HRC Blog

Episcopal Church Approves Same-Sex Union Rites; Transgender Inclusion Policy

This guest post comes from Rev. Dr. Caroline J. A. Hall, President of IntegrityUSA:

It’s been an exciting two days here at the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church – on Monday transgender inclusion, and on Tuesday, provisional blessings for same-sex couples. And it all seemed so easy.

But like many things that look easy, these advances were the result of years of hard work. At Integrity’s Eucharist on Monday evening, we recognized the pioneering work of Dr. Louie Crew who founded Integrity in 1975 and who continued to faithfully call the Episcopal Church to live up to its values of inclusion until he retired last year. It has taken thirty-seven years to reach this point.

As early as the 1960s, individual clergy and parishes were blessing the relationships of gay or lesbian couples; sometimes quietly, sometimes less so, but always unofficially. In 2003, a diocese in the Anglican Church of Canada decided to allow blessings using a public liturgy. Combined with the Episcopal Church’s ordination of the first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, this led to outrage from conservative Anglican churches in other parts of the world. The backlash made it more difficult for the Episcopal Church to move ahead. It’s amazing that just 9 years later, when we are still dealing with the conservative reaction, the Church has decided to go ahead and make blessings official.

The 2009 Convention directed the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM) to prepare resources for same-sex blessings. They took this very seriously and undertook a huge project of reading liturgies that had been written and used in the past forty years, and in an unprecedented church-wide consultation developed theological and educational resources as well as the blessing itself. Their careful work contributed enormously to the Blessing being authorized. But just as important was the slow careful work of culture change that Integrity and its allies have undertaken year after year, weathering setbacks and celebrating successes.

This work continues. In the next three years the conversation about same-sex blessings and specifically this liturgy will continue. A study of the theology of marriage, agreed on Monday, will challenge the Church to reconsider its theology of marriage as it applies to the twenty-first century. The work of the SCLM has led us to refocus our thoughts and deepen our reflection on the meaning of covenant, especially as it applies to two people in a committed relationship. This study of the theology of marriage will continue to challenge the Church to think and rethink its ideas of different-gender marriage as well as inform the ongoing conversation about changing the church canons to define marriage as between two persons.

Gradually LGBT people have come out in their parishes and choirs, in their dioceses and to their bishops. They have undertaken hard faithful work on behalf of their church, all the while witnessing to the unconditional and inclusive love of God. Today there are LGBT people in every area of church life. In the last ten years, transgender Episcopalians have been coming out of their own closets and taking leadership positions in the Church. To know us is, for many, to love us. As LGBT people have become visible and have been respected for their work and witness, so the church has had to change. The Episcopal Church today is proud to be inclusive.

We are proud of our Church. Much remains to be done. We do not yet have agreement about same-sex marriage. There are many LGBT people who don’t know that there is any church that welcomes them. The quality of Episcopal welcome varies from place to place. Our work in the next three years is to help local churches become truly welcoming and reach out to those who are looking for God and a safe church home. Integrity is committed to continuing to work for a truly inclusive church where all people truly are welcome.

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