More than 100 Episcopalians in the Diocese of Tennessee co-signed a letter this week asking their bishop, the Rt. Rev. John Bauerschmidt, to release his pastoral directives for the use of same-sex marriage rites in the diocese. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry; the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, President of the House of Deputies; and the Rev. Susan Russell, co-chair of the Task Force on Communion Across Difference, all received copies of the letter sent to Bauerschmidt, who co-chairs the Task Force on Communion Across Difference with Russell. The signatories also sent a different letter to the Presiding Bishop Michael Curry informing him of their communication with Bishop Bauerschmidt; Russell, Clark, and Bauerschmidt also received copies of this letter.
The signatories of the letters are members and supporters of All Sacraments for All People (ASAP), a grassroots organization founded by members of the Diocese of Tennessee who are working for marriage equality and access in all dioceses of the Episcopal Church.
Resolution B012, passed at last summer’s General Convention, authorizes the use of same-sex marriage rites in all dioceses of the Episcopal Church and requires dissenting bishops to make provision for members and congregations who wish to make use of these rites. The resolution states:
“…in dioceses where the bishop exercising ecclesiastical authority (or, where applicable, ecclesiastical supervision) holds a theological position that does not embrace marriage for same-sex couples, and there is a desire to use such rites by same-sex couples in a congregation or worshipping community, the bishop exercising ecclesiastical authority (or ecclesiastical supervision) shall invite, as necessary, another bishop of this Church to provide pastoral support to the couple, the Member of the Clergy involved and the congregation or worshipping community in order to fulfill the intention of this resolution that all couples have convenient and reasonable local congregational access to these rites…”
The resolution was to be implemented by the first Sunday of Advent, 2018, but as of the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6, 2019, Bishop Bauerschmidt had yet to release guidelines for how the resolution would be implemented in the Diocese of Tennessee.
In their letter directed to Bishop Bauerschmidt, dated January 7, the members of ASAP expressed the longing felt by LGBTQ+ church members and their families as they await pastoral direction on their access to marriage in the sacramental and liturgical life of the Church, writing:
“At least one couple and their rector have in good faith reached out to find out how you would like to structure episcopal oversight for their marriage. They continue to wait for an answer. Other committed couples anxiously wait to make their vows before God surrounded by the communities who love and support them. Grandparents, parents, siblings, extended families, and friends are eager to bear witness to these unions in church, taking seriously their role in promising to ‘do all in (our) power to uphold these two persons in their marriage.’“
In their communication with Presiding Bishop Curry, dated the same day, the signatories also expressed their frustration with the delay, noting,
“It is disappointing that the bishop tapped to co-chair the Communion Across Difference task force – an official, interim body of the Episcopal Church – has, to date, failed to work within the agreed upon parameters set by the governing body of that church.”
The Task Force on Communion Across Difference, co-chaired by Bauerschmidt and Russell, was established by General Convention to
“…[seek] a lasting path forward for mutual flourishing consistent with this Church’s polity and the 2015 ‘Communion across Difference’ statement of the House of Bishops, affirming (1) the clear decision of General Convention that Christian marriage is a covenant open to two people of the same sex or of the opposite sex, (2) General Convention’s firm commitment to make provision for all couples asking to be married in this Church to have access to authorized liturgies; and also affirming (3) the indispensable place that the minority who hold to this Church’s historic teaching on marriage have in our common life…”
In an email to the USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee, Bishop Bauerschmidt indicated that the guidance on use of same-sex marriage rites in the Diocese of Tennessee will be available later this month.
Despite his delay in releasing guidance on the use of same-sex marriage rites, Bishop Bauerschmidt released on January 3, 2019 a Pastoral Teaching on Marriage on the diocesan website, which echoes his earlier statements and sentiments about marriage. The document, which is more than 4,800 words long, seeks to “offer a theological account of the Church’s traditional teaching on marriage to members of the Diocese of Tennessee.”