- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 18, 2009

Lay delegates to the U.S. Episcopal Church overwhelmingly approved liturgies for same-sex couples Friday, handing a second dramatic victory to the liberal wing of a church that three days earlier endorsed the right to elect gay bishops.

The voting results were 78 delegations in favor, 27 opposed and seven divided in the lay deputations of the Episcopal House of Deputies and 74-27-7 in the clergy deputations. Even with the divided delegations counted as “no” votes, the measure still passed by a two-thirds majority.

The House of Bishops already had approved the same-sex liturgy resolution by a 3-to-1 ratio (104 “yes,” 30 “no” and two abstentions) Wednesday.

The resolution, known as C056, says the denomination acknowledges “the changing circumstances … as legislation authorizing or forbidding marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships for gay and lesbian persons is passed in various civil jurisdictions.”

It called for “a renewed pastoral response from this Church and for an open process for the consideration of theological and liturgical resources and liturgies for the blessing of same gender relationships.”

According to blogs monitoring the debate, those opposing the legislation, who say it will “split the church,” were vastly outnumbered by proponents.

The Rev. Susan Russell, chairman of Integrity, the denomination’s gay caucus, said she was “beyond gratified” at the vote.

“It is a great day for the church and a greater day for the witness to Gods inclusive love,” she said in a statement.

Although the resolution called for a church-wide rite for same-sex couples to be developed by the church’s Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, at least 12 dioceses, including Washington’s, already have policies in place allowing such rites.

There was no immediate comment Friday from Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, head of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The vote was announced close to midnight local time in London, the location of Lambeth Palace, the archbishop’s residence.

On Tuesday, both houses of the denomination’s General Convention voted overwhelmingly to end a three-year moratorium on the election and consecration of openly gay bishops despite pleas from Archbishop Williams not to do so.

Twenty-seven conservative bishops, in a document they dubbed “Anaheim statement,” said their “repeated attempts” to modify the resolution on gay bishops “were found unacceptable” to the majority of delegates and bishops who wanted to be “honest about where they believe we are as the Episcopal Church.” Nevertheless, they added, they wished to affirm their place in the greater 77-million-member Anglican Communion, in which the U.S. Episcopal Church is one of 38 provinces.

At the same time on Thursday, Presiding Episcopal Bishop Katharine Jefforts Schori wrote a letter to Archbishop Williams, saying the vote states “where the Episcopal Church is today.”

She hoped “such authenticity,” she added, “would contribute to deeper conversation in these matters.”

The Rev. R. Albert Mohler of the Southern Seminary in Louisville, Ky., posted blogs this past week saying “the Orthodox Are Finished” in the 2.1-million-member denomination.

Mr. Mohler urged Archbishop Williams to recognize the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), a self-designated 39th province consisting of 100,000 disenchanted former Episcopalians, as an alternate voice of Anglicanism. Last month, at a constitutional convention in Bedford, Texas, the ACNA installed Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan as its archbishop.

“If the Anglican Communion has the slightest concern for orthodoxy and biblical standards of ministry, the actions taken in Anaheim should make this decision much less difficult,” Mr. Mohler wrote.

Many observers view the long-awaited schism as final.

“So the Anglican Communion has finally split,” wrote Jonathan Wynne-Jones in the July 15 London Daily Telegraph. “Having written countless times that the Church was ‘teetering on the brink of schism last night,’ I can now say that the American Church has gone over the edge. No more hanging around, its jumped.”

The vote will allow the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, which produced its own liturgical rite for same-sex blessings in 2004 and then put it on the shelf for five years, to officially put it back to use.

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