By Francesca Norsen Tate
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Same-gender couples soon can have their lifelong relationships blessed using a rite that the Episcopal Church’s General Convention approved for use starting later this year. However, at least one Brooklyn Episcopal parish asserts that it has already begun using this rite.
The Episcopal News Service reports that the House of Deputies concurred with the House of Bishops to pass Resolution A049, which authorizes provisional use of the rite “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant,” when leaders and representatives met in Indianapolis earlier this month for the denomination’s triennial General Convention.
The use of the rite takes effect on the First Sunday of Advent (start of a new liturgical year), which falls on Dec. 2 this year. Clergy will need the permission of their diocesan bishop under the terms of the resolution.
The Rev. Stephen D. Muncie, rector of Grace Church-Brooklyn Heights, says that he has already started using the Rites for Same Sex Marriage. Moreover, Fr. Muncie pointed out in an email that the Bishop of the Diocese of Long Island, the Rt. Rev. Lawrence Provenzano, has already permitted clergy in the diocese to officiate at same-gender ceremonies ever since same-sex marriage was legalized in New York State last year.
The motion in the Convention’s House of Deputies carried by 78 percent in the clergy order, with the clergy in 85 deputations voting yes, 22 no and four divided; and 76 percent in the lay order, with laity in 86 deputations voting yes, 19 no and five divided. The bishops had approved the resolution on July 9 with a roll call vote of 111 to 41 with three abstentions.
The liturgy “is a service of blessing for same-sex couples who are in lifelong, faithful monogamous, committed relationships,” said the Rev. Ruth Meyers, deputy of the Diocese of Chicago, who chaired the convention Prayer Book, Liturgy and Church Music Committee’s subcommittee on blessings and the SCLM.
Meyers said in a press briefing after the deputies adjourned, “With that service comes a whole package of resources.” These resources include a theological essay, guidance on canon law, materials to prepare couples for a blessing service and teaching materials inviting all in the church “into some conversation and theological reflection, whether or not they expect their congregations will at any time be prepared to host such services of blessing,” she said.
The resolution does provide for clergy who, because of conscience, cannot officiate at same-gender marriages.
The resolution states that, under existing canons, clergy can decline to preside at a blessing liturgy and says that no one “should be coerced or penalized in any manner, nor suffer any canonical disabilities” for objecting to or supporting the 77th General Convention’s action on blessings.
Fr. Muncie of Grace Church-Brooklyn Heights issued a statement this week upon his return from General Convention: “As a priest I am overjoyed that I can take part in asking God's blessing upon two people who are committing themselves to one another in love and lifelong fidelity. It is humbling to now preside over the union of lesbian and gay couples who, in many cases, have built a marriage on their own without the sanction of the state or the blessing of the church. Through their loving commitment through the years, these couples already have been showing society how mutual honor and persevering love enrich every human life. I am very proud of The Episcopal Church for its courageous commitment to bless all those who long to commit themselves to one another in lifelong bonds of fidelity and love.”
However, not all religious bodies — even those within the Episcopal Church, as noted above — view marriage as a right to be extended to gay and lesbian Christians, citing Scripture passages that they believe to be clear about homosexuality. And the Eastern Orthodox branches consider same-sex marriage as a “moral crisis in our nation.” St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Cathedral, in its summer newsletter, deemed it important to reiterate a statement from 2003 from its metropolitans (local bishops) and Patriarchs.
A portion of this statement, which is titled Marriage And The Moral Crisis In Our Nation, follows:
“Recently, the public discussion about marriage and about the propriety of its redefinition has once again become prominent. It is a discussion that is certain to continue for a long time yet. In light of this, the Assembly reaffirms the ancient and unchanging teaching of the Church. The Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA), states:
'As members of the representing more than 5 million Orthodox Christians in the United States, Canada and Mexico, we are deeply concerned about recent developments regarding “same sex unions."
'The Orthodox Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality, firmly grounded in Holy Scripture, 2000 years of church tradition, and canon law, holds that marriage consists in the conjugal union of a man and a woman, and that authentic marriage is blessed by God as a sacrament of the Church. Neither Scripture nor Holy Tradition blesses or sanctions such a union between persons of the same sex.
'Holy Scripture attests that God creates man and woman in His own image and likeness (Genesis 1:27-31), that those called to do so might enjoy a conjugal union that ideally leads to procreation. While not every marriage is blessed with the birth of children, every such union exists to create of a man and a woman a new reality of “one flesh.” This can only involve a relationship based on gender complementarity. “God made them male and female So they are no longer two but one flesh” (Mark 10:6-8).'"
The Bishops’ statement asserts that, “Today, however, this divine purpose is increasingly questioned, challenged or denied, even within some faith communities, as social and political pressures work to normalize, legalize and even sanctify same-sex unions.
“The Orthodox Church cannot and will not bless same-sex unions. Whereas marriage between a man and a woman is a sacred institution ordained by God, homosexual union is not. This being said, however, we must stress that persons with a homosexual orientation are to be cared for with the same mercy and love that is bestowed by our Lord Jesus Christ upon all of humanity. All persons are called by God to grow spiritually and morally toward holiness. As heads of the Orthodox Churches in America and members of SCOBA, we speak with one voice in expressing our deep concern over recent developments.”