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Episcopal Church in the US compromises on marriage rites for all couples

20 July 2018

Gender-neutral rites are to be made available to all couples


A Lexington deputy holds up the deputation’s paper ballot documenting its vote at the General Convention

A Lexington deputy holds up the deputation’s paper ballot documenting its vote at the General Convention

SAME-SEX couples will be able to marry in Episcopal churches in all dioceses, even where the diocesan bishop has objected.

The Church’s General Convention, which was held in Austin, Texas, has backed a compromise resolution to ensure that everyone has access to two trial marriage rites, approved in 2015, in their home churches.

Currently, in nine of the 101 dioceses of the Episcopal Church the gender-neutral rites have not been authorised by the bishop: Albany, New York, Central Florida, Dallas, Florida, North Dakota, Spring field, Tennessee, and the Virgin Islands. The new resolution allows for all couples to request the gender-neutral marriage rites, with pastoral support offered by a bishop from another diocese if necessary.

This resolution was a compromise on the original one put forward by the Task Force on the Study of Marriage, which would have changed references to marriage in the Prayer Book (News, 6 July) to make it gender neutral, and included the two trial rites in the Prayer Book.

Several bishops warned that doing so would “deepen the breach” in the Church.

An amended resolution was put forward in an attempt to avoid further division. It was debated at this week’s Convention; several amendments were made, but it was passed by bishops and deputies.

The Bishop of Long Island, the Rt Revd Lawrence Provenzano, who helped to draw up the resolution, said that it was a “pastoral solution . . . one that was mindful of trying to hold on to everybody.”

The Revd Susan Russell, from Los Angeles, said that everyone should be clear that the resolution contained “costly compromises that come with very real pain”. Some would be pained by a resolution that, she said, fell short of giving “full and equal claim” to all the sacraments to baptised LBGTQ persons. Others would “experience this action as a bridge too far away”.

William Murchison, from Dallas, said that the Convention was being asked to “throw out a historic Christian understanding and supplant it with a new one: untested, unproved, but now, all of a sudden, necessary to be believed and practised”.

Other resolutions suggesting changes to the Prayer Book were also approved by bishops and deputies, including allowing all the congregation to use optional “expansive language” versions of the eucharistic prayer.

The Convention also adopted a proposal for what it calls “liturgical and prayer-book revision for the future of God’s mission through the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement”, including using inclusive language for divinity and humanity.

The resolution calls for creation of a “Task Force on Liturgical Prayer Book Revision”, to be made up of ten lay people, ten clergy, and ten bishops, appointed by the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies. The members ought to reflect “the expertise, gender, age, theology, regional, and ethnic diversity of the Church” it was agreed.

The 79th General Convention concluded last Friday. It passed resolutions on its final day relating to the Israeli-Palestine conflict, although the House of Bishops rejected the most radical resolution for disinvestment from Israel.

Bishops and deputies also backed resolutions on immigration, condemning President Trump’s policy of detaining children as “inhumane and unjust”.

During the week, 1000 Episcopalians took part in a vigil outside an immigration detention centre which houses 500 women.

The Presiding Bishop, the Most Revd Michael Curry, said in a sermon during the vigil: “We do not come in hatred, we do not come in bigotry, we do not come to put anybody down; we come to lift everybody up. We come in love.”

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