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Process for same-sex blessings in Virginia

Process for same-sex blessings in Virginia

The Rt. Rev. Shannon Sherwood Johnston, Bishop of Virginia, has written to his diocese about the process for blessing same-sex unions. His article appears (both in English–page 12–and in Spanish–page 14) in the July, 2011 issue of the Virginia Episcopalian.

And so “move” I have done. With the Standing Committee’s advice and concurrence, I met on April 28 with a group of 24 clergy who had self-identified as being ready to proceed with the recognition of same-sex relationships in their congregations. At that meeting, I made it clear that we are not talking about “marriage,” which by definition in the Book of Common Prayer is between a man and a woman. Consequently, the Prayer Book’s marriage service may not be used or mimicked by simply editing it. Until the General Convention specifically provides otherwise, there will be no officially authorized liturgy for general use. Liturgies would be locally produced and approved on a case-by-case basis. Also, I set three criteria to be met to my satisfaction before I would give permission for this local option: (1) A statement of where the congregation is with this issue. What preparation has been done? What program of teaching was followed? (2) Has this been discussed with the vestry or vestry committee? What is their position? (3) A substantial exposition of the theology of recognizing same-sex relationships. This must include exegesis of the relevant passages from Scripture, not neglecting those which are cited as speaking negatively about same-sex couples. If any of this seems to be over the top, I reply by saying a change of this magnitude requires extraordinary considerations.

Three such applications have been received and I am now reviewing them. I plan to hold additional meetings for those who wish to consider this process. I will also hold meetings for those clergy whose discernment has led them to conclude that blessing same-sex relationships cannot be part of their ministry, strongly assuring them that their position and witness will continue to be wholly respected. I am neither so naive nor so prideful as to overlook the fact that others have also prayed and received answers different from my own. This is precisely why we need one another during these challenging times.

Here is his address to the January Diocesan Council.


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Margaret, the point I keep trying to make here and elsewhere (apparently with little or no success) is that it seems to me that the meal’s not done. This is just the start.

But to follow that metaphor, I also think it would be rude not to accept the initial offering. SO much can happen while, if you will, breaking bread together and talking. And it’s guaranteed that none of it will happen, if you don’t.

–susan forsburg

it's margaret

As one of the three priests who has submitted an application to move forward in the blessing of same-sex couples, please know that at the meeting with Bishop Johnston where the guidelines were laid out, I did say that this was a fine first step, but that we would not rest until there was full marriage equality.

Just sayin’.

Meg Matters

Benedict Varnum

It’s funny . . . reading this, one of my reactions was: “Gosh, it’d be great if straight couples could write a statement of the theology of their marriage, including relevant passages of scripture.” (I’ve been to several weddings where the couple did make their theological statements, either in their vows or, once, by turning and explicitly addressing the congregation!).

I don’t dislike the process the bishop has set forth. Christian marriage does take place in community, and telling the story of the community seems to me more an opportunity for expression than a kneeling-before-judgment; I would hope an opportunity to go on-record is a positive way for us to build our story going forward. I also have hopes that calling for descriptions of processes that have been followed will help bring to light more broadly that those processes exist and can transform communities. I hope this will help each marriage celebrated in Viriginia be a part of the growth and transformation of the church into a fuller acceptance of the reality of God’s gifts of grace for our relationships during our lives in creation. Sacrament is, after all, recognizing visibly what God has already been making real. It may take our imperfect human church some time to get there, but I trust that truth will continue to help us grow.

Is there a justice issue here, in that straight couples marrying don’t have these restrictions? Sure. And I hope the clergy and laity in Virginia don’t lay the whole burden of speaking to these three questions on the LGBT members of parishes. In the meanwhile, I appreciate that this is a significant step being taken, and sometimes it takes going through the motions of an imperfect solution to move towards a more gracious one.

Paige Baker

As I commented above, (and have frequently discussed with my friend Paige), I’m a pragmatist. So I will not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I want the perfect. But till I get there, I’ll take the good.

Susan–as a self-professed atheist, you have no reason to expect much from Christians at all, much less bishops of the church.

I, on the other hand, expect more…based largely on that whole “Do unto others thing” that the Lord we claim to follow instructed us to do.

At the very least, I expect bishops of this church to treat ALL the priests and parishioners of hir diocese–not just the ones with whom zie agrees–politely and pastorally. On that count, this letter is a big, fat FAIL.

Gary Gilbert

Susan, It seems weird for a diocese to ignore the 18,000 same-sex couples who married when it was legal in the State of California. Offering a blessing sounds like too little, especially when one considers that in addition to these 18,000 couples who remain married because they married before the passage of Proposition 8 in 2008, same-sex couples such as Murdoch and me who married before 2008 are recognized as married by California when they visit or relocate to California. Developing a separate rite when marriage as an institution already exists seems like yet another way to deny full equality. In those states that do not allow same-sex couples to marry civilly perhaps the church should marry them religiously. The church would still be free, like the United Church of Christ, the Unitarians, and the Quakers to consider blessings of same-sex couples as full marriage for purposes of religion.

There are many options in the battle for equality because it is not clear which approach will work. Second-class may have a long shot of succeeding but it generally merely solidifies exclusion.

Gary Paul Gilbert

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