Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Episcopal Diocese of Washington voted yesterday to approve same-sex blessing ceremonies at its annual convention at the Washington National Cathedral, while the Diocese of Virginia, meeting in Richmond, passed an omnibus resolution that touted unity.

The Washington diocese has unofficially allowed same-sex ceremonies for years, and it has had a same-sex rite on the books since June 2004.

However, that rite has been put on hold until a meeting of the Episcopal General Convention in June in Ohio, when the denomination’s future stance on homosexual clergy and same-sex blessings will be decided.

The Virginia diocese’s resolution, passed in the closing minutes of its annual council at the Richmond Marriott, promised to “seek the highest degree of communion possible” with Christians with whom it disagrees.

The diocese’s 90,000 members, it said, “would make every effort to cooperate as co-laborers within the Anglican Communion,” the 70-million-member body to which the Episcopal Church belongs.

A majority of the world’s Anglican bishops have partially or completely sundered ties with the Episcopal Church over its 2003 consecration of openly homosexual New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson. However, the resolution only generally referred to the controversy and biblical authority that has beset the denomination.

Attempts to get the Virginia diocese to take a stand on such issues fell flat. One amendment specifying marriage is “between one man and one woman” failed 169-274.

Virginia Episcopal Bishop Peter J. Lee, who was praised in the resolution as an example of “grace and civility in the midst of disagreement,” said his flock wants it that way.

“People are tired of dickering about these things,” he said at a press conference. “The majority centrists of the diocese are getting more confident to press their own views. Many of the people in our diocese don’t want controversial issues to become church-dividing issues.”

He said he feels pressured to keep a diocese billed as the largest in the United States, with 195 churches, together.

“When I go to meetings of other bishops,” Bishop Lee said, “people are asking me what is happening in the Diocese of Virginia.”

Not everyone at the Virginia meeting was happy that the diocese was avoiding debate.

“I am disturbed by the notion that lively debate and discussion disturbs the unity of the Episcopal Church,” said the Rev. Kent Rahm of Trinity Episcopal Church in Fredericksburg.

The Rev. John Ohmer, chairman of the resolutions committee, admitted considerable sentiment across the diocese for clearer position statements.

“We hear you saying you do not want to bury differences behind polite language,” he said. “We recognize some feel it is time for the council to make substantial resolutions even though some people may feel left out.”

Nevertheless, his committee was committed to “relationship building,” he said. “We were moved by Bishop Lee’s emphasis to hold together people who have differing and conflicting interpretations of the Gospel.”

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