The Episcopal bishop of Washington plans to develop rites for same-sex “marriages” for the 94 churches in his 40,000-member diocese, saying a resolution passed during the summer at the Episcopal General Convention gives him carte blanche to do so.
“In keeping with good Anglican liturgical order, it is my intention at some point,” Bishop John B. Chane wrote in an Oct. 15 letter, “to form a task force to study those liturgical rites that have clearly been in use for some time within the Diocese of Washington to see if there is a form that could be uniformly used by parishes, should they request it.”
The letter was to Bradley Hutt, president of the Washington branch of the American Anglican Council, an Episcopal group that opposes the ordination and church-sanctioned “marriage” of homosexuals.
The resolution says, “Local faith communities are operating within the bonds of our common life as they explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions.”
It does not, however, authorize a specific service, or liturgy, for the ceremony. The official policy of the 70-million-member Anglican Communion, of which the U.S. Episcopal Church is one part, opposes same-sex unions.
That hasn’t changed Bishop Chane’s plans to institute the rites.
The Episcopal resolution “permits the [bishop] of the diocese to set a standard of authorizing local or diocesan rites for congregations that may wish to engage in such blessings,” he wrote. “You and I know of several congregations in the Diocese of Washington where this practice has been ongoing for some time long before my election as bishop of Washington.”
St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Northwest has posted on its Web site a draft liturgy approved by the parish in March 1998. Its interim rector, the Rev. Elizabeth Carl, was the first openly lesbian priest in the diocese in 1991.
Mr. Hutt and three other individuals affiliated with the American Anglican Council wrote the bishop Sept. 26 asking if all 135 parish-based clergy in the Washington Diocese would have to perform these rituals or face lawsuits.
Bishop Chane reassured Mr. Hutt that theologically orthodox clergy will not be forced to perform same-sex unions.
“This is clearly a local option that is left open to the pastoral judgment of the priest of a congregation, the vestry and parishioners,” his letter said. “It is not a requirement for any congregation in this diocese, nor is it a requirement to be followed by any priest in this diocese.”
The Rev. Susan Russell, president of Integrity, the Episcopal homosexual caucus, estimates that dozens of rites are floating about the country. She is working with staff at church headquarters in New York to create “resources” on the rites for interested dioceses.
Integrity has been pushing for same-sex liturgies since the late 1980s, based on claims by several scholars, including Yale University professor John Boswell, that such rites between men existed among medieval Christians.
Virginia Theological Seminary professor William Stafford refuted this claim in “Sexual Norms in the Medieval Church,” a 1991 essay stating that the only ceremonies known to medieval Christians were those blessing marriage between a man and a woman or a consecration rite for celibates.
The Washington Diocese has no official figure on the annual number of same-sex unions its clergy has performed, although a spokesman estimated it was in the “high single digits.” Mr. Hutt guessed there were many such unions, “and they’ve been going on under the table for the past several years. But the laity in the pews weren’t aware it was going on.”