Dallas bishop’s plan for allowing same-sex marriage involves Missouri bishop’s oversight

Bishop George Sumner has led the Diocese of Dallas since 2015. Photo: Diocese of Dallas

Episcopal News Service === Three parishes in the Diocese of Dallas have asked to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies under a General Convention compromise with Bishop George Sumner and other conservative diocesan bishops, and Sumner announced this week that Missouri Bishop Wayne Smith will provide pastoral oversight of those three parishes.

The move, based on Sumner’s interpretation of Resolution B012 approved in July, will allow the parishes to begin offering the church-approved trial-use rites without raising further objection from Sumner, who will relinquish oversight but not diocesan authority.

The rites were first approved for use in 2015, but eight bishops still refused to allow them in their churches leading up to the 79th General Convention. Since passage of B012, the response from those eight has varied dramatically. Virgin Island Bishop Ambrose Gumbs, for example, reversed himself and now will allow the rites, while Albany Bishop William Love announced last weekend he intends to defy General Convention and prohibit the rites.

The resolution includes a provision that says bishops whose theological beliefs don’t allow for same-sex marriage shall ask a fellow bishop to provide any necessary pastoral oversight of the couple, clergy and congregation related to the rites. Advocates for greater LGBTQ inclusion in the church, however, argue B012 does not mandate that bishops delegate pastoral oversight – bishops don’t typically oversee marriages – nor does it say oversight, if delegated, need go beyond the matter of the marriage rites.

Sumner, after initially blocking same-sex marriages in his diocese, backed the compromise in July and began working on a plan for implementation with congregations interested in marrying same-sex couples. The three congregations so far, all in the city of Dallas, are Episcopal Church of the AscensionEpiscopal Church of the Transfigurationand Episcopal Church of St. Thomas the Apostle.

“Bishop Smith is a person of humor, intelligence, wisdom, and faith, and I am grateful for his heart to help us in this way. He is also a Texan happy to minister in the Lone Star State,” Sumner said in an online statement posted Nov. 14. “Both he and I share the hope that the three parishes will continue to invite me annually to come to preach, teach, and share in worship.”

The arrangement for another bishop to accept pastoral oversight is similar to the Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight, or DEPO, that parishes churchwide may request if they feel at odds theologically with their diocesan bishop. In such cases, the parishes that receive pastoral oversight from an outside bishop remain part of their home diocese.  A reference to the DEPO model, however, was specifically excluded from the language of the approved version of B012.

“All the costs associated with this arrangement will be borne by the [Dallas] diocese,” Sumner said. “The parishes’ obligations and privileges within the Diocese of Dallas continue unchanged.”

The Diocese of Missouri also announced the arrangement on its website.

“I’m very pleased that we’ll be able to offer the sacrament of marriage to same-sex couples,” the Rev. Paul Klitzke, rector at Ascension, told Episcopal News Service. “I’m also happy that pastorally we’ll be able to refer to those who’ve been married already as married, which given the current canons of the Diocese of Dallas, has been in question.”

Klitzke, however, also hinted at mixed feelings about the plan, which will mark a break with the pastoral oversight previously provided by Sumner. The bishop intends to delegate all sacramental and liturgical oversight of the three parishes to Smith, not just their use of the same-sex marriage rites. Springfield Bishop Dan Martens has taken a similar position on implementation of B012 in his Illinois diocese.

“We wish [Sumner] could still be our bishop,” Klitzke said. He thinks more congregations in the diocese would have asked to use the same-sex marriage rites “if it didn’t mean a change in the relationship with bishop diocesan.”

The Rev. Casey Shobe, rector at Transfiguration, told ENS in August he hoped to have a “significant celebration and renewal of vows” next year for couples who married elsewhere rather than waiting for that opportunity in their Dallas church, and he expects a number of same-same sex couples to get married at the church in the coming year or two.

Shobe wasn’t immediately available by phone Nov. 15 but said in August that a plan for outside pastoral oversight “would result in Transfiguration experiencing a big leap forward on a set of matters that are deeply important to us, which have consistently kept us at odds with our bishop in the past.”

A gay couple at Ascension had been interested in marrying, but tragically, one of the two partners died suddenly this year before their ceremony could occur at the church. Resolution B012 takes effect on Dec. 2, the first Sunday of Advent. “There was definitely heartbreak over that here,” Klitzke said.

No other gay or lesbian couple has yet requested to be married at Ascension, but that door is now open.

“We felt it was important to take this step without someone in waiting, because intention matters,” Klitzke said. “In order for us to be welcoming to those who might want to be married, we need to be ready.”

Until this year, the eight dioceses blocking same-sex marriage were Albany, Central Florida, Dallas, Florida, North Dakota, Springfield, Tennessee and the Virgin Islands. Seven of the eight bishops have indicated they intend to implement B012, however reluctantly, though the specific plans differ from diocese to diocese.

Only Love has said explicitly that he will not accept or implement the resolution, potentially setting up a legal showdown with the church and diocesan clergy who are interested in moving forward with same-sex ceremonies in their congregations.

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.

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