July 3, 2015
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
The 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church has just concluded in Salt Lake City. It has been a momentous time, both in the church and in the world.
I am preparing to leave General Convention with great hope for the Episcopal Church. We have passed a budget with substantial investments in evangelism and church planting, we have made a major commitment to the work of racial reconciliation, and we have elected the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, a dynamic preacher and powerful evangelist, as our next presiding bishop. Bishop Curry will be the first African American person to lead the Episcopal Church, and the news of his election was reported and celebrated around the world. I am eager to work with him over the next nine years.
While we were gathered at General Convention, the Supreme Court of the United States made marriage equality the law of the land. While this does not change the law in Pennsylvania, where we have enjoyed marriage equality since last spring, it does bring about long-sought legal equality for our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) sisters and brothers.
Just a few days later, both the House of Bishops and House of Deputies overwhelmingly approved two resolutions that bring liturgical marriage equality to all dioceses of the Episcopal Church beginning on the first Sunday in Advent. The canons of the church regarding marriage have been changed to be gender-neutral, and two trial liturgies have been approved. One is a gender-neutral version of the current marriage service in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, and the other is a version of a liturgy called “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” that was first approved for blessing same-sex unions in 2012 and now can include vows of marriage. Bishops who object to same-sex marriage are not required to authorize these liturgies, but they are required to make provision with another bishop to do so for same-sex couples in their dioceses. As has always been the case, clergy will not be required to perform marriages that violate their consciences.
Our path toward marriage equality in the Episcopal Church has been long–some 40 years–and sometimes difficult, and I celebrate that we have finally arrived at a time when we can provide not only legal protection, but also full recognition of the sacred bond that unites both same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples who marry in our church.
I have not always seen the issue of marriage equality the way I do now, and I understand that this decision of the General Convention may be difficult for some people to understand and accept. If you are struggling with this change, I hope that you can find ways to listen to the stories of our LGBT couples and families across the church and find, as I have found, the power of their witness and their love of Jesus. My relationships with LGBT Christians have brought me to a new understanding of scripture, fidelity, and marriage, and I am grateful to them for so generously sharing their lives with me.
When the House of Deputies was preparing to take the final vote on marriage equality, Jim Steadman of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania said, “For years we have concluded worship by asking that God grant us the strength and courage to do the work he has given us to do. This is the time. Use the courage you have prayed for all these years.”
May we go forward into this new world of greater justice and unity with just this kind of courage and an abundance of love.
The Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe