Bishop Gary Lillibridge of the Diocese of West Texas has approved a plan to allow three parishes to bless same-sex unions. A detailed and lengthy description of the process leading up to the decision was attached to an e-mail to the clergy and congregations of the diocese. The congregations are All Saints’, Corpus Christi, Church of Reconciliation, San Antonio, and St. Paul’s, San Antonio.
These conversations, like those which have been underway for many years, were not always easy, and people on both sides have understandable anxiety regarding the decision. Nevertheless, these conversations continue to be marked by mutual respect and love; with an acknowledgment that our unity and friendships in Christ have been and remain primary values of the life and mission of West Texas. To summarize what has emerged from all of these gatherings over the past decade would take much more space than I have here. However, let me offer a few observations.
First, within our diocese, those who have engaged these issues have been very serious about Scripture as the Word of God. They have sought to be faithful and to hear God speaking through Scripture. Second, key passages pertaining to homosexuality have been taken seriously, as are passages that may speak to it indirectly. Third, those opposed to same-sex blessings have spoken and acted with love and respect for homosexual persons and for those in favor of such blessings. This same love and respect has been offered by those in favor toward those opposed. Fourth, it is clear from our conversations that all love the Lord and his Church, and are committed to the Church’s mission. Fifth, even as a variety of views and rationales have been expressed by each side, if permission is to be granted, all believe that faithful, committed, and monogamous relationships between two people who love each other must be the standard.
The leadership of the diocese, including the Council of Advice members, has committed to stay together and love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ even while holding different theological perspectives on this matter; and we are deeply grateful for that commitment. In our sacred responsibilities as leaders of this diocese, Bishop Reed and I are committed to one another in this same way when we have varying perspectives on things. When I think of our dedicated followers of Jesus on both sides of the issue of same-sex blessings, I am mindful of the words of our Prayer Book Collect: Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross so that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace (p101).
Within the congregations of our diocesan family are persons who understand and interpret Scripture differently and who disagree on questions of homosexuality. Yet, they worship together and kneel side by side to receive Eucharist on Sundays. They work together in ministries within and outside the church. And they work, pray, and give for God’s Kingdom. Likewise, our clergy are not of one mind. And yet, they sit side by side in Councils and clergy conferences and find common ground to work together as colleagues and brothers and sisters for the sake of the unity we have received in Christ. We are all aware that no decision on these matters can please everyone. But Bishop Reed and I hope that Christian charity and generosity of spirit will guide us, and that mutual love and respect will flourish as we continue our life and ministry together.
The Rector of All Saint’s, Corpus Christi, the Rev. Jonathan Wickham, wrote to his parish:
Many of you know that the matter of blessing same-sex unions has been under consideration in the diocese and in the Episcopal Church. This has been an ongoing conversation in our parish for some time, as well as an ongoing matter of discernment in my heart as a priest.
After serious prayer and discernment, in October of last year the All Saints’ vestry requested permission from the bishop to offer blessings of same-sex unions. In that letter we shared, “Our core values at All Saints’ are: Tradition, Innovation, Inclusion, Formation, Prayer and Action. We have come to understand that our call to bless couples in their commitments to one another is a faithful response to God’s movement in their lives, and a faithful expression of our core values….”
…I am grateful for the bishop’s decision. My heart rejoices at the prospect of living more fully as a priest and pastor in the diverse and holy community of Corpus Christi. At the same time I am very aware that not all are of the same mind in this matter. In all things, we must seek the unity and love of Christ. We must remember to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3)