Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Same-gender blessings report completed, made public

Some months ago, I was appointed by Bishop Shannon Johnson to an 11-member task force to examine the issues of authorizing same-gender blessings in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. The bishop appointed this task force in response to a resolution (R14s) approved by diocesan Council last January.

I am very pleased to report that our task is finished and our report is now public.

We began meeting in June, and we met seven times, each meeting lasting several hours. All of us respected the confidentiality that we needed to have for an honest exchange of views, and hence I have said very little about the task force on this blog.

We were asked to complete our report by All Saints Day, and we did so. The report was given to the Bishop and the Executive Council in late October. The bishop made the report public this week, posting it on the Diocesan Council website. You can click HERE to read the full report.

The basic question we were asked was whether any canons or other rules need to be changed for same-gender blessings to proceed in this diocese. Our conclusion is that is it completely within the authority of the bishop as to whether and how such blessings can and should take place. No canons need amending.

We did note that those dioceses that have proceeded with same-gender blessings have done so under guidelines issued by their respective bishops. We examined many sets of guidelines, and drafted proposed guidelines for our bishop, which we have given to him.

The task force report speaks for itself; the crux of our recommendations are in these paragraphs:
We recognize that Resolution 14s called on us to recommend possible “proposed canonical language” that would be required before same-gender blessings could proceed. However, after a careful review of national and diocesan canons, and in consultation with canonical lawyers, we concluded that no diocesan canon needs to be amended, and that no new diocesan canons are required for such blessings. It is our conclusion that same-gender blessings could proceed in this diocese solely through the pastoral authority of the bishop. Our conclusion is also consistent with the practice that we found in other dioceses that have proceeded with same-gender blessings.
Our review brought us to the determination that the best way to discharge our duties as a task group was to develop a set of proposed guidelines for the Diocese of Virginia should the bishop authorize same-gender blessings. We have therefore drafted proposed guidelines for the bishop’s adoption, modification or rejection. We believe that these proposed guidelines could provide an orderly and pastoral response to proceeding with same-gender unions while ensuring the right of clergy to refrain from participation without fear of discipline.
Our recommended guidelines, we believe, are consistent with all existing national and diocesan canons. We were careful to ensure that our proposed guidelines do not exceed the canonical authority of the bishop, or violate the canonical prerogatives and limits upon clergy and vestries. They fall within the scope of the bishop’s existing authority to provide pastoral direction to his clergy, and within the meaning of the General Convention Resolution C056 that “bishops…may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this church…” [emphasis added].
Again, I am very pleased to have served on this task force, and I am pleased we are finished. I am happy to answer any questions as best I can, but it should be understood that the next steps are Bishop Johnston's and his alone. Please keep him and our beloved church in your prayers.