Friday, June 13, 2008

What is Happening in the Diocese of California?

From Episcopal Life:

Bishop Marc Andrus of the Diocese of California is encouraging all couples, regardless of sexual orientation, to obtain secular marriages before seeking the church's blessing, as a way to support same-gender couples and "our continued witness to God's inclusive love."

"For too long the onus has fallen on marginalized people to bear the burden of inequalities that exist within the Church, and the decision by our state's Supreme Court has given us the opportunity to level the playing field," Andrus wrote in a recent pastoral letter to clergy and lay leaders of the San Francisco-based diocese.

Andrus also said he intends to serve as a deputy marriage commissioner, and urged clergy and lay Episcopalians also to "be deputized" and volunteer to preside at same-gender marriages, which are slated to begin June 17.

"There are over 4,000 civil same-sex marriages planned in a short period of time in the city of San Francisco alone and the city is asking for help in meeting demand," according to Andrus' letter, which was posted on the diocesan website June 9.

"The Diocese of California seeks to provide, by advocacy and example, a way forward for The Episcopal Church (TEC) so that the marriage of same-sex couples will be a part of our official marriage rites, without distinction," he wrote. "Although TEC does not have canonical rites for same-sex marriage, it is our goal that all couples be treated equally by the Church, as they are equally loved by God"...
Bp. Andrus' guidelines are quite similar to those recently offered by Bp. Mary Gray-Reeves of El Camino Real. They are also similar, although more explicit, to the guidelines offered by my Bishop. We are to offer pastoral care, but under no circumstances are we to sign a marriage license.

I suspect that this is the position that many Bishops are going to take, in one form or another. I must admit to having mixed feelings about it.

Does this go too far? In the case of Bp. Andrus, he is clearly advising his clergy to bless the marriage. Isn't that going beyond what the canons allow? And isn't this one of the issues that gave rise to the Windsor Report, the proposed Covenant, etc.? Our friend Lisa asks similar questions:

Let's face it: The canons and Prayer Book of our church seem to be pretty clear: The Episcopal Church has not yet authorized a liturgy/sacrament for marriage between two men or two women. I don't see how we can ignore those canons and rubrics, while holding the schismatics accountable for their violations of our polity...
On the other hand, don't the guidelines of Bp. Andrus not go far enough? It still sounds like there is a second class status being placed on same sex marriages. If we are going to do it, why not just do it? Why have a civil ceremony followed by a blessing? Why not sign the marriage license?

Bp. Andrus' recommendation that all marriages be done this way does add some equality to the situation, but it still seems rather convoluted to me. Call me a purist, but I just don't like having the sacramental rites of the Church tacked on to the end of a civil ceremony.

Richard Helmer, rector of Our Savior, Mill Valley, recently informed his vestry that he would not be presiding over any marriages until this matter is resolved. The responses he's received have caused him to do some deeper reflection on this matter, which he has shared with us. Do follow the above link and read the entire reflection, as it is quite good. Here's part of it:

...I believe in my bones that I must do my utmost to follow the discipline of the Church to which I have pledged a good deal of my life. Clearly the Book of Common Prayer and the canons as they are presently structured define Christian marriage as being between a man and a woman. I cannot, in good conscience, use the marriage liturgy of the greater Church to solemnize anything other. Bishop Marc appears to feel much the same way. Indeed, his authority is limited in that he cannot unilaterally change these definitions. I applaud him for that admission.

But nor can I ignore the fruits of the Spirit I see in my brothers and sisters who have heard God's call into a covenant that the Church does not yet, as a whole, recognize. So, where gender is the only measure of difference, to solemnize one coupling over another creates a hierarchy of goodness and grace that I no longer believe in. I'm not sure Jesus, given his proclivity to reach out to the very least among us, would believe in it either...

...We are called to minister to people, not powers. If truth be told, we are called to attend to Christ in each other first, not the limits of canons and carefully worded structures. This is a hard truth, for we rely on our canons and constitution to hold for us some sense of unity and community in a fractious world. But, in truth, the canons and constitutions are imperfect reflections of our faith in a perfect God. We must be forever cautious, at least this side of God's promised Reign, not to confuse one for the other. That surely is one reason Christ quoted the ancient Jewish teaching that the law is only properly understood and anchored upon love of God and love of neighbor.

But we have endeavored to honor the canons as best we can, while knowing that law and our ability to abide by them has limits that are mysteriously and constantly tested by a capricious Spirit -- a Spirit who sometimes might even rattle around state supreme courts and be found in controversial judicial decisions. We have endeavored to honor the canons in an effort to show we honor Communion.

We should expect heat just the same. . .umbrage, curses, annoyance. That is our cross to bear...
Thank you, Richard. That helped sort things out quite well.


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