On Tuesday, August 19, 2014, the Rt. Rev. Rayford B. High, Jr., bishop of Fort Worth, sent a letter to the clergy of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth setting out guidelines for the blessing of covenant relationships between people of the same sex. He did so to offer pastoral guidance to the priests of the diocese to enable them to offer “a generous pastoral response” to members of their congregations.
His action comes after two years of prayer, thoughtful consideration, and consultation with other bishops in the wake of the passage of Resolution A049 “Authorize Liturgical Resources for Blessing Same-Gender Relationships” by the 77th General Convention of The Episcopal Church in July 2012 in Indianapolis. The resolution authorized “for trial use ‘The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant’ from ‘Liturgical Resources I: I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing’ beginning the First Sunday of Advent 2012, under the direction of a bishop exercising ecclesiastical authority.”
Bishop High said his decision was guided by the two things he took away from the discussion in the House of Bishops at General Convention, which were “(1) the bishop’s ability to decide for her or his diocese what path they would choose to follow and (2) the church’s generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this church,” and by “the teaching of Jesus and what we say in our Baptismal Covenant.”
He said the decision also was informed by his respect for the diversity of opinions on this issue among the people of the diocese, reflected in the fact that number 1 in the guidelines is “No priest, canonically resident or licensed, shall be required to participate in blessing of same-gender relationships.”
The other guidelines are:
2. “To be consistent with my pastoral concern for the clergy and congregations, I will ask for evidence that the congregation, through its vestry, support the clergy’s desire to offer this liturgy. I will ask the senior warden to inform me of this support. We must remember that in the liturgies of the “celebration and blessing of a marriage” and “I will bless you and you will be a blessing” those who attend the service are asked to support these two persons in their life in Christ. So, this request of support by a congregation’s leadership is both pastoral and practical (liturgical).
3. “Clergy are required to request permission each time they propose to use the liturgy of same-gender blessings. Requests to use a liturgy for the blessing of same-gender couples must be received in my office at least 30 days prior to the date of the ceremony. As a former, long time parish priest, I would offer the best pre-marital counseling I could, and I expect this same quality of counseling and generous care to be taken as we prepare this couple. At least one of the partners must be an Episcopalian who attends our church for a minimum of one year.
4. “If this is not the couples’ first blessed union, or they were previously married, the priest and couple must comply with all the remarriage requirements before seeking permission from the bishop.
5. “At this time in Texas, even though there are challenges to our constitution and family code, no priest shall represent or characterize the church’s blessing of same gender covenants as creating or solemnizing a marriage, civil union or legal relationship.
6. “Finally, no priest from the diocese will be permitted to travel outside of the diocese to perform and bless a same gender covenant without written permission of the bishop of that diocese and notification of the bishop of our diocese. Priests from other dioceses may not perform same gender covenants in our diocese without permission of the bishop of the diocese.”
The bishop directed diocesan staff to gather resources for those congregations who wish to better understand the issues related to this decision. Three resources are listed below.
1. From the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music of the General Convention:
The full text of “I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing,” includes:
Faith, Hope, and Love: Theological Resources for Blessing Same-Sex Relationships:
* Overview: Theological Reflection on Same-Sex Relationships
- The Church’s Call: A Focus on Mission
- The Church’s Joy: A Theology of Blessing
- The Church’s Life: Covenantal Relationship
- The Church’s Challenge: Christian Unity and Biblical Interpretation
The Church’s Canon Law and Laws of the States
Hearing, Seeing, and Declaring New Things: Preparing Same-Sex Couples for a Liturgy of Blessing
The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant: Liturgical Resources for Blessing Same-Sex Relationships
Discussion Guide to I Will Bless You, and You Will Be a Blessing
* A Review of General Convention Legislation