07 July 2009

B012 - the one to watch?

The Rt. Rev'd Stephen T. Lane (Maine) has proposed a resolution from the House of bishops.

Titled Pastoral Generosity in Addressing Civil Marriage the text reads:

Resolved, the House of _______ concurring, That this 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church acknowledge the pastoral concerns facing those dioceses in states where the civil marriage of same gender couples is legal; and be it further

Resolved, That in those dioceses, under the direction of the bishop, generous discretion is extended to clergy in the exercise of their pastoral ministry in order to permit the adaptation of the Pastoral Offices for The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage and The Blessing of a Civil Marriage for use with all couples who seek the church's support and God's blessing in their marriages; and be it further

Resolved, That in order to build a body of experience for the benefit of the church, each bishop in those dioceses where this pastoral practice is exercised provide an annual written report on their experience to the House of Bishops each March and to the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music for its report to the 77th General Convention.

This could be the most hotly debated resolution of the convention. The resolution is explained this way:
There are now six states (Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont) where the civil marriage of same gender couples is legal, and other states may follow in the coming triennium. This has created unique pastoral challenges for The Episcopal Church because the definition of marriage held by these states and the language used in the Canons and the Book of Common Prayer of The Episcopal Church is not the same. In all six states, faithful Episcopalians are asking that their church provide the pastoral support and blessing of the church for their marriages*. Clergy in those same states are caught between the authority given them by the state and the discipline of The Episcopal Church as it's currently described. The rubrics of the BCP require that "marriage conform both to the laws of the state and the canons of the Church (BCP, 422).

This situation requires a generous and flexible response that offers clergy the ability to make appropriate pastoral decisions in consultation with the bishop and their members. There may be many clergy and congregations that have no desire to participate in the blessing of a civil marriage. But in those places where there is such a will, the freedom to explore that option is vital.

The Book of Common Prayer makes provision for special devotions that may be used when services in the Prayerbook do not address the needs of the congregation (BCP, 13). Such devotions are subject to the direction of the bishop.

There is also a need for the Church to hear the experience of those dioceses and congregations where good faith efforts are being made to respond to the pastoral needs of faithful same sex couples. This resolution would create annual reporting to the House of Bishops, with a summary report to be made to the 77th General Convention.

While this resolution addresses the special circumstances in states with full marriage equality, there is also a need to support other efforts to provide pastoral care (including blessings) to same sex couples in all dioceses of The Episcopal Church. [Emphasis added]
Keeping in mind that the clergy officiated marriage is actually two separate acts (state civil union and sacrament), there are only two logical choices for GC:
  1. Forbid clergy to officiate at all civil unions
  2. Allow clergy to officiate at all civil unions
Presuming that this resolution actually sees the light of the convention floor, this could be the hot button. But, to paraphrase the late Carl Malden, "What will they do?" I think it's safe to bet the farm that they won't do either of the above.

In a related matter, the Diocese of Niagra has given permission for the blessing of same-gender unions. Their theological reasoning is found here and it is well worth reading. The actually rite of blessing is found here.

* Actually, it is every diocese in TEC, not just the six herein named.