Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Soon Came Later.

Back in April, almost a full 3 months ago now, I declared that I would soon be back on this blog. My how time flies!

Cranking the old blog back up after taking a hiatus has been much more difficult than anticipated. This is not because I haven't had had much to say. Instead, it is because the church that I serve has not slowed down one bit for the summer. To the contrary, St. George's in Summerville has done nothing but ramp up, heat up and speed up. That's a beautiful thing, because it means life is happening here. Although I have never been one for "taking my ease", I have not on purpose created this "busy-ness", either. People are responding to the Gospel of love, and are paying attention to their lives in Christ. They are growing deeper, and are inviting others into those depths where the pulse of God's heart beats strongly. Thanks to my colleague and partner --and boss (he hates when I call him that)-- the Rev. Rick Luoni for the honor and privilege of joining him in the work of God in this place.

Now the Episcopal Church in South Carolina is defending herself in a lawsuit brought against her by Mark Lawrence and the congregations that are aligned with him. I have written at length about my experiences in the run-up to, and the experience of, the schism in my blog series entitled "Why I Stayed". So now I intend to write about good things, positive things; indeed, healthy things a la Philippians 4: 8-9. 

Our diocese last week announced that clergy now have permission, under certain pastoral guidelines that were developed by Bp. Charles von Rosenberg and a committee working with him, to use the approved rite of the Episcopal Church, "The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant". I served on that committee with some truly outstanding minds who are equally respectful and loving of heart. The conveners of the four deaneries of the diocese, along with representative laity from those deaneries, met regularly with the bishop and members of his staff. The bishop wanted to put this policy in place for the protection of all involved: same-gender couples who desire to have their life-long covenants blessed by the church, the congregations to which they belong, those who have opposing views, and finally their clergy. Our process included consulting with other dioceses around the country as to their processes, their conversations, their policies and their experiences. We dialogued, we did theology, we developed a curriculum, and a suggested method of conversation. We prayed together, we included provision for follow-up and evaluation, and we provided links and a bibliography to assist those who are interested in further study on their own. 

Resolution A049, which was passed by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the summer of 2012, stipulates that while permission to use this rite as a pastoral response to those who request it is granted, no bishop, priest, deacon or lay person may be coerced into using the rite, or be punished for conscientiously objecting to use it. I, for one, value and treasure the bonds of  fellowship that I have with those who will be using this rite in our diocese. I say this as a past Diocesan Examining Chaplain in Ethics and Moral Theology (for 19 years) and as a former adjunct professor in Systematic Theology and Ethics and Moral Theology for Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry. 

Our diocesan policy states that in order for this rite to be used in the church, among other guidelines, there needs to be a couple affiliated with a congregation who desires the rite, a willingness on the part of the rector to do so, and finally that there must be dialogue on the matter and approval by the vestry of that congregation to use the rite.

As it happens in our parish at St. George's, to my knowledge we do not currently have any gay couples in a committed relationship who wish to have their love blessed by the church  in a covenant of lifelong commitment. While this is true for us, there are other congregations in our diocese for whom this is a pastoral reality.  Due to the past environment in our geographical region, we, as with other parishes, have not been afforded open dialogue about this pastoral question. While the question, then, is moot for us St. George's now, we will have opportunities for dialogue sometime in the future.  True to the character of the Episcopal Church, everyone's position will be respected, and everyone will respect the dignity of every human being, as we promise in our baptismal vows.

Later I want to take up certain aspects of this topic and perhaps even wax theological. But for now I ask that we all remember that there are people behind this issue; people who deserve respect and dignity because we are children of God. People who are members of the Body of Christ, and who are valued members of our community. I am glad that people are finally being affirmed for who they are by the church. I am glad that Love trumps Law, and that at  the Cross the ground is absolutely, unequivocally, and  thoroughly level. Without exception.

CH +

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