Arkansas Diocese’s First Gay Blessing Set
by Auburn Traycik
September 15, 2006
The first blessing of a same-sex union in the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas is to take place tomorrow (September 16) at St. Michael’s, Little Rock, the parish’s vicar, the Rev. Ed Wills, has confirmed.
The move comes after soon-to-retire Arkansas Bishop Larry Maze backed the exploration of same-sex blessings, on a congregation-by-congregation basis, in a letter to clergy in July. Maze made the move 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.
The bishop’s 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, Fr. Wills confirmed that the two men to be blessed at his church tomorrow had sent out invitations to the event, which would seem to make it at least semi-public and “formal.” Wills declined, however, to give the names of the couple until after the blessing was concluded, wanting to spare them publicity.
According to a source in the Arkansas diocese, the couple will exchange rings during the ceremony at St. Michael’s.
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 today was unsuccessful.
In his July 19 letter to clergy, however, 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 Episcopal Church (TEC) leaders have claimed that the denomination has not authorized same-sex 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 exactly what he is authorizing is 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 to allow parishes to proceed with gay blessings 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.”
— Electronic circulation of the foregoing is permitted, provided that there are no changes in the headings or text. To learn more about THE CHRISTIAN CHALLENGE magazine, which has offered independent reporting on Anglican/Episcopal affairs since 1962, please visit http://www.challengeonline.org Auburn Traycik is editor of The Christian Challenge