Ruthe Myers writes:
A group of bishops is proposing a resolution to General Convention (B012) that would delay indefinitely adding gender-neutral marriage rites to the Book of Common Prayer. My colleague Joan Geiszler-Ludlum, who chaired the Task Force on the Study of Marriage that I’ve been serving on, shared this statement today. We need to make sure that every couple who want to be married in their home parish by their priest will be able to do so, and it’s not clear that this resolution will do it. And I’d like to see a clear path to full marriage equality, bringing gender-neutral marriage rites into the Book of Common Prayer while still allowing room for those who understand marriage to be only between a man and a woman. Resolution B012 doesn’t do that. #GC79
Statement regarding Resolution B012
From: Joan Geiszler-Ludlum, Deputy, East Carolina
As Chair of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage this triennium and a member in the previous triennium, I am pleased to have been asked to comment on Resolution B012 from the perspective of the Task Force’s work as contained in the Task Force’s Report to the 79th General Convention. I appreciate the extent to which Resolution B012 relies on the work of the Task Force by including language directly from the Report in the Explanation as well as including provisions that appear in Resolution A085, specifically Resolves 7, 9, 10 and 11. My regret is that the proponent(s) did not reach out to the Task Force or the bishops who served on the Task Force in drafting Resolution B012.
The Task Force throughout its work has been committed to providing equal access to marriage and the liturgies use for marriage proposed for trial use as additions to the Book of Common Prayer. In proposing Resolution A085, the Task Force offers one possible path for the broadest possible access in keeping with our polity and procedures as set forth in the Constitution and Canons. Resolution B012 offers a different way forward that has potential advantages and disadvantages which should be weighed carefully during legislative consideration.
Resolution B012 offers open-ended trial use without any eventual amendment of the Book of Common Prayer. Providing the liturgies for marriage for trial use in this manner relegates the liturgies for marriages of same-sex couples to perpetual second-class status. At some point, preferably sooner rather than later, these liturgies need to stand beside the current Prayer Book marriage liturgy as authorized alternatives. Baptized committed members of this Church and the LGBTQ+ communities have been waiting over 40 years for this Church to value and bless their committed, lifelong relationships on the same footing as the Church values and blesses the committed, lifelong relationships of different-sex couples. How much longer will we make them wait?
Resolution A085 includes revision of the section “Concerning the Service” of marriage and the Catechism, stating that marriage is a solemn and public covenant between two people, making clear that marriage is available to all. It also proposes revised proper prefaces for marriage, for use in the Eucharistic prayer at a marriage celebration. Resolution B012 does not include these proposed revisions and additions to the BCP.
Resolution A085 proposes publication of “Liturgical Resources 2” which is an updated resource document for the trial liturgies incorporating pastoral material from Liturgical Resources 1 along with the essays and study materials developed by the Task Force in the previous triennium, and adding the new essays and other materials produced by the current Task Force, as requested in Resolution 2015-A037. Resolution B012 proposes publication of “Liturgical Resources 1” in a revised and expanded 2018 edition that would include the trial liturgies but not the essays on marriage.
Resolution A085 proposes continued trial use of the liturgies for marriage without direction by the bishop exercising jurisdiction or supervision. Resolution B012 retains this requirement for bishops with jurisdiction that was also a part of Resolution 2015-A054 (but not bishops with supervision, such as the Bishop Suffragan for Armed Services and Federal Ministries). The Task Force survey of the use of the trial liturgies during this triennium found that 8 bishops declined to authorize the trial liturgies in their diocese, including some who prohibited clergy of the diocese from officiating outside the diocese as well. Clergy have raised the question generated from Canon III.9.6 (a): what are the limits of episcopal oversight of the administration of the sacraments or sacramental rites of this Church?
Resolution B012 further proposes an application of DEPO (Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight) stating, “congregations may request, and when requesting shall receive delegated episcopal pastoral oversight (DEPO) by a bishop of this Church who shall provide access to these liturgies.” The House of Bishops enacted DEPO in a policy statement in 2004 entitled “Caring for All the Churches: A Response of the Bishops of the Episcopal Church in response to an expressed need of the Church” as revised in March 2012. This proposal raises a number of concerns:
• Would all of the current provisions of DEPO apply to this context? Is marriage an initiatory rite?
DEPO sets out an eight-step process in which the rector and vestry or canonically designated lay leadership seek reconciliation with the bishop; if reconciliation is not successful, the rector and two-thirds of the Vestry or of the canonically designated lay leadership, after engaging the congregation, may seek a conference with their Bishop Diocesan to discuss the appropriateness and conditions for DEPO; after the conference the Bishop Diocesan may appoint another bishop to provide pastoral oversight. Such oversight applies to these elements: Episcopal visitation; administration of confirmation and other initiatory rites; counseling the rector, vestry of canonically designated lay leadership; and in cooperation with the Bishop Diocesan collaborating in search processes when the parish seeks a new rector. The DEPO bishop may, with the advice and consent of the Bishop Diocesan and his or her own Commission on Ministry and Standing Committee, care for persons from the parish in the ordination process. The policy further provides for an appeal to the bishop who is serving as the President or Vice-President of the Province in which the parish is geographically located when reconciliation is not achieved. When agreement is reached on a plan for reconciliation, the plan must include the expectations of all parties, especially for mutual accountability, for a stated period of time with regular reviews and opportunity for renegotiation and renewal.
• Resolved 6 makes reference to “where diocesan canons … do not authorize the use of these liturgies for persons of the same sex ….” What is the authority of dioceses to enact canons that conflict with canons or resolutions of General Convention? How would such diocesan canons apply to DEPO?
Examples of such diocesan canons exist in the Dioceses of Dallas (Canon 12) and Albany (Canon XVI). The Dallas canon defines marriage as “the physical and spiritual union of one man and one woman, by mutual consent of the heart, mind and will, with the intent that it be lifelong.”; prohibits the blessing of same-sex couples in any churches, missions and congregations of the diocese; prohibits any clergy resident or licensed in the diocese from performing such blessings in any venue; and requires all clergy of the diocese to refrain from sexual relations outside of marriage.
The Albany canon prohibits clergy resident or licensed in the diocese from officiating at, facilitating or participating in any service celebrating or blessing any union other than that of one man and one woman, and withholds any recognition or blessing of any relationship other than that of one man and one woman, even if recognized by another jurisdiction. The canon further prohibits use of any property owned, controlled or managed by the diocese, any parish or any legal entity established by the diocese or a parish for the celebration or blessing of any union other than that of one man and one woman. While Albany has a DEPO relationship with the Bishop of Vermont, it has enforced this canon in the DEPO relationship, thereby depriving any same-sex couple seeking marriage or blessing of access to their parish, priest and church family and community.
• Is it in order to consider applying DEPO in its current form to the trial use of the marriage liturgies?
Joint Rule III.11 state:
No proposal for legislative consideration which approves, endorses, adopts, or rejects a report, study, or other document that is not generally known by the members of the House or readily available may be considered by the General Convention unless such material is first distributed to both Houses. It is the responsibility of the proposer to provide the necessary copies to the Secretary of each House.
DEPO in its current form is a policy enacted unilaterally by the House of Bishops, and implemented by and between bishops. As such it lacks fulsome discernment by the full polity of this Church. If it is to apply to trial use of the additional liturgies for marriage, it should be revisited and adapted for this specific context.