Bishop vonRosenberg grants clergy permission to bless gay unions
July 8, 2014
By means of this letter, I am granting permission for clergy to officiate at occasions indicated by “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant.” Please read this communication fully and carefully, in order to appreciate the various responsibilities we accept within the community of faith which is The Episcopal Church in South Carolina.
I am grateful to those who have assisted our process for the past fifteen months. In particular, the Standing Committee engaged in prayerful discernment and conversation prior to offering their counsel and their unanimous support; the clergy gathered at our annual conference engaged the topic with pastoral sensitivity toward all; and the Committee on Blessings, representing each of our deaneries, has assisted in crafting a policy for our diocese.
This notification gives permission for clergy to use the document found on our website (episcopalchurchsc.org, Resources, “Lifelong Covenant Blessing”). However, for such a liturgy to take place in one of our church buildings, I am requiring that the appropriate vestry or mission committee give its approval. This approval does not apply to the particular couple – and therefore, the approval does not have to be repeated for future couples. However, the vestry or mission committee needs to indicate its willingness for that church to host such liturgies within the building, in order for the liturgies to take place there.
Permission from the bishop to use this liturgy follows the direction of General Convention, 2012. That is, The Episcopal Church adopted the format of an “approved liturgy.” It is important and significant to realize that the liturgy intends to respond pastorally to faithful Episcopalians in their lives in Christ. General Convention approved a means for such a response, as an initial step. Then, the local bishop must give permission to use the liturgy in some form within the diocese. With the stipulations already mentioned – concerning the particular liturgy approved here and the use of church buildings – I am now doing so.
I do want to be clear that this permission does not define an expectation for clergy. In your own life of prayer and within community, you will decide how to respond to this statement of permission. As clergy providing pastoral care in your local community, you bear particular responsibilities. I want to highlight several of those, in addition to the decision of whether or not – and how – to involve yourself with this liturgy.
The preparation of a couple for this blessing of the church will require attention and care on your part, and I certainly encourage the exercise of your pastoral ministry in the context of couples seeking this blessing. As you will see from the theological reflections and service notes at the end of the approved liturgy, one member of the couple must be a baptized Christian. In order to accomplish the best preparation possible, it will also aid your work if the couple has some association with the community of faith for which you are responsible.
We can anticipate that General Convention, 2015, will make adjustments in the liturgy approved in 2012. So that TEC in SC may be part of such considerations and discussions – and to encourage a spirit of order and unity – I will expect that any blessing using this approved liturgy during the next twelve months be reported to the diocesan office. I anticipate that I will ask those of you who officiate at such liturgies to serve as resources for our deputation to General Convention.
As indicated above, a particular tab on our website will become live later today. This site will provide resources and information that you may find helpful. In particular, the approved liturgy – “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” – is located there. At the conclusion of the liturgy itself, there is presented a brief theological reflection. In addition, appropriate books and other resources are identified on the website as well. Also, a model outline for conversations is included, as a possibility for aiding helpful reflection for vestries, mission committees, and entire congregations. Finally, the news release, by which we will announce this permission to the larger community, may be seen there.
I commend our continuing journey as a diocese to your prayers, recognizing that differences of opinion and of practice appropriately exist within the greater unity which binds us to one another in Christ. As we take this step in particular, may we be mindful of our baptismal pledge to “respect the dignity of every human being”, all along the way.
The Rt. Rev. Charles G. vonRosenberg