- The Washington Times - Friday, March 19, 2004

The Episcopal bishop of Washington has named two priests — the former national chairman of the church’s homosexual caucus and a divorced mother of two sons — to head a new diocesan task force on same-sex blessings.

The Revs. Michael W. Hopkins and Susan N. Blue favor same-sex blessings and have both performed several in the 40,000-member diocese. The rite, requested by Bishop John B. Chane, should be ready by June.

The six-member task force is poring over sample rites throughout the country to develop one that is “classically Anglican in tone and format,” according to diocesan spokesman Jim Naughton. The Episcopal Book of Common Prayer has no such rite, and Episcopalians declined to mandate such a ceremony at last summer’s Episcopal General Convention in Minneapolis.

Mr. Hopkins, co-chairman of the task force and the rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church in Glenn Dale, said he has performed eight same-sex church blessings in the past decade.

“We have been asked to do a rite for people for whom marriage is not available,” said the priest, who recently stepped down as chairman of the integrity caucus.

“We want to make sure there’s a standard in the diocese, so that what is used is good liturgy,” Mr. Hopkins said. “Having a standard will help many other congregations to consider it, who are not performing it now.” He estimated a half-dozen out of 94 congregations in the diocese are performing same-sex rites.

Susan Blue, the co-chairman and rector of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church near Dupont Circle, declined to be interviewed. According to her church’s Web site, www.stmargaretsdc.org, she was divorced after a 23-year marriage that produced two sons.

She is quoted in the current issue of MetroWeekly , a local magazine for homosexuals, as saying she has performed “commitment ceremonies” for homosexuals for the past five years.

A representative for the Washington Chapter of the American Anglican Council (AAC), the main conservative group opposing same-sex blessings, expressed frustration with Bishop Chane.

“I’m very disappointed that he would so quickly after General Convention appoint a task force when we are not of the same mind on this,” said Brad Hutt, vice chairman of AAC/Washington.

In a letter to diocesan clergy, the bishop informed them that the rite can be used for other “relationships,” such as elderly couples, who because of tax law or inheritance issues cannot marry.

Mr. Naughton said the rite could serve couples who lack the mental capacities for a civil ceremony.

“There are people who are mentally handicapped, who have a relationship, but whose guardians or parents don’t feel marriage is the right thing,” he said, “but there is a loving, exclusive relationship between these two folks.

“Their families have said, ‘We wish they could be married, but they can’t, but we want the blessing of God and the church on this.’”

Other members of the task force are Johanna Ettin, a member of St. Thomas Episcopal Church at Dupont Circle; the Rev. D. Thomas Andrews, rector of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Bowie; the Rev. Robyn Franklin-Vaughan, the campus minister at Howard University; and the Rev. Peter Antoci, campus minister at University of Maryland and the ecumenical officer for the diocese.

Meanwhile, in Navasota, Texas, the denomination’s House of Bishops continued a three-day closed-door meeting where much of the discussion is on the denomination’s first openly homosexual bishop, the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson. Bishop Robinson is at the meeting, even though numerous bishops there voted against his election as the new bishop of New Hampshire.

Some bishops are boycotting the meeting over the Robinson issue, and others are only attending selected meetings.

High on the bishops’ agenda is how to deal with conservative parishes who refuse to accept the authority of liberal bishops. Last Sunday, six conservative Episcopal bishops performed a clandestine confirmation service in the Diocese of Ohio against the wishes of its sitting bishop, the Rt. Rev. J. Clark Grew, a church liberal.

The team of bishops was headed by the Rt. Rev. Maurice Benitez, the retired bishop of Texas, in the diocese in which the Navasota meeting is taking place. In a speech to members of six churches at the Ohio ceremony, Bishop Benitez called their actions an “essential and imperative response to a pastoral emergency in northern Ohio.”

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