A Letter from Bishop Sean: General Convention Concludes

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.

In Christ,

The Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe

Bishop Rowe Nov 2014-93wt

God Is Doing Something Now

imagejpeg_0Jim Steadman, Chancellor and Deputy from the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania spoke in favor of same-sex marriage at General Convention.  Below he recreated what he said with the caveat that his notes from speaking had been prepared, deleted, scribbled on and had arrows drawn all over them….

[Previous commenters had repeatedly remarked that it had been 39 years since the Church said that homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance and pastoral concern of the church.]

39 years is a long time. It has been 39 years since we recognized the integrity of our gay brothers and sisters. That is two generations; my grandparents and parents have died in that time and my children and grandchildren have been born.

During the hearings on this matter the committee repeatedly heard that God is working his purpose out and will continue to do so with us or not. Interestingly, in today’s Center Aisle we have a similar comment from a priest in the Church of England, who said “Mission is finding out what God is doing and joining in.”

God is doing something now.

We – all of us in this room – have prayed weekly for strength and courage to do the work God has given us to do.

Now is the time. This is the work.

I urge the members of this house to take that strength and courage and vote for this Resolution.

James Steadman

A Reflection from General Convention

The Supreme Court released it’s ruling on same sex marriage this morning. I was in a committee meeting at the time and a member interrupted the business to make the announcement. I understand the announcement interrupted most of the committees. At The General Convention, I can often feel rather isolated from the world. I don’t watch TV or read the paper. Occasionally I will check online but with the 14 hour schedule each day, there is little time. But this morning shows that news still gets through to us.

I ran into Lynette Rhodes Williams at lunch today. She reminded me that on Sunday at the ECW luncheon her late mother, Frances Rhodes, would be honored as Woman of the Year in NWPA. Frances was so very active in St. Francis, Youngsville, and in the Diocese. She and I often drove together to various events and, since we both enjoyed talking, we solved all the problems of the world during those trips. Now if only the world (or church) would listen to us. Frances was a dear friend and richly deserving of this honor.

Music at Eucharist this morning was provided by a jazz ensemble which had us dancing and clapping during the prelude (Click on this link to see a video of the jazz performance: http://ow.ly/OS9P3). The chaplain for the House of Deputies has used song, drums and video during his meditations and prayers which has had us all singing, clapping and laughing. Worshipping with a few thousand fellow Episcopalians is always uplifting.

There is still so much work to get through. The committees and the two houses are organized and working hard to perfect resolutions and set the course of the church for the next three years. Tomorrow the House of Bishops will elect a new Presiding Bishop as they gather in St. Mark’s Cathedral. They will then wait there until the House of Deputies confirms (or not) their selection.

Much still to do. We will be in Convention until July third. Of your mercy, please pray for us.

The Rev. Canon Brian Reid, Deputy from The Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania

Big issues, big names

SALT LAKE CITY — The Episcopal Church’s 78th General Convention is considering several groundbreaking resolutions, including amending the marriage canons to include language for same-sex couples and overhauling the church’s bicameral structure.
 
The potential for big changes brought out two big names on Thursday night.
 
1471176_10207037362198357_6109511603389922704_nPresiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first woman to be elected to that post in the Episcopal Church, addressed the church’s Committee on Governance and Structure. Its members include Bishop Sean Rowe and the Rev. Adam Trambley, both of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania.
 
And at another site, retired Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay priest elected a bishop in the Episcopal Church, addressed the Special Legislative Committee on Marriage. Its members include attorney Jim Steadman, chancellor of the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania and the Cathedral of St. Paul.
 
The presiding bishop’s presence riveted the packed committee room where deputies and bishops had been debating whether to change the Episcopal Church’s high-level operations. Jefferts Schori, who is retiring at this convention after serving one nine-year term, spoke of a presiding bishop’s need for strong executive powers.
 
Jefferts Schori displayed humility and good humor. Everyone in the room stood when she walked to the microphone stand, and she gave a sheepish grin as she told everyone to sit down. And when everyone stood up as she left, she waved her arm with a smile, signaling to everyone, once again, to please sit down.
 
The presiding bishop’s appearance at a committee hearing was unusual, and underscored the importance of the governance issues. Gene Robinson’s appearance at the marriage hearing reflected that issue’s significance as well.
 
Robinson’s election as bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire in 2003 sent the Episcopal Church into turmoil. He spoke Thursday night of that period, and how the Episcopal Church survived it.
 
Robinson said the Episcopal Church could wait no longer to amend the marriage canons with gender-neutral language. The church, he said, has for years supported gay rights and allowed same-sex blessings. He said American culture now is pushing for even more change. Most of the country fully accepts gay marriage, Robinson said, and so should the Episcopal Church.
 
“I think it is time,” he told the committee.
 
Robinson, like Katharine Jefferts Schori spoke from experience.

Same-sex marriage: Episcopalians weigh whether now is the time

By our own Ed Palattella and reprinted from the ‘House of Deputies News.’

file0001068069481SALT LAKE CITY — Years of study and debate over same-sex marriage have led the Episcopal Church to a familiar point. Its leaders must decide whether to act now, or to wait.

Delegates to the church’s 78th General Convention, which officially begins Thursday, will vote on a task force’s proposal to revise the church’s canons so that the definition of sacramental marriage would apply to all couples, both same-sex and different-sex. The convention could also choose to create another task force to study the issue for three more years and present a report to the 79th General Convention, which meets in Austin, Texas in July 2018. The choice to act or wait recalls similar scenarios at past conventions that debated contentious issues including the ordination of women (1976) and the consecration of a gay, partnered bishop (2003).

The vote on same-sex marriage will rank as one of the most momentous at a gathering where some 200 bishops and 800 lay and clerical deputies will also elect a new presiding bishop and consider whether to overhaul the church’s bicameral legislative structure. The significance of the church’s decision will be amplified by the U. S. Supreme Court’s ruling, sure to come by June 30, on whether laws prohibiting same-sex marriage are constitutional.

The Court’s ruling will have no binding effect on the convention, but if the Court rules in favor of same-sex marriage, look for a push from Episcopalians who share that view. They are likely to increase their calls for the church’s law and practice to reflect what is a legal reality for thousands of couples already married in places where same-sex marriage is already legal—36 states (including Utah) and the District of Columbia. If the Supreme Court rules that states can prohibit same-sex marriage, or rules that each state must decide the issue for itself, expect Episcopalians who oppose revising the marriage canons to cite the Court in their arguments. Those Episcopalians would likely, at a minimum, renew requests for the General Convention to study the issue further and examine the theological basis for moving forward.

But although the high court’s ruling may affect the climate of the debate, it is the Episcopal Church’s Task Force on the Study of Marriage that has set its terms., The group of laypeople, clergy and bishops, was mandated by the 2012 General Convention “to identify and explore biblical, theological, historical, liturgical, and canonical dimensions of marriage,” in the church’s first official study of the rite of marriage in light of American society’s shifting attitudes about gay unions. At that meeting, the Convention also approved a rite for blessing same-sex relationships.

The task force’s 122-page report, released in February, proposes the General Convention go beyond blessings for same-sex relationships and approve a resolution, A036, that would rewrite the marriage canon with gender-neutral language and ensure that the definition of sacramental marriage applies to all couples. The 12-member task force supported its recommendations with an analysis of canon law and seven essays that explore different facets of marriage, such as its history and its biblical and theological underpinnings.

The work of the task force “led us to the conclusion that same-sex marriage is possible for faithful Episcopalians,” said the group’s chairman, the Rev. Brian C. Taylor, a former deputy from the Diocese of Rio Grande.

The task force also proposes that the canons retain language that allows any member of the clergy to decline to solemnize any marriage, and recommends that language be “extended to include the choice to decline offering a blessing on a marriage.” Those provisions have failed to allay the concerns of those who argue that that the group’s theological analysis was insufficient, that it failed to adequately consider the viewpoints of Episcopalians who support only marriage between a man and a woman, and that it did not fully study how the Episcopal Church’s amendments to the marriage canons might affect the wider Anglican Communion.

“People who are more conservative on this issue feel a little marginalized,” said the Rev. Mike Michie, a deputy from the Diocese of Dallas. He praised the dedication of the task force, but said no one in that group “believes in a traditional view of marriage, like I do.”

Michie said he opposes changing the marriage canons “not out of homophobia” but because of his view of scripture. He fears changing the marriage canons could lead to a rift in the church similar to the one that occurred in 2003 following General Convention’s consent to the election of the Rev. Gene Robinson, an openly gay partnered man, as bishop of New Hampshire. Michie said he would like General Convention to “wait a little longer” on the marriage issue, “just for the sake of keeping as many people in the church who want to stay.” Michie described himself as a rector “in the reddest city in the reddest county in the reddest state in America. And I think the Episcopal Church needs a witness here. I think there is a way for us to be gracious without legislating these issues.”

For the Rev. Dr. Ruth Meyers, the task force’s resolutions are ripe for a vote. Meyers, an alternate deputy who is academic dean and professor of liturgics at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, in Berkeley, CA, was not on the task force, but has long been involved in the church’s debate over same-sex marriage, most recently as chair of the church’s Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music. That group developed the Rite for the Blessing of a Same-Sex Relationship approved by the 2012 General Convention. Meyers said the task force fully studied the theology of marriage and that other theological examinations of the issue are freely available. “It is hard for me to know what additional theological work would need to be done” to sway the opinions of Episcopalians who oppose same-sex marriage, she said.

Meyers said she considers revising the marriage canons “a matter of mission” for the Episcopal Church. Proof that the change must come, she said, is reflected in “the reality of the lives of same sex-couples who embody so many of the values in Christ-like living that I strive for in my own marriage to a man.”

Taylor agrees that the Episcopal Church need not wait to move toward marriage equality. In the history of the church, he said, an issue can arise out of “a complete movement of the spirit from the people of God.”

“If that happens, theology comes afterwards,” Taylor said. “I believe this is one of those times.

Ed Palattella, a deputy from the Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, is a reporter and editor for the Erie Times-News.