Authorizing provisional rites for the blessing of same-sex unions will not have any negative consequences for the Episcopal Church or the Diocese of Missouri, Bishop George Wayne Smith told his diocesan convention today.
Speaking to the delegates attending the 173rd annual convention of the Diocese of Missouri, meeting in Columbia on 16-17 November 2012, Bishop Smith said the opprobrium visited upon the Episcopal Church from the wider communion for its consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire and its adoption of gay blessings had passed.
The call for the Episcopal Church to be disciplined had not been heeded, and the American Church retained its “place at the table” of the Anglican Communion, he said.
Bishop Smith said he will allow congregations to offer the provisional rites for the blessings of same-sex marriages adopted by the 77th General Convention in Indianapolis last July. “I have decided to permit their use in congregations who are willing to prepare for them, through a season of prayer, study, and discernment. This decision is cause for joy and excitement for many, and consternation or dismay for others. I understand both responses.
“My own position on matters of human sexuality has changed,” the bishops said, adding that it is “not so much that my position has changed, but the context in which I express my position has shifted markedly. My purpose has been, and still is, to work for the full inclusion of the faithful gay men and lesbians in our Church, while at the same time maintaining the highest degree of communion possible within our common life and with the rest of the Anglican world. That is the constant.”
“We are, I think, at that highest possible degree of communion possible, right now,” with the wider Anglican Communion in the wake of the Episcopal Church’s adoption of gay bishops and blessings.
“It is not likely to get much better or much worse,” he said.
The current state of affairs had come as a surprise he noted as “early in my episcopate” it looked as if the choices were “inclusion or communion.”
“It looked binary, with no gradations between these two poles, and it looked as if it might be that way for a long time. The season after General Convention in 2003 was fractious, to say the least. Now, however, it looks like both inclusion and communion are available to us, at least provisionally. There are still issues of maintaining unity, both in our common life in this Diocese and in the lives of many of our congregations. I know this. And we must keep an eye on the horizon of the Anglican Communion,” he wrote.
However, the rate of change has occurred “much more quickly than I could have imagined. In the eighteen months following General Convention in 2003, for example, issues of human sexuality took over my life,” he said, noting that he received a myriad of letters, telephone calls and emails. However, in the wake of his consent to the election of Mary Glasