Committee hears testimony on same-gender blessings liturgies

By Sharon Sheridan
Posted Jul 7, 2012

The Rev. Danielle Morris, deputy from the Diocese of Central Florida, addresses Young Adult Festival member and Duke University student Jonathan York during the Prayer Book, Liturgy and Church Music Committee hearing on Resolution A049 to Authorize Liturgical Resources for Blessing Same-Gender Relationships. ENS Photo/Sharon Sheridan

[Episcopal News Service — Indianapolis] Nearly 40 people testified July 7 on General Convention Resolution A049 to Authorize Liturgical Resources for Blessing Same-Gender Relationships.

Those testifying alternated between proponents and opponents of the resolution, but supporters outnumbered opponents, at least six of whom came from the Diocese of Central Florida.

At the evening’s end, Prayer Book, Liturgy and Church Music Committee bishop Chair George Wayne Smith, bishop of the Diocese of Missouri, commended the speakers. “There was a sense of mutual respect. I’m grateful for that, and I hope we can move forward with that same understanding that we are all of us part of one body, and we are all a part of life in Christ.”

Young Adult Festival participant Jonathan York, a sophomore at Duke University, began the evening’s testimony describing the conflict he said many young gay Christians feel.

“I am an out and proud young gay man, and I am a Christian. That’s an impossible concept for many people to get their heads around because for so much of the church’s history the terms gay and Christian have been mutually exclusive,” he said.

He described gay and lesbian young people who “know that the Spirit is calling them into a deeper experience of Christ” but who have “been told time and again that God hates them. So many gay people feel like they’re being forced to make a choice: They can have their place in their church, or they can have their identity.”

He urged General Convention to pass the resolution to show “that they do in fact have a place in God’s home.”

Later, the Rev. Danielle Morris of the Diocese of Central Florida began her testimony by addressing York: “You are okay. Jesus loves you, and I would be proud to have you in my church.”

But she went on to urge defeat for the resolution, whose passage she said would endanger the lives of Christians in predominantly Muslim countries. “We know people who live in terror of our decision. … Let us sacrifice not the blood of new martyrs but our own personal desires, all for the good and betterment of the world.”

“People are already dying,” countered resolution supporter T.J. Geigner, a vistor with the Episcopal Peace Fellowship. “LGBT youth, LGBT couples are dying. They’re being killed by hate crimes. They’re taking their own lives.”

“When beliefs create a culture of death … beliefs need to change,” he said.

The Rev. Carola von Wrangel, deputy from the Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe, spoke against the resolution, urging the church to wait for discussion of the theology of marriage. “I believe that we are stepping ahead of where we are supposed to be.”

The Rev. Sharon Lewis, alternate deputy of the Diocese of Southwest Florida, also urged taking more time.

The resolution is more than a “pastoral provision,” she said. “It is really representing a different definition of marriage. … It’s bringing a different definition that we have not even had the opportunity to sit down and discuss and do the hard work we need to do as a church overall. … Please do not do this quickly and so lightly.”

Several speakers told personal stories of their own or friends’ relationships, blessings and marriages.

“I don’t feel like we’re moving so quickly,” said Marcia Ledford of the Diocese of Michigan. She described her nearly 30-year relationship with her partner and how, when they held a commitment ceremony at a parish in 1992, “we had protesters and threats, death threats for our cleric and our bishop.”

The church needs the resolution to pass “because we need to be pastoral for our people within the church,” she said. “We need to send a message outside that this is not some kind of curiosity. This is not some kind of bizarre anomaly. This is about people. I take out the garbage and mow the grass, and Linda does the laundry and cooks. … We pay our taxes. We do everything that a couple does.”

The Rev. Dennis Parker, alternate deputy of the Diocese of Oregon, said he and his partner had waited 15 years. “We have made a conscious choice to not celebrate [our] union in front of anyone until my church is willing to bless that relationship.”

Should the resolution pass, he predicted, “my bishop has something to do on Saturday morning when we leave.”

— Sharon Sheridan is a member of the Episcopal News Service team at General Convention.


Comments (25)

  1. Sherman Hesselgrave says:

    It’s interesting. The more I hear the meme about risking the lives of Christians in Muslim countries, I am reminded of Jesus promising that his disciples would suffer horribly because of their faith, and I wonder where Jesus would stand on this.

    1. Julia Langdon says:

      “Meme?” So you don’t watch the secular news much, eh? Google “church attacks in Nigeria.” That will get you started.

      It isn’t difficult to counter your “meme” claim with one cold, hard fact — that Christians, individually and in churches, male and female, gay and straight, are killed or raped or seriously wounded daily by Muslims for perceived immorality because of their association with us. To mock that — and to degrade the torture and murder of African Christians by comparing it to the lives of GLBTs in America — is either blind or mean-spirited. Perhaps, in some cases, both.

      If you don’t care about the heterosexual Christians being killed in Africa, one would think you’d at least be concerned about the homosexual Christians being targeted there. And realize that this “culture of death” mentioned for American GLBTs is hyperbole, which doesn’t help your cause.

      1. Carl Johengen says:

        Hyperbole, really? Perhaps you’ve had your fingers in your ears over the past few years as the names of young LGBT suicides have filled our news reports.

        Hyperbole is claiming categorically that there is any causal link between this particular legislation and the violence between Christians and Muslims in other parts of the world. Muslim/Christian enmity is a far more complex issue than that.

        The hyperbole uttered by Rev. Morris and others of her diocese in their fear-mongering testimony was genuinely appalling. I honestly believe that some people will say nearly anything in order to scapegoat and isolate those with whom they do not agree.

  2. Robert Vogler says:

    I am very tired of hearing we need to talk more and discuss.

    My partner and I have been together for over 20 years and had to have a blessing of our relationship because we could not use the word wedding, or anything that would let anyone in our congregation know, but in the end the over 100 people that showed up at the Integrity service all knew why they were there. We have been active participants in our congregation and diocese but yet we need more conversation and thinking time to figure out what?

    My partner and I deserve the same rights afforded to our counterparts in the heterosexual community, no questions, no thinking, just make it happen for all of us.

    This is not our whole story but when this topic comes up we hear the same words and nothing happens till the General Convention and we will hear the same words again. Don’t let this happen again.

    1. sarah doremus says:


    2. Sandra Koenig says:

      And amen!

      My spouse and I were the subjects of a forum on same sex marriage in our parish, during the time when same sex marriage was legal in California in 2008. There was so much fear of stepping on the toes of folks who weren’t even there that our photographer wasn’t even allowed to move around the church, which resulted in lots of pictures of my spouse, but none of me, except for the back of my head. Even though we had both the blessing of our bishop, priest and deacon, I still felt like I was somehow sneaking around.

      The time for discussion, in my opinion, is past.

  3. Susan Gage says:

    Thank you for this report on the hearing. I live in the diocese of Florida and I support the adoption of these trial liturgies, and look forward to where the church will go from here. The Episcopal Church that I have known and loved for my lifetime is a church that listens, discerns, and ultimately bends towards justice. I am encouraged by the steps toward fully including the LGBT faithful in the life of the church. It will make us better, stronger, and certainly more reflective of God’s love.

  4. Jon Spangler says:

    As a happily married straight man in a different-sex relationship I have “had the opportunity to sit down and discuss and do the hard work”–in four Episcopal churches–since the 1970s. It took me decades to overcome my ignorance and fears, but at the age of 60 (50 of those years spent as an active Episcopalian) I now fully embrace same-sex marriage and believe in marriage equality on both theological and justice/equity grounds.

    To the Rev. Sharon Lewis, the Rev. Danielle Morris, and other opponents of this partial measure–and it is only a partial one until marriage equality is the law of the land as well as the church–I want to say that it is time for the church to be equally loving and accepting to everyone in the world and it is time to stop improperly withholding grace and sacraments out of fear. And perfect Love casts out that fear, as well it should.

  5. Jim Edwards says:

    The Church has already done the theology of marriage as it already has a Marriage Rite. Why is it necessary for gay persons to have to have something different. We change a few words in the marriage rite when we know it is not possible for the couple being marriend to have children. Why can’t we just change a few words in the Marriage Rite to acknowledge couples of the same sex? We need to get over ourselves and start treating all people equally, as beloved children of God.

  6. Joyce Gibb says:

    For those reassured by historical precedent, there is a diligently researched and documented book that presents evidence that the early church celebrated a same-sex nuptial liturgy. Thoroughly scholarly, it is even readable. “Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe” by John Boswell. See reviews at

    1. John Kirk says:

      Boswell’s research and findings are seriously questioned by not only theologians, but historians. The man, may he rest in everlasting peace, had an agenda.

      1. Jon Carl Lewis says:

        Nevertheless, when I met him he had just been named head of the History Department at Yale. That’s a very funny way of critiquing his academic bona fides.

        1. John Kirk says:

          Nevertheless, his research and findings are serioiusly questioned by not only theologians, but historians. If you can question the the moral teachings of 2,000 plus years, Dr. Boswell’s findings and the methods by which he reached them are certainly open to the same questioning.

  7. I am a happily married heterosexual male who wants all people to have happy marriages regardless of orientation. I don’t see how Jesus would be opposed to that. There is nothing in the canonical gospels where Jesus opposes same sex relationships. Pass the resolution! To the opponents I say, “get over it.”

  8. Deacon Lynn Czarniecki says:

    Of course this resolution should be passed. It is way overdue. How can we possibly believe we have the right to withhold from anyone the right to marry? The relationships of LGBT people in our churches are just like my relationship with my husband: full of fun, anguish, hard work, joy, commitment, fulfillment, devotion, struggle, and most of all love. This is MARRIAGE. I feel sick every time I think about gay people being told they cannot experience this, either because of secular law or church law. We are so arrogant. Please, let us, just once “love one another as I have loved you.”

