Anglican Council (AAC), the conservative group opposing same-sex blessings, expressed frustration with Bishop Chane. “I’m very disappointed that he would so quickly after General Convention appoint a task force when we are not of the same mind on this,” said Brad Hutt, vice chairman of AAC/Washington.

In a letter to diocesan clergy, the bishop informed them that the rite can be used for other relationships, such as elderly couples, who because of tax law or inheritance issues cannot marry. Mr. Naughton said the rite could serve couples who lack the mental capacities for a civil ceremony. “There are people who are mentally handicapped, who have a relationship, but whose guardians or parents don’t feel marriage is the right thing,” he said, “but there is a loving, exclusive relationship between these two folks. “Their families have said, ‘We wish they could be married, but they can’t, but we want the blessing of God and the church on this.’ ”

The other members of the task force are Johanna Ettin, a member of St. Thomas Episcopal Church at Dupont Circle; the Rev. D. Thomas Andrews, rector of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Bowie; the Rev. Robyn Franklin-Vaughan, the campus minister at Howard University; and the Rev. Peter Antoci, campus minister at University of Maryland and the ecumenical officer for the diocese.

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