Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
I write you all to follow up on a promise I made at our June “Common Call” clergy gathering. At that meeting, I shared with you all my prayerful deliberations on how we should move forward as a diocese regarding the covenant blessing, which was initiated at our General Convention 2012, and I promised to offer guidelines for you and the congregations we serve.
As I have come to know you all, my clergy, and the lay women, men and young people of this diocese, I am aware of the wonderful diversity of opinions held on all matters “in heaven and on earth.” I am grateful for this richness! Let us remember we are ultimately joined together by our allegiance and commitment of Jesus Christ. As your bishop, my calling is to serve all members of this diocese, as shepherd, and to uphold unity for the sake of the mission of Jesus Christ.
As I said in our “conversations”, during the presentation of A049, I was touched by the sensitivity and respect bishops showed one another. The two things I took away from that time at General Convention 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. From that experience, along with my deep heartfelt commitment to Jesus’ summary of the Law and our baptismal covenant, I offer these pastoral guidelines to you, the clergy I serve as bishop.
- No priest, canonically resident or licensed, shall be required to participate in blessing of same-gender relationships.
- 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 congregations leadership is both pastoral and practical (liturgical).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
I hope and pray these are helpful, clear guidelines for those who are asked to perform this service.
Faithfully in Christ,
+ Rayford B. High, Jr.