  9. Tim Staney says:

    It saddens me that many of the opponents came from Florida, then again, perhaps we should not be surprised. Central Florida does not exactly have a stellar record when it comes to open-mindedness, tolerance, and progress.

    Perhaps the Rev. Sharon Lewis and the Rev. Danielle Morris should remember that it is that very same kind of tolerance and acceptance that made their ordinations as women possible. I joined the Episcopal Church because it was a beacon of tolerance and it encouraged people to think, to reason and use logic. If those in central Florida want to keep living in the past, let them go join religions that live in the past; there are plenty of them out there.

    The fact remains — the times, they are a-changin’ — and today’s youth / tomorrow’s churchgoers will no longer tolerate a church that justifies intolerance, or is going to sit on the sidelines and wait for another church to be courageous. The Episcopal Church is too smart for this ‘debate’. Passing A049 is the right thing to do; not passing it is very un-Christ like.

    And more time, Ms. Lewis; you want more time to think? How about this — the Episcopal Church I attend has dozens of gay couples that have been together for 35+ years. How much longer would you have them wait?

    The State of Florida is intolerant enough; we do not expect much from them. We do however expect much from the Episcopal Church in Florida; which has an opportunity to be a leader and not a follower of old bad practices, notions, stereotypes, and hypocrisies. I pray that Florida’s Episcopalian leaders will come to their senses and realize that they have an opportunity to be on the right side of history and effect change for generations to come.

    Perhaps the Florida delegates need to dust of their copies of the Beatitudes and turn off FOX News.

    1. Jim Grenwell says:


    2. Connie Williams says:

      Amen. Justice too long delayed is justice denied. Whether in politcis or religion, it was true for Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, and now Gay Rights.

  10. David Ulrich says:

    The fact is, liturgies are already being used for same-gender weddings. Last month my partner and I travelled to my home state, which has had marriage equality for several years, and were married by an Episcopal priest . Before travelling there we had pre-marriage counseling with our parish priest who coordinated with the priest who married us. We had three liturgies to choose from that are used by the Episcopal Church in that state . Our marriage was recorded in the parish I attended as a small child and was approved by the bishop. A copy is a part of our membership record at our home parish. As far as I know, there was no controversy surrounding our wedding. We were surrounded by our family and friends and received with all the love and support any new couple would get. I know we are extraordinarily blessed to have been able to wed in the church but also know we are not alone.

  11. V. Tupper Morehead, MD, MDiv, TSSF says:

    “I Am Who I Am” is both gay and straight (as well as lesbian, transgender, bi-sexual, black, white, red, yellow, Islamic, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, male, and female). Let us love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength. We must pledge to fight against the ignorance, pride, and prejudice that breeds human injustice or partiality of any kind; otherwise we cannot label ourselves followers of Jesus, the Christ. Let us love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

  12. My partner and I are unofficially engaged. I serve as Minister of Music at our parish. Since we cannot marry in Pennsylvania, we plan to marry in a parish in Massachusetts using the BCP’s Marriage Rite with language adjusted as needed. I made the adjustments myself and found that minimal adjustments were needed.

    I welcome the proposed liturgy as a step in the right (and Rite) direction in states that do not yet have full marriage equality. But in states that do, the marriage rite in the BCP with language adjusted as needed is substantial. There’s no need for further discussion on the issue: you either support inclusion or exclusion. Inclusion is why I joined the Episcopal Church in the first place.

    As for the churches in less accepting places: “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

  13. Michael Greene says:

    Although I am prayerfully moved by the troubles of Anglicans across the globe. I find the reference to the safety of Gays and Lesbians in Muslim countries a red herring. If we, as brothers and sisters in Christ, are to wait for unified global understanding and acceptance of God’s call for justice and freedom of all people then we would have never moved forward on issues related to woman’s rights, slavery, economic justice and human rights. What the Episcopal Church (also an American Tradition) can do is lead on matters of justice and equality and fight violence and oppression against those standards where ever they occur.

  14. Brian A. MacFarland says:

    I can’t help but find the comments of the several female clergy who have publically come out against affording same sex couples the benefit of ALL the sacraments of the church to be dishonest at best. These delegates would do well to refer to the convention of 1976 when the same arguments were being used to prevent females from receiving the sacrament of ordination.

    Yes, many have left the Church because of the female ordination issue, and many will probably leave the Church if full equallity is afforded same sex couples. But I predict a greater exodis, should the Convention allow the clergy from Florida to prevail.

  15. Ann-Marie Montague says:

    Where would Jesus be on this issue? I don’t remember reading in any gospel account where He died for the sins of just the straight, or just the “anything”…If God loves each of us just as we are then who are we to exclude anyone??? Judging is up to God, not me!

  16. Paul Holloway says:

    Who are we kidding here? It is not that Jonathan York needs TEC so much as TEC needs Jonathan York. He and his generation–who largely lack their parents’ prejudices–are holding the cards here. Not Rev. Morris.

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