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How Sewanee made its policy on same-sex blessings

How Sewanee made its policy on same-sex blessings

Libby Nelson of Inside Higher Ed has a story we missed when it appeared a few weeks. She writes:

In July, the Episcopal Church approved a new liturgy to bless same-sex relationships, which went into use Dec. 2. The rite, which has much in common with a marriage ceremony, is intended to be used even in states where gay marriage is illegal. Bishops that do not approve of the new liturgy can forbid its use within their jurisdiction.

The new rite posed a particularly thorny question for Sewanee. The university, which includes an Episcopal seminary, is owned by 28 dioceses in the United States, and the bishops of those dioceses make up the university’s board of trustees. The bishops do not share a common stance on the issue, but several members of Sewanee’s Board of Trustees urged their fellow bishops in July to vote against the new liturgy. One, a bishop in South Carolina, has tried to secede from the Episcopal Church as a result.

The controversy placed Sewanee in a tricky position, said John McCardell Jr., Sewanee’s vice chancellor and president. The college itself isn’t part of any diocese, and its religious governing authority is the chancellor, a post that rotates among the bishops of the 28 owning dioceses.

“An absolute yes or an absolute no was just not possible,” McCardell said. The college feared its chapel could become a sort of Las Vegas for blessings of gay unions — an end-run for couples whose bishops wouldn’t permit the rite in their own diocese.

The compromise: Gay and lesbian couples who meet the other eligibility requirements for a Sewanee wedding will be able to have their union blessed in the college chapel, as long as their bishops are supportive.

This notion that Episcopalians are somehow their bishops’ subjects and can only have relationships blessed with their bishop’s approval, regardless of where the blessing takes place, is troubling to me. I sympathize with Sewanee’s situation and think most of the rules they came up with to decide who could be married in their chapel are sensible. But this idea that one’s geographical diocese limits the sorts of blessings one can receive is problematic, isn’t it?


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Jim Naughton

Stan, if you can’t speak in a respectful tone to the people you address by name here, you can count on us to continue to call you on it. You and I were having a direct conversation in which your inability to come out from behind your pose of superior knowledge made further engagement pointless. In your latest comment you continue this behavior.

S Runnels

Jim N. Somehow, I thought posts to the Lead were for the benefit of the whole community in conversation. Apparently, by your remark “I get tired of being spoken to at great length about things that I already know,” my assumption is in error. Instead, the posts in the Lead are singularly directed to you and for your benefit exclusively. As it seems clear your opinions are formed, and I certainly don’t want to add to “tiresome”-ness in your life, I will sign off from this engagement. Hope you have a blessed Epiphany.

tobias haller

Thanks, John Sandeman. I take it that even in Australia an individual diocese cannot simply make its own bishop without provincial input. I should have clarified that it is the “province” that is the basic unit of the church, not the diocese. (I was trying to avoid using “national church” but failed to remember the proper term, which is province. In Australia you have such real provinces… in TEC our “provinces” are more or less for housekeeping and mission work, without any metropolitical standing. Sorry for the over-broad statement, written in haste after I “lost” a beautifully composed earlier draft, due to inadvertent mouse pressure. 😉


Despite some ill-chosen words by the Vice Chancellor, as I understand it, All Saints Chapel at Sewanee may be the only place in the Diocese of Tennessee where same-sex blessings may be performed. I do agree with those that found General Convention’s episcopal “conscience clause”—real this time rather than contrived in re the ordination of women—may have been “necessary,” for now, but should be removed as soon as possible. As the saying goes the perfect ought not be an enemy of the good. But I have also noticed a strange theological notion in the Cafe discussion that somehow priests are ordained in the priesthood of their bishops—kind of vicariously as it were. I find nothing in the prayer book or in any reputable sacramental theology that this is so. All are ordained in and through the Spirit of God in Christ—not in or really not even by the bishop. Check the ordination rite, bishops invoke this Spirit who does the ordaining. There are no episcopal detours here. “Therefore, Father, through Jesus Christ your Son, give your Holy Spirit to N.; fill him/her with grace and power, and make him/her a priest in your Church.”

Joe Monti

Atlanta, GA

Ann Fontaine

Thanks Stan – I know that resolutions are not particularly binding and said so in my response– what I am saying is that bishops can’t just run off doing things by themselves in dioceses (as per Tobias response) — but in the case of this legislation – those supporting it made a deliberate choice to allow local option because they thought that was all they could get passed in the HOB. I wished we could have had something that would show our true colors — are we a bunch of bigots or not? As it stands it is one more piece of not very good news for many of our members and yet another reason to pass us by for those who might come to us.

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