The Diocese of Missouri will consider implementation of the same-sex blessing rites, beginning in Advent of this year. Since the diocesan bishop oversees the use of these rites — and I expect to be hands-on as I do this — it is only fair that I sketch out my intent.
Parishes and other worshiping communities need to prepare before incorporating these rites into their life, and they must satisfy me that they have done so. Doing less is to invite conflict and misunderstanding, and to dishonor anyone who is to receive the Church’s blessing.
Likewise, those persons receiving the blessing must prepare beforehand, under the direction of the priest, who then will demonstrate to me that the preparation has happened.
Moreover, these are Churchly rites, radically communal in their setting, and they are for Christian people who already know the life of the Church. I will expect clergy to show how such is the case, in the lives of the two persons preparing for this blessing.
So, in short, I will consider the implementation of the rites, parish-by-parish and person-by-person. The rites are permissive and by no means required, a fact to hold in mind.
The enabling resolution from General Convention allows the rites, but only with the bishop’s permission and oversight. Some bishops will not permit these liturgies, and others will.
Also, the resolution protects clergy and lay people who may dissent from the use of same-sex blessings. It also protects those who desire to implement the blessings in places where they are not allowed. As with marriage, a cleric may decline to preside at a particular blessing — or all blessings.
But note that these materials go out of their way to distinguish the liturgies for same-sex blessing from the Church’s marriage rite. They are related but nonetheless distinct.
In all things, it is imperative that we maintain mutual regard, as we live together in the body of Christ. The broad theological and dispositional diversities of our Church are some of our strengths, not our weaknesses. This fall I hope to convene a group of Episcopalians from our Diocese to advise me in the drafting of guidelines for the rites of same-sex blessing. These corporate rites deserve corporate input. I look forward to their implementation — prayerfully, carefully, pastorally, and hopefully.
The Rt. Rev. Wayne Smith
Bishop of Missouri
This article is available in the Post-General Convention issue of Seek, the diocesan quarterly magazine.
Photo: Bishop Wayne Smith at the Diocese of Missouri’s Convention Eucharist in November 2011. By Beth Felice/Diocese of Missouri, on Flickr