Tuesday, July 8, 2014
The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg today granted permission for priests to bless the committed relationships of same-sex couples in The Episcopal Church in South Carolina.
In authorizing the use of “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant,” Bishop vonRosenberg gave permission for priests to respond pastorally to couples who are in committed relationships, including those who have been married in states where same-sex marriage is allowed. South Carolina law does not permit marriage for same-sex couples, and the blessings performed here will not constitute a “marriage.”
In his letter to clergy today, the Bishop states that no priest is required to offer the blessing. “I do want to be clear that this permission does not define an expectation for clergy,” he wrote. “In your own life of prayer and within community, you will decide how to respond to this statement of permission.”
Priests who wish to perform a blessing will not have to receive any further authorization from the Bishop. However, before a priest can perform the ceremony in a church building, the vestry or mission committee of that church must have given its approval for such liturgies to be conducted there.
To assist congregations in considering that decision, the Bishop's Office has provided theological resources, recommended reading, and a model outline for conversations on the topic. Those resources are available on the diocesan website, www.episcopalchurchsc.org.
Following the guidelines established by General Convention, one member of the couple must be a baptized Christian.
Same-sex blessings were authorized for provisional use by The Episcopal Church in 2012 in a resolution at the 77th General Convention, A049, so that bishops “may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church”. Since then, more than 60 of the 110 dioceses of The Episcopal Church have allowed some form of liturgy for blessings of same-sex relationships.
Regionally, 15 out of the 20 dioceses of Province IV – an area covering nine southeastern states – now permit the blessings. In the Diocese of Upper South Carolina, Bishop Andrew Waldo announced May 8 that he would permit the blessings.
The liturgy was approved for “provisional” use by General Convention in 2012, and is expected to be revisited at the next General Convention in 2015. For that reason, Bishop vonRosenberg's letter requests that priests performing the blessings report each ceremony to the Bishop's Office. This documentation will be added to the experiences shared from around the church at General Convention.
The Standing Committee of diocese, acting as a council of advice for the Bishop, began considering same-sex blessings in 2013 and spent several months reviewing the materials approved by General Convention. In September 2013 the Standing Committee voted unanimously to advise the Bishop to move forward with developing and authorizing a liturgy. A Diocesan Committee on Blessings, with clergy and lay members from around the diocese, worked with the bishop to adapt the materials approved by General Convention into a liturgy for local use. The resulting document, “The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant,” is available online at www.episcopalchurchsc.org.