Hearing on marriage rites

My first open hearing at my first in-person Episcopal General Convention was regarding marriage and liturgy changes for marriage rites at the 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church. I attended part of the Convention as a guest and wanted to witness discussions on liturgy changes because that’s what I think will most affect people in our communities and churches.

Mawwiage meme via GIPHY

A wee history to catch you up

Let me give a little history to catch any newcomers up, hitting the high points. In 1976, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church declared that

“homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church” (1976-A069).

Since then, Episcopalians have been working toward a greater understanding and radical inclusion of all of God’s children.

Lord help us, we have been wrestling.

We wrestled with ordination: in 2003, General Convention discussed the blessing of committed, same-gender relationships and passed “Consider Blessing Committed, Same-Gender Relationships” (2003-C051). Also in 2003, the first openly gay bishop was consecrated – Gene Robinson in New Hampshire. In 2009 the church affirmed that “God’s call is open to all,” meaning all orders of ministry were open to include all baptized LGBTQ members of the church.

And Lord help us, we wrestled with marriage, again and again. In 2009, the 76th General Convention resolved to develop resources on blessings of same gender relationships, and authorized bishops to provide a pastoral response to the relationships of all church members (2009-C056). In 2012 the church commended a provisional rite “Liturgical Resources I: I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing” for same gender lifelong unions (2012-A049) – subject to the permission of and under the direction of a diocesan bishop. After a quirk of Supreme Court timing, we wrestled through approving same-sex marriage rites in 2015 just a few days after same-sex marriage became legal throughout our nation. The 2015 General Convention authorized the trial use of two liturgies for marriage, available for use by all couples (“The Witnessing and Blessing of a Marriage” and “The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage 2”), as well as authorized the continued use of “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” (2015-A054). However, Convention allowed individual diocesan bishops to approve use of these rites (or not approve them), acknowledging “the canonical provisions and theological diversity of the Church in matters of human sexuality.”

So marriage for same-gender people in The Episcopal Church is IMO a cobbled-together thing as we began this 2018 convention. And LGBTQ people have been waiting.

I’m waiting meme via GIPHY

The marriage resolutions in the hearing

The resolutions in the open hearing at my first in-person Episcopal General Convention was regarding marriage and liturgy changes proposing marriage rites. Specifically, these three resolutions:

Now, go read those 3 resolutions linked above. I’m not explaining them here, I’m just sharing comments and observations from what I experienced in Austin at the 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church.

Committee 13 representatives from the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops were hosting the hearing on Thursday, July 5, and the room overflowed well beyond capacity. The committee chose not to move to a larger room that would have held more people, so people stood along the walls, plopped in the aisles, and huddled in the doorways to hear. I was told by a volunteer that the committee had the option of moving to a larger room but chose not to. That was an inhospitable move on their part. This was a hot-topic hearing, at a convenient time. Tsk, tsk.

Everyday people, not just Convention deputies, were invited to sign up to testify to the committee; to speak, one had to register 30 minutes before the hearing.

I’ll share some of what I heard. There were many voices from our neighbors in the Diocese of Dallas, in the state of Texas, the Diocese of Tennessee, the Diocese of Albany, and Province Nine. There were voices from other places, too.

In opposition to including LGBT people in our BCP marriage rites, I heard:

  • It “negates my marriage vows” for others to have access to the same rite.
  • We’ve worked to “restore faith in the National Church.”
  • It’s “culturally driven.”
  • It will “widen the gap” between the Roman Catholic and Episcopal churches.
  • It’s “revisionist Christianity.”
  • A change in the Prayer Book is a “change to doctrine.”
  • “Don’t separate us from the Church catholic.”
  • Same-sex marriage is not in the Bible. So it’s not biblical. So we shouldn’t have it in the BCP.
  • Sameness” will make people leave the church.
  • Theologically redefining marriage is not aligned with scriptures. A085 “alienates conservative churches and dioceses.”
  • BCP revision labels “faithful Episcopalians” as perpetrators. Drop the “Puritainizing” efforts.
  • Proposed changes alienate those with traditional views.
  • BCP change is divisive. Unity matters now. Don’t break parts off of the church.
  • God made us man and woman. His word is perfect. Now at my age I have to learn he is wrong?
  • “Better to obey God than man.”
  • “DEPO works!” (That’s Delegated Episcopal Oversight, where a congregation moves out of the oversight of their geographical bishop.) “There’s something in B012 for ‘both sides!’”

In favor, I heard and noted these stories:

  • One member of Transfiguration in Dallas shared, that the church who baptised her son now denies him the sacrament of marriage. She urged the church to move forward and provide all the sacraments of the church to all the baptised, and stop telling people they are unworthy of some sacraments.
  • A psychologist who sees LGBT children afraid. They have fear of conversion therapy. They have fear of church. The Episcopal Church has mixed messages in some ways: all are welcome, but policy contradicts that.
  • “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Make marriage rites available to all clergy to administer.
  • A married gay priest who was denied marriage but who was blessed in his marriage with, “I will bless you, and you will be a blessing,” has a daughter who was recently baptised. He shared, “explain to my daughter baptised in our church how her parents’ relationship is unequal.”
  • A non-binary person, themself a postulant, recounted feeling “lesser” in the Roman Catholic church. It’s a “fluke of geography” that the postulant and their fiancé are welcome. Don’t continue to “perpetuate bigotry against people like me.” These changes don’t take away anything, they give more rights and options.
  • We are in a spiritually-hungry time. This is good, spiritual change.
  • An immigrant who would have been outed from her original diocese in Peru shared that “marriage for all unites.” “Many of you have been loved by this church for a very long time. Some of us have not.”
  • A rector in Dallas voiced that he’s prohibited from extending an approved church sacrament to LGBT people living faithful, holy lives in commitment to one another. Yet bishops and their consciences are more important than people and their sacraments.

I heard quite a lot of perspectives as I saw Episcopalians wrestling with marriage, this sacred ritual that acknowledges and celebrates, before God and the community, the desire of the couple to enter a lifelong covenant.

Ah, twue wuv. And the role of the church in blessing it in a lifelong union. And the role of community in what they embrace.

News story on this hearing

The Episcopal News covered this hearing and a hearing later Thursday evening. Read their story Marriage-equality resolutions get long airing during committee hearings.

Marriage in the Diocese of Fort Worth

What is marriage in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth? When two people desire to form a lasting, lifelong partnership with each other in God’s love, they turn to marriage. Read about this union.

Marriage in The Episcopal Church

The Princess Bride mawwiage scene

In case you are unfamiliar with the mawwiage references here, or if you want more mawwiage and twue wuv from the 1987 romantic comedy, go here. (And do note the power plays and manipulation as you watch.)

Susan Kleinwechter
Social Media Coordinator at Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth
Independent contractor in communications serving on the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth's communication team and as Communications Director at St. Martin-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church. Photographer at Lasting Memory Photography. Volunteer. Passionate Episcopalian. Technology advocate. Instigator.