Recently the House of Bishops made an historic move in affirming resolutions A054 and A036. First they passed A054, which approves the adoption of resources and rites from I Will Bless you and You Will Be a Blessing, Revised and Expanded, 2015. Then A036 passed, which amends Canon I.18 on marriage. Now both resolutions will be sent to the House of Deputies to be voted on.
As with much of church legislation, the weight of these amendments lies in the details. For example, by leaving the language of A054 somewhat ambiguous, the personal convictions of individual bishops or priests will not stand in the way of parishioners having access to the liturgical rites. Even when the ecclesiastical authority says no, couples will be provided access to the ceremony. Though it’s not clear at this time exactly what that will look like.
For some, the passage of these resolutions represents a violation of their theology of marriage and an affront to the sacrament. For others, this is a momentous step closer towards a sacramental rite of Holy Matrimony that is fully inclusive. However, the most stunning part of the five hours of conversation on this topic today was that the gathered bishops seemed free to say so.
The phrase “with all due respect to my colleague” was uttered too many times to count (and it felt genuine). Individual words were painstakingly parsed, questions – theological, pastoral, and practical – were raised. When the bishops ruled by a two-thirds majority that the chair was out of order on a point, several began to laugh. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori reminded the house that it was a serious matter for some in their midst and asked their charity. That moment was the closest the group came to letting out their emotions. The bishops were mostly restrained, in what was not an acrimonious debate. The conversation felt painfully long to many who were waiting to hear the outcome, but rightfully so. There was an overwhelming sense that the bishops wanted to get it right this time.
Here is the extraordinary product of today’s proceedings in the House of Bishops: they made it possible for each of the bishops to stay at the table. They allowed for a bishop’s personal theology not to affect the ability of a parishioner in that same diocese to still have access to Holy Matrimony.
Perhaps there is no more hopeful message we can deliver to our church and our society than a display of unity in the midst of difference, and the value of dialogue over dismissal. The gift of the Anglican tradition is that our table is much more expansive than we would like to believe. What we have to remember is that it is not our table, but God’s table. Yesterday’s process was messy, and far from perfect. Thank you for wading into the muck, Bishops, and emerging as one.