In case you haven’t been following along with the Episcopal
Church move toward authorizing the blessing of same-sex unions, or in case you
don’t know about my own parish and diocesan situation, I’m going to bore you
for a while with background information.
Eventually, I’ll get to the point about the news I learned in my parish today.
My parish is a very diverse one out in mid-Missouri. We’re not urban, and we’re not rural. Our county is heavily Republican, but the
parish is not. As the only Episcopal
parish in a 30-mile radius, we have learned to be tolerant of all perspectives.
We do a great deal of worthwhile mission and ministry. But – it seems to me – the great diversity of
polico-theological views within the parish keeps us from having the Difficult
Conversations that some others in the Episcopal Church have had. We are very polite. It seems to me that we have a “Don’t Ask/Don’t
Tell” ethos within the parish. We unite
around the things that unite us, and I think that is a good thing. On the other hand, I’m not so sure it’s such
a good thing that we seem to dodge the tough “political” and “social” issues
that have garnered headlines in the nation and the Episcopal Church over the
One of those is the blessing of same-sex unions. The General Convention authorized a liturgy
of same-sex blessings [SSBs] in 2012. The
rite itself is available here. The General Convention left it up to each
Bishop as to whether s/he would allow SSBs in his/her diocese. In December 2012, the Right Reverend George
Wayne Smith, Bishop of Missouri, authorized the SSB rite for use in the Episcopal
Diocese of Missouri. His letter, and the
guidelines he established, are available here.
In the interest of full disclosure, let me say I was part of
the task force that worked with our bishop to develop those guidelines. They weren’t entirely what I may have wanted,
but I believed then and now that they were fair and judicious.
The guidelines require first that the clergy must support
the move before “beginning a process of discernment in the congregation” and
must notify the bishop that the congregation is entering the process of
discernment about whether to perform SSB liturgies in the congregation.
Second, the guidelines require that the parish “will
undertake a season of prayer and study, including as many parishioners as
possible in this process, and taking into account especially whatever
theological and social diversity there may be. That is, this process should be
Our diocesan guidelines go on to outline what study/discernment
resources might be helpful and the requirements for a vote by the vestry.
I believe that is all well and good.
OK. That’s all
background for you who have been following the developments in TEC and/or the
Diocese of Missouri. Now I get to the
After all the other routine notices/announcements today, our
priest went to the lectern. She gave a
brief version of what I’ve said above. I
thought something BIG must be coming.
What she then announced is that a subcommittee of our vestry has been
created and will hold “listening sessions” to determine whether our parish will
begin the process of discernment to consider whether to allow same-sex
blessings in our parish.
Listen to that again: Our vestry is going to hold listening sessions not about whether we will hold SSBs in our parish, but about whether we will even discuss that prospect.
It would be too dramatic to say I was devastated. But I certainly was disappointed.
The diocesan guidelines envisioned that the clergy and
vestry would choose to allow the conversation (or not), then it would move
forward (or not). Nowhere did the diocesan guidelines suggest a parish should hold a
plebiscite about whether even to begin the conversation. The guidelines envisioned that the clergy and vestry would decide whether to begin the conversation.
But my parish is going to have “listening sessions” to
decide whether or not we should even begin the conversation.
Am I angry? Yes, I
Back in the early 1960s, our parish was in the process of
calling a new rector. Our parish was
integrated, but all the black people were forced to sit in the back of the
nave. The priest whom they wanted to
hire said he would come only on condition that that de facto segregation would end immediately. The vestry agreed, the priest came here as
rector, the parish was truly integrated, and that priest became one of the
driving forces in integrating the downtown businesses. What a brave priest he
was! And how brave the vestry was!
But what did I hear today?
My parish leadership is going to launch a conversation about whether we will even allow that conversation to take
place. We’re going to talk about whether
we shall even talk about allowing same-sex blessings. That seems a bit Orwellian to me.
Let’s roll back the clock about 50 years. Let’s say the vestry appointed a “listening
committee” to decide whether to discuss the issue of racism in our parish. Let’s say we talked about whether to discuss
the injustice of telling African-Americans they had to sit in the back of the
nave. Would that not have been a
profound injustice and a total failure of nerve on the part of our clergy and
vestry? I think it would have. Fortunately, back then, there was a priest
who said “THIS SHALL NOT STAND!” He made
it clear he would not come here while such injustice prevailed.
Our diocesan guidelines do not let a priest and vestry to
take such a unilateral action today on the issue of same-sex blessings, and I understand that. The guidelines require that the clergy
support entering into conversation and that the vestry lead the
conversation within the parish.
Instead, our parish is taking an even more backward, tentative step:
They are going to ask the whether the conversation is
even allowed to happen. Our bishop has not asked parishes to take that weenie step. The guidelines assume that clergy and vestries would decide whether to launch the conversation.
Despite my anger and disappointment, I take this solace: Our
parish under our current rector has a very good track record of having very
productive and open “listening sessions.”
We took a very long time to talk about reconfiguring our worship space,
and it came out very well, with all voices being heard. The rector and vestry were highly attentive
to all the voices from the parish.
If our vestry had followed the diocesan guidelines … If they
had decided whether or not to begin the conversation about SSBs … I would be
content. But they did not. Instead, they have decided to have a parish “vote” about
whether we will even begin the conversation about SSBs. And that makes me angry. It won’t surprise me a bit if the parish
decides the whole topic is just too divisive and therefore they don’t want to
talk about it. After all, we’re a happy parish that ignores its
differences. Why introduce such a
difficult topic of conversation?
So we’re not going to have a conversation about same-sex
blessings in my parish. At least not yet. Instead, we’re going to decide whether we’re
even going to discuss the possibility of talking about SSBs. No matter how that conversation ends, I am
heartsick that our parish leadership has chosen this route.
African-Americans, you want equal treatment? Let’s talk about whether we should discuss
your appeal. … Women, you want equal treatment? Let’s talk about whether we should discuss
your appeal. … Faithful
gay men and lesbians, you want your covenants blessed in your Episcopal
parish? Let’s talk about whether we want
to have that conversation in our comfy “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” parish.
Even before the first “listening session” has convened, I am
profoundly disappointed. Dear
parishioners: Would you want to have listening sessions about whether to
consider your status in this parish?