Saturday, June 19, 2010

Same-gender blessings task force meeting this morning; my summary

The Diocese of Virginia task force on same-gender blessings met this morning for two-and-a-half hours. This was our first meeting, and so the discussion was wide-ranging about how to approach our task. Please read in an earlier post from yesterday the resolution (R-14) that set up our task force.

This being the first meeting, no decisions were made, no recommendations arrived upon, no conclusions reached. But I was impressed with the respect everyone showed for each other, and the dedication shown to listening to each point of view. The task force includes both clergy and laity, and straight and gay people. There is an abundance of lawyers on the panel, which is probably a good thing because R-14 asks a series of legal and canonical questions. We also talked about how our work could dovetail with Bishop Shannon Johnston's proposed "townhall meetings" around the diocese later this year.

Mostly we talked about how to approach our work; we looked in detail at each of the points raised by R-14; we also examined national canons on marriage and looked at guidelines from the Diocese of Southern Ohio for same-gender blessings. There are several other diocesan guidelines available from around the country, but we started with this one from Ohio; we will look at others as our work progresses.

I think I can also safely say that it is the intention of everyone on the task force to conclude our work and make our recommendations by the November 1 deadline set forth by the diocesan resolution. It is also the intention of everyone to write our recommendations as clearly and forthrightly as possible.

I am reprinting below the guidelines from Southern Ohio for your study and comment. Again, this is a starting point; if you want to comment, please have the courage of your convictions by giving your name and church affiliation. I will not respond to anonymous comments -- and nasty, bigoted and hateful comments will be deleted. Be kind; this topic is not just abstract, but is crucial in the life of our church at this time, and it impacts real people in real relationships.

Here are the guidelines from Southern Ohio:
Policies and Procedures
for the Blessing of Same-Gender Unions in the
Diocese of Southern Ohio

1. The blessing of a Same-Gender Union (hereafter referred to as a “union”) requires written permission of the Bishop (or Ecclesiastical Authority of the Diocese in the absence of the Ordinary), hereafter together referred to as the “Bishop”).
(a) Permission must be sought in writing by a priest canonically resident in the
Diocese of Southern Ohio, or licensed to officiate in the Diocese of Southern
(b) Request for permission must be delivered to the Diocesan office for the Bishop’s
attention no later than sixty (60) days prior to the proposed date for a blessing.

2. For every proposed blessing, at least one of the two persons requesting the blessing must be a member in good standing of The Episcopal Church resident within the Diocese.

3. Prior to a priest’s officiating at the blessing, the couple must receive adequate counseling as determined by the priest. (Priests are encouraged to take advantage of the educational resources available on the Diocesan Website.)

4. Any priest intending to bless a union should inform the congregation in which the blessing will be recorded.

5. The priest-in-charge retains the right and responsibility to determine whether any union shall be blessed on church property or under the auspices of the congregation.

6. Blessings of unions shall be recorded in the congregation in which, or under whose auspices, the blessing takes place, and no blessing shall be performed without such record.

7. When presented with a union that is imperiled, a priest must act first to protect and promote the physical and emotional safety of the couple, and then to promote reconciliation.

8. Any member of this Church who seeks the dissolution of a union, or who seeks permission to enter into a subsequent union, may apply to the Bishop for a judgment. Such judgment may be a recognition of the nullity, or of the termination of the union; Provided, that no such judgment shall be construed as affecting in any way the legitimacy of children or the civil validity of the former relationship. Every judgment made under this provision shall be in writing and made a matter of permanent record in the archives of the diocese.

9. No priest of this Diocese shall bless the union of any person, except as hereinafter provided:
(a) The priest shall be satisfied by appropriate evidence that any prior marriage has been annulled or dissolved by a final judgment or decree of a civil court of competent jurisdiction, and that the same is true for any union that was evidenced by a formal civil proceeding.
(b) The priest shall have instructed the parties that continuing concern must be shown for the well-being of the former spouse or partner, and of any children of the prior marriage or union;
(c) The priest shall consult with and obtain the consent of the Bishop to officiate prior to, and shall report to the Bishop, the blessing; and
(d) If the proposed blessing is to be given in a jurisdiction other than the one in which the consent has been given, the consent shall be affirmed by the Bishop of that

10. It shall be within the discretion of any priest to decline to bless any union.

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