Skip to comments.Diocese Sees First Gay Union Ceremony [TEC]
Posted on 09/19/2006 5:37:05 PM PDT by sionnsar
By Auburn Faber Traycik, Editor
The Christian Challenge
September 19, 2006
The first blessing of a same-sex union in the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas took place September 16 at St. Michael's, Little Rock.
The move came after soon-to-retire Arkansas Bishop Larry Maze gave permission for congregations to explore the possibility of providing blessings for homosexual couples in a letter to clergy in July. Maze issued the permission a month after the Episcopal General Convention failed to subscribe to the moratorium on public rites of same-sex blessing requested by the Anglican Communion's 2004 Windsor Report.
Bishop Maze's July letter gave the impression that parishes desiring to do so would offer quiet "pastoral" responses to gay couples that seek church sanction for their relationships that do not involve "formal rites of blessing."
However, the two men blessed at St. Michael's, Ted Holder and Joe van den Heuvel, sent out invitations to the event, Fr. Wills confirmed - some 200 persons attended - which would seem to make it public and "formal."
Indeed, the service, at which Fr. Wills presided, was called "The Covenanting and Blessing of the Union" of the couple, and a clerical witness reportedly maintained that it was more than a blessing, rather approaching a wedding service; it included hymns, Scripture readings, a homily and Holy Communion. The couple, who have lived together for 15 years, also exchanged rings during the ceremony. Those in attendance were said to include Bishop Maze's wife, the dean of the cathedral, and two or three other clergy.
Holder, 53, and van den Heuvel, 50, helped found the Arkansas chapter of the Episcopal gay group, Integrity, and Holder has served as its leader several times, according to the Little Rock Democrat-Gazette.
The rector of another Arkansas Episcopal parish, Fr. Lowell Grisham of St. Paul's, Fayetteville, earlier indicated that his church would similarly make this "pastoral office" available to same-sex couples.
An attempt to reach Bishop Maze for further comment before the September 16 ceremony was unsuccessful. He told the Democrat-Gazette, though, that the blessing "is simply an undergirdng declaration of support by the larger community."
In his July 19 letter to clergy, Maze acknowledged continuing disagreement in the church on the gay issue. But as he sees it, the Episcopal Church (TEC) remains "in the forefront of the effort to assure that gay and lesbian persons are made welcome in our churches" and under the governance of two relevant resolutions; one, adopted by the 1976 General Convention, states 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 and care of the Church."
The second, adopted by General Convention 2003, states that local faith communities "are operating within the bounds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions." It is on this basis that TEC leaders have claimed that the denomination has not authorized homosexual blessing rites, meaning in a churchwide sense, though clearly the convention has authorized such rites as are composed locally for the same purpose.
Maze's explanation of what he is authorizing was reflective of the confused national policy. "Neither the General Convention nor the Diocese of Arkansas has produced or approved official rites for the blessing of same-sex unions....No congregation, vestry, or priest is expected to interpret the pastoral concern and care of the Church for gay and lesbian persons in a way that includes the possibility of formal rites of blessing," the bishop stated.
"However, those that do, have permission to proceed to work as a congregation to come to clarity around the issues involved when the Church blesses anything or anyone. If a couple seeks blessing in that congregation, they will join in that exploration much to the benefit of the congregation and the couple. This is a pastoral response and it is expected that each case will reflect the uniqueness of the congregation and the couple involved. It is expected that the bishop will be informed of each process, receive a report of work done, and see any liturgy that is produced before proceeding with a blessing rite."
The Living Church magazine thought that the timing of Maze's decision was strange, and sent a message that TEC has "little interest" in abiding by the Windsor Report recommendations. Maze denied this, citing in part the "years of exploration that have already taken place in this diocese. We have taken seriously the call from Lambeth to continue to listen to the experience of gay and lesbian persons and to provide welcome and care for all people." He contended that he would leave a bigger problem for his successor if he did not act in this matter now.
To date, it appears that the only Arkansas Episcopal cleric to speak out publicly against the bishop's decision has been the Rev. Dr. Walter Van Zandt Windsor, rector of Trinity, Pine Bluff. He wrote parishioners in part that Maze's move was aberrant to Scripture and Tradition. And Reason, he said, "must be guided and informed by Holy Writ and the Fathers and Mothers of the Church who have gone before us. Yet, even if one disagrees with this point, such action on the part of the bishop and some of the clergy is premature at best."
He added that there are no "selectively offered blessings...not affecting the rest of the Church." A blessing offered by a priest or bishop is "on the part of the Church and in the name of God," and must be supported by a consensus of the Church, Dr. Windsor wrote.
He contended that the argument that "we bless animals and items, why not same-sex couples?" is degrading to human beings, likening them to "a dog or a boat," and shows "a disregard for the image of God in each person God has created." As well, he said, to bless same-sex unions is to make a mockery of the sacrament of marriage, which reflects the relationship between Christ and His Bride, the Church.
While citing his respect and continued communion with Bishop Maze, Frs. Wills and Grisham, Windsor said he "must publicly disassociate from this action...Pray that the Church may be One."
Reaction also came from the Continuing Church in Arkansas, which was wrongly caught in the crossfire over Maze's action. Bishop Leo Michael of the United Episcopal Church of North America (UECNA) said that, after Maze's July decision to allow gay blessings became known, the UECNA parish in Springdale, Arkansas, St. Gabriel's Episcopal Church, had "a barrage of distress phone calls from Christians across Northwest Arkansas who are erroneously associating our church with the Episcopal Church USA.
"Almost 30 years ago, UECNA saw this revision coming and hence let goods and kindred go in embracing cradle Episcopalians who wanted to defend the faith once given to the saints. We do not share the liberal revisionism of [TEC]," he said.
The Democrat Gazette reported that eight Episcopal dioceses have written policies allowing same-sex blessings, though other dioceses allow them as well. The Diocese of Atlanta may be moving in a direction similar to Arkansas'.
Atlanta Bishop J. Neil Alexander - who was among candidates for Episcopal presiding bishop - said in August that his "understanding of our church's procedures is that a bishop can authorize a specific rite to meet a specific pastoral need, but cannot authorize any rites for general use. That requires an action of the General Convention."
He also assured that diocesan "listening" events regarding same-sex unions would not lead to general diocesan approval of blessing rites. However, neither of these statements seem to rule out a policy similar to Bishop Maze's, by which Alexander might sanction same-sex blessings on a case-by-case basis.
*Sources included The Democrat-Gazette, The Living Church
What is there to say? They should all hang their heads in shame. The sooner this church splits in two, the better. We all know which side we are on; it is just a matter of time before we have separate houses.
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