The Blessing of Same Sex Relationships in the Diocese of Milwaukee: An Update

The Clergy of the Diocese met on Thursday to hear Bishop MIller’s decision on the use of the trial rite for the blessing of same sex relationships that were approved at last summer’s General Convention.

It was a difficult day.  Truth was spoken.   A variety of perspectives, understandings, beliefs, and concerns were aired.  People were honest and passionate.  There were some tears shed.

Bishop MIller has decided not to authorize the blessing rite approved by General Convention.  He feels that the rite itself has serious flaws that make it unworkable.  He also has concerns about the theology of a “blessing” and the possibility that this rite would create an injustice by establishing a “second tier” of relationships within the life of the church.

Prior to last year’s General Convention Bishop MIller posted a theological reflection on his blog arguing that we should not be talking about blessing same sex relationships, but should instead be talking about same sex marriage.  In that paper he outlines his concerns with the Rite and the theology that undergirds it.  You can find that paper here.

I took the rejection of the blessing rites authorized by General Convention very hard.

I have been very involved in the effort to open this sacrament to all of God’s children. I was a member of the task force assembled by the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music in Atlanta, I worked hard to share the liturgy and the theology behind it with the poeple of this diocese, and I was a deputy to General Convention last summer when our deputation voted unanimously to approve the rites for trial use. I have engaged in this work with the faces of gay and lesbian friends whose relationships bear the fruit of the spirit and whose relationships serve the ends and purposes of marriage as described in our Book of Common Prayer ever before me. I long to be able to tell them that their church, the church they love, recognizes their relationships as a gift from God, holy, life giving, sacramental – an outward and visible sign of an inner and spiritual grace.

I am grieving for those friends and for the countless poeple I have never met who will experience this decision as a rejection. I am grieving the hurt that our church continues to perpetuate by our failure to give freely to all what has been given to us. And I am grieving my inability to change something that I believe must be changed.

And yet there is some good news coming out of Thursday’s clergy gathering.  In his letter to the Diocese Bishop MIller says”
“…. I am not authorizing the rite from A049 for use in the Diocese of Milwaukee at this time. However, I have arranged with Bishop Jeffrey Lee of the Diocese of Chicago, for clergy and couples from congregations within the Diocese of Milwaukee to go to the Diocese of Chicago to celebrate the rite, as long as they obtain Bishop Lee’s consent to such an action to take place within the bounds of that diocese. Doing so will result in no punitive or negative response whatsoever from me.  Furthermore, I stated my belief that the right to a civil marriage should be available to all people, regardless of sexual orientation and that I would support those seeking to overturn the ban on same-gender marriage in Wisconsin. I also shared that I have begun to permit partnered gay clergy to preside with the diocese, and that I am open to the potential call of any Episcopal cleric in good standing to a position here.

I am also aware that many of our clergy feel the need to offer a generous pastoral liturgical response to gay and lesbian couples. I have agreed to the formation of a task force within this diocese, comprised of people from across the spectrum on this issue, including openly gay and lesbian people living in monogamous relationships, to consider, and propose the same. At the end of the process, however, as the one given canonical authority to order the liturgical life of the diocese, the decision about the authorization of such a rite rests with me. In our polity, there can be no other way.”

You can find the full text of Bishop MIller’s letter here.

While these concessions do not represent the full and unconditional inclusion of Gay and Lesbian people in the life of our Diocese they do represent change and movement in the right direction.  Opening the doors of the Diocese of Milwaukee to Gay and Lesbian Clergy, arranging for clergy resident in this diocese to preside using the approved blessing rites an adjacent diocese, and the formation of a task force to propose a way to make a “generous pastoral response” to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters and to the parishes and clergy who love them, represent significant change in the Diocese of Milwaukee.  The Spirit is moving and there is light on the horizon.

I am hoping to serve on the task force that will work to develop a “generous pastoral response” that will meet the Bishop’s approval.  And I pledge to you that I will continue to work towards full inclusion of all of God’s children in the life, ministry and sacraments of the church, continuing to proclaim that God’s love for us knows no boundaries because in Christ, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, (there is no longer LGBTQ or straight); for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”  (Galatians 3:28).

Please, if this conversation has raised questions or concerns for you, do not hesitate to be in touch with me.  I am always available to listen, to talk, to pray, and to explore the ways that t holy Spirit is calling us forward to a more perfect understanding of God’s dream and vision for creation.  That is the vocation to which we The Body of Christ are called and it is my joy and my privilege to do that work with you.