Tomorrow, resolution B012 will come to the floor of the House of Deputies.  This resolution, entitled “Marriage Rites for the Whole Church,” seeks to make marriage liturgies available for all couples in all dioceses where civil law permits, while protecting the conscience of those who cannot embrace same-sex marriage.*

The Rev. Susan Russell captures the arrangement well in her blogpost on the subject:
“The resolution provides bishops who do not embrace marriage for same sex couples the creative option of inviting another bishop to assume episcopal oversight on matters-relating-to-marriage for congregations in their diocese wishing to make marriage available to same-sex couples. It allows the bishop to exercise his or her conscience while allowing all couples seeking Holy Matrimony in the Episcopal Church equal access to the sacrament of marriage. It continues the trial use of the liturgies authorized in 2015 and preserves the canonical authority for any member of the clergy to decline to solemnize or bless any marriage. ”

If the Convention passes B012, a congregation or worshipping community desiring to incorporate the marriage rites for same-sex couples into its common life might do so “under the direction of the Rector or Member of the Clergy in charge” and provisions would be made for alternative episcopal oversight for clergy and congregation on matters of marriage.  This makes a way where there was no way for particular congregations and their clergy in the five dioceses in the United States where Bishops Diocesan have made no allowances for same-sex marriage.  This is a good thing.

The seventh resolve as currently set forth leaves us with some questions:
Resolved, That all congregations and worshipping communities of this Church who desire that understand themselves called to incorporate these liturgies into their common life, are authorized to do so by the rector or priest-in-under the direction of the Rector or Member of the Clergy in charge(Canon III.9.6), and where are permitted to do so by civil law, shall have access to these liturgies, allowing all couples to be married in their home church; under the direction of the bishop exercising ecclesiastical authority and be it further

Does this resolution undermine the decision-making role of the laity by placing the decision to seek alternative episcopal oversight for marriage purposes in the hands of the “Rector or Member of the Clergy in charge”?  Presumably, a bishop from whom alternative oversight is sought would require the clergy person to go through some form of discernment process with their congregation, but this is not a given.

Would alternative oversight for marriage for a congregation be disrupted in the case of a transition in the head of congregation? What happens in the case of a transition in the alternative ecclesiastical authority?

What happens in dioceses where this resolution undermines the terms of the compromise hammered out in 2015 to make a way for same-sex marriage following particular guidelines (eg Unity in Mission)?

This compromise is probably fine for rectors of financially viable congregations who have future job prospects elsewhere, but how would seeking alternative episcopal oversight for marriage work out for a vicar whose congregation teeters on the edge of viability and needs diocesan support in other matters?

Do the canons provide flexibility and boundaries on the type of shared ecclesiastical authority envisioned by this resolution, or is this all based on some sort of gentlemen’s agreement among the bishops?

We don’t have answers to these questions.  If you do, reach out:

* The title of this resolution is misleading because the arrangement specified will not be available many in our Church because of civil law.


Posted by Eileen O'Brien