Bishop amends Unity in Mission approval to include marriage, Cathedral Vestry concurs

The Rt. Rev. C. Andrew Doyle has amended the diocese’s Unity in Mission document to allow some parishes to officiate same-sex marriages. Previously, Unity in Mission allowed the blessing of same-sex unions. However, in June and July of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage and the General Convention of the Episcopal Church both amended its canons to allow same-sex marriage and approved trial marriage liturgies that can be used for same-sex couples beginning in Advent of this year.

For those parishes in the Episcopal Diocese of Texas that have already undertaken a Unity in Mission discernment process and been approved by the bishop to bless same-sex unions, the bishop’s prior approval also includes approval to officiate same-sex marriages. Christ Church Cathedral’s Unity in Mission Task Force completed a prayerful and rigorous six-month discernment process last year, including communications to the parish through The Bulletin and public announcements at the Dean’s Class on Sunday mornings.

In December, the task force recommended to the vestry that the Cathedral bless same-sex unions. The vestry concurred and subsequently sought Bishop Doyle’s approval. The bishop extended approval in January. At its August meeting, the Cathedral Vestry again studied the task force’s report and voted to accept the bishop’s revised approval to allow same-sex marriages at Christ Church.

The Unity in Mission Task Force studied Holy Scripture and theology carefully, engaging in lively, respectful, and prayerful conversation. In its report, one task force member concluded, “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.” At its August meeting, the vestry concurred that this same sentiment applies to Christian marriage for same-sex couples.

Reflecting on the process and its outcome, Dean 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.”

Any couple seeking to be married at Christ Church must undergo premarital counseling. Episcopal Church canons also allow any Episcopal priest to refrain from marrying any couple the priest believes to be ill-prepared for marriage.

The entire Cathedral Unity in Mission Task Force report is available at www.christchurchcathedral.org/unity.

Bishop OKs use of blessing rite

In response to the Vestry’s request, the Rt. Rev. C. Andrew Doyle, Bishop of Texas, has approved the blessing of same-sex unions at Christ Church Cathedral. Each blessing must be in accordance with the liturgy approved by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, and permission to conduct each individual service must be obtained from the bishop after the couple completes pre-blessing counseling with the officiating priest.

As reported in the January issue of The Bulletin, after a six-month study of scripture and theology, the Unity in Mission Task Force and the Vestry concluded, “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.”

In his letter of approval to Dean Thompson and former Senior Warden David Kirkland, Bishop Doyle said, “Let me thank you for leading this process at Christ Church Cathedral to request permission to conduct same-sex union services at the Cathedral. I was especially pleased with the intentionality and progress you made in your parish study.”

Vestry endorses Unity in Mission Task Force recommendation

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.”

Background

In anticipation that the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church (2012) would approve a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex relationships, Bishop Andy Doyle convened a 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 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. 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 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 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 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 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.”


Download the entire Cathedral Unity in Mission Task Force report (PDF)

 

Unity in Mission Task Force commissioned by vestry, dean

In 2012, the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church authorized for provisional use the liturgy entitled, “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant,” for the blessing of monogamous, same-sex relationships that intend to be lifelong.

In anticipation of General Convention, Bishop of Texas Andy Doyle chaired a diocesan task force with former Secretary of State James Baker and others that issued the “Unity in Mission” paper, which provides guidelines for individual parishes in the Diocese of Texas to discern whether or not “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” will be made liturgically available in their congregations.

“The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” is not a marriage rite, as neither same-sex marriages nor civil unions are recognized by Texas law. A decision to allow or disallow the use of the liturgy in any particular parish comes after a lengthy process of prayer and study, with the ultimate decision made by the Vestry and rector and the approval of the Bishop.

During the fall visioning process, numerous Cathedral parishioners inquired when Christ Church would undertake this process of discernment. In response, Dean Thompson and the Vestry have commissioned a task force to do this work.

During the fall, the task force will study Holy Scripture and theology, as well as the liturgical resources prepared by The Episcopal Church. The task force’s work will be thoughtful and deliberate, and it will result in a report issued to the Vestry, likely in December. The Vestry will then use this report as the topic of its own thought and prayer as it considers with the Dean whether “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” will be made available at Christ Church.

About this process of discernment, Dean Thompson says, “The issue of whether to bless same-sex unions is a very important one, but it is not the central or defining issue in our lives of faith. Our identity as Christians, as Episcopalians, and as Cathedral parishioners is centered in our shared faith in the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because we have been formed as a people who find our identity in the saving grace of Jesus, I believe the Cathedral can and will navigate whether to bless same-sex unions with grace, and we will grow stronger in the process. As St. Paul says in my favorite words from Holy Scripture, 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.’” (Colossians 3:12–15)

Members of the Cathedral Unity in Mission Task Force are Dean Thompson, Lily Barsenas, Robin Bullington, John Cater, Linnet Deily, Ted Dom (vestry representative), John Flanagan, Elizabeth Goza, Patrick Hayes, Roy Nolen, Charlie Prioleau (vestry representative), and Catherine Randall. Please keep the task force in your prayers.