December 2014 — Concluding a six-month study process at its December meeting, the Vestry unanimously endorsed the recommendation of the Cathedral Unity in Mission Task Force with the following resolution:
“Along with the Cathedral Unity in Mission Task Force, we, the Vestry of Christ Church Cathedral, ‘embrace together our central core belief in the saving grace of Jesus Christ.’ It is our hope that drawing more committed and faithful couples into the life of the Church will bind our Cathedral family in an ever-greater unity in Christ. Therefore, upon considerable prayer and reflection, we, the Vestry, concur with the recommendation of the Cathedral Unity in Mission Task Force. We endorse, and seek the Bishop’s approval for, the use of ‘I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing’ at Christ Church Cathedral.”
In anticipation that the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church (2012) would approve a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex relationships, Bishop C. Andrew Doyle convened a diocesan task force to determine the manner in which parishes in the Diocese of Texas would navigate the issue of blessing same-sex unions.
The document resulting from this diocesan task force’s work, issued in April 2012, is “Unity in Mission: A Paper on Common Mission and the Challenge Posed by Division.” Subsequently, the 77th General Convention did, indeed, approve the rite, “I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing.”
The liturgy approved by the 77th General Convention is not a rite for same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage is presently prohibited by Texas law and is not acknowledged by either the Episcopal Church’s Canons or the Book of Common Prayer. [Update: Same-sex marriage is legal across the United States.] Even so, Resolution D039 of the 73rd General Convention of the Episcopal Church (2000) acknowledged that there are same-sex couples in the Church “who are living in other life-long committed relationships” and enjoined that “such relationships will be characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God.” It is for such couples that “I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing” is intended.
During the Cathedral’s fall 2013 visioning process, numerous parishioners inquired when the Cathedral would undergo the Unity in Mission process to discern whether or not to bless same-sex relationships. In early 2014, the Cathedral’s Justice & Peace Council also expressed a desire to make Unity in Mission discernment one of its priorities.
Consequently, at the June vestry meeting, Dean Barkley Thompson commissioned the Unity in Mission Task Force. Members of the Task Force were selected to represent a cross-section of the Cathedral congregation. Task force members were Dean Barkley Thompson, Lily Barsenas, Robin Bullington, John Cater, Linnet Deily, Ted Dom, John Flanagan, Elizabeth Goza, Patrick Hayes, Roy Nolen, Charlie Prioleau, and Catherine Randall.
The task force’s work was announced to the Cathedral community in the July 2014 issue of The Bulletin. Additional announcements were made in Sunday service leaflets. Dean Barkley Thompson further announced the task force’s work during two sessions of the well-attended World War I series at the Dean’s Class on Sunday mornings. Cathedral parishioners were encouraged to contact Dean Barkley Thompson and task force members with questions and input. Most parishioner inquiries were about the process itself. Several parishioners expressed support for blessing same-sex relationships. No one expressed disapproval of blessing same-sex relationships.
The task force studied Holy Scripture and theology carefully, engaging in lively, respectful, and prayerful conversation. The task force concluded that the Cathedral ought, in faith, to allow for the blessing of same-sex relationships. Blessings, furthermore, should be conducted in a manner that is pastorally sensitive to those who have authentically held scruples against blessing same-sex relationships.
As one task force member said, “Isn’t it better for all concerned to have loving partnerships looked upon with favor, rather than disdain, by Christ’s church? Just as loving partnerships between a man and a woman are more likely to succeed if the couple has benefitted from a Christian marriage, a church blessing of a same-sex union is likely to produce a more loving and beneficial relationship to the couple and society than if it were withheld.”
Reflecting on the process and its outcome, Dean Barkley Thompson offered, “Because we at the Cathedral have been formed as a people who find our identity in the saving grace of Jesus, I believe our gracious community will grow stronger as we move forward together. As St. Paul says in Colossians, we will continue to allow the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts, clothe ourselves in love, and bear with one another in this and all things.”