House of Deputies approves rite for blessing gay unions at Episcopal Church General Convention

General Convention meeting in Indianapolis gave its final approval on Tuesday 10 July to Resolution A049, which authorizes provisional use of the rite “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant”. The resolution passed with 78 percent approval in the lay order and 76 percent in the clergy order. The motion in the House of Deputies carried by 78 percent in the clergy order, with the clergy in 85 deputations voting yes, 22 no and four divided; and 76 percent in the lay order, with laity in 86 deputations voting yes, 19 no and five divided. The bishops had approved the resolution on July 9 with a roll call vote of 111 to 41 with three abstentions.

The Rite is approved for use starting December 2nd (the first Sunday of Advent). Clergy will need the permission of their bishop under the terms of the resolution.

The resolution also calls on the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music “to conduct a review process over the next triennium, making clear that this is a work in progress,” the Rev. Ruth Meyers, deputy of the Diocese of Chicago, said in introducing the legislation to the deputies. She chaired the convention Prayer Book, Liturgy and Church Music Committee’s subcommittee on blessings and the SCLM.

The resolution directs the SCLM to include “diverse theological perspectives in the further development of the theological resource” and to invite responses from throughout the church as well as from the Anglican Communion and the church’s ecumenical partners.

The resolution states that, under existing canons, clergy can decline to preside at a blessing liturgy and says that no one “should be coerced or penalized in any manner, nor suffer any canonical disabilities” for objecting to or supporting the 77th General Convention’s action on blessings.

The liturgy “is a service of blessing for same-sex couples who are in lifelong, faithful monogamous, committed relationships,” Meyers said in a press briefing after the deputies adjourned. “With that service comes a whole package of resources.” The resources include a theological essay, guidance on canon law, materials to prepare couples for a blessing service and teaching materials inviting all in the church “into some conversation and theological reflection, whether or not they expect their congregations will at any time be prepared to host such services of blessing,” she said.

Before the house debated the resolution, the Very Rev. David Thurlow, a member of the Prayer Book, Liturgy and Church Music Committee and a deputy of the Diocese of South Carolina, gave the deputies a minority report.

“For 2,000 years, the church has had clear teaching regarding marriage,” he said. Noting the committee’s concern about ecumenical relations in other areas, such as maintaining use of the Revised Common Lectionary, Thurlow said, “we haven’t taken heed of the universal voice of the church universal or the Anglican Communion.”

“This resolution marks a clear and significant departure — theological, doctrinal and in worship — from the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this church has received them,” he said. It introduces a “new theology of human sexuality.”

The Rev. Jack Zamboni, New Jersey, recalled playing the part of the “groom” in a test run of the liturgy at a Province 2 synod. “My reaction after having participated in that liturgy was that I wished [my wife] and I had had this liturgy when we were married six years ago. It’s a wonderful piece of liturgical work.”

He described how a lesbian couple in his parish, together 30 years, cried when he told them convention would consider authorizing a rite that would bless their relationship. “They had never thought it would happen in their lifetime.”

Before the vote, the house engaged in a complex and lengthy parliamentary discussion following a request to divide the resolution. Ultimately, the resolution was not divided, and deputies voted to approve the whole resolution. Deputies also voted down a request to refer the resolution to the SCLM.

(Report by Sharon Sheridan, a member of the Episcopal News Service team at General Convention)

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