The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SLCM) of The Episcopal Church recently held a two-and-a-half-day Indaba-style conversation on same-sex marriage June 3-5 at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kansas City, MO.
The conversation included leaders from 6 other provinces of the Anglican Communion, 5 of The Episcopal Church’s ecumenical partners, and lay and clergy representatives from 25 Episcopal dioceses where civil same-sex marriage is legal.
“The overwhelming feel of the entire gathering was one of openness, love, trust, and joy,” said Kathleen Moore, Diocese of Vermont. “Over the course of just three days, many participants who hailed from different states, countries, and denominations shared the profound closeness they now feel toward one another, and an intent to remain in touch.”
The first half of the gathering featured Indaba-style discussion that sought to develop an understanding of civil marriage and the church’s response in different contexts. Indaba is a method of having purposeful conversation, especially about issues that may invite disagreement or diverse viewpoints, that is common in some African cultures.
The second half focused specifically on discussing and hearing responses to “I Will Bless You and You Will Be a Blessing,” the rite and related resources for blessing same-sex relationships approved at the 77th General Convention in 2012.
The SCLM held the meeting to fulfill, in part, Resolution A049’s directive to invite responses “from provinces, dioceses, congregations, and individuals from throughout The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, and from our ecumenical partners,” in order to report back to the 78th General Convention in 2015.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori encouraged openness. “We are here to encounter a diverse sample of God’s creation and consider how we might effectively support and nurture that journey in community for all without resort to rigidity or anarchy,” she said. “Neither is Anglican. So enjoy the discovery and don’t jump to conclusions. Be open to God’s still-and ever-unfolding creative spirit.”
As an introduction to the Indaba-style conversation, each participant was asked to introduce himself or herself and an object that represents what he or she brings to the conversation. The Rev. Dr. Ruth Meyers, Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music Chair, opened by introducing her object, a photograph of two women at whose blessing she officiated. Meyers explained, “I have heard so many stories. This photo reminds me of the couples whose hopes and dreams are expressed in this process.”
Ulysses Dietz, Diocese of Newark, brought his wedding ring. He recounted his journey through the years that began when he and his husband Gary entered into a private covenant in 1975, followed by a civil union, and finally a marriage. They were married by the mayor of Maplewood, NJ. Dietz explained: “When the mayor asked about rings, I said, ‘forget the rings.’ What we got was the word ‘husband.’ Words are important.”
Echoing that sentiment, Jeff Diehl, Diocese of El Camino Real, brought the liturgy from his upcoming marriage. Diehl told participants, “It is incredible that our names are written under the words ‘The Witnessing and Blessing of Marriage.’ We belong to a church that acknowledges us for who we are, that blesses our family, that loves our family.”
The Rev. Jacynthia Murphy of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand, and Polynesia brought with her a dress with the Maori symbol koru to remind participants that “we are all joined.” She also taught the Maori greeting of hongi – rubbing noses and exchanging breath – to remind all present that “you belong to each other and to all of creation.”
A highlight of the gathering was enacting the “Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant” liturgy. Meyers served as “Presider,” while the Rev. Jane Stewart and Linda Kroon, Diocese of Iowa, who happened to be celebrating their 15th anniversary that day, served as “the couple.” Though it was only a reading of the text and not an actual use of the liturgy, several of those present were moved to tears. The Rev. Marinez R. S. Bassotto from Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil observed that this liturgy sounded very much like the Holy Matrimony liturgy in Brazil. “What I heard was a marriage,” she said.
The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, President of the House of Deputies, preached at the meeting’s closing Eucharist. “If every person is of equal value, a beloved child of God, then every baptized member of this Church has equal claim on everything the Church offers,” she said. “Equal value. Equal claim. It’s not rocket science…It’s an amazing privilege to work so that all may claim their rightful inheritance. Talk about a love story.”
At the meeting’s end, a number of Episcopal participants said that while the church has come a long way in its effort to treat all of its members as equals, the difference between the church offering same-sex couples a blessing and other couples a marriage was of great concern.
“Speaking from the perspective of the clergy group at the gathering, I would say that we felt that as priests we are in a particularly difficult position,” said the Rev. Amy Welin, Diocese of Connecticut. “The distinction between a blessing and holy matrimony is not insignificant. As we have vowed both to obey our bishops and to care for all our people, this puts parish clergy in a pastorally tenuous role.”
Bishop Thomas C. Ely of Vermont, who serves on the Task Force on the Study of Marriage as well as the SCLM, said this gathering gave “much to be able to take back into our work based on conversation with people living this reality on the ground, and hearing the pastoral challenges local clergy are facing.”
Meyers described the experience as “amazing,” adding, “You hope and you pray – and when you stand back and give the Holy Spirit room to do her work, it’s astonishing.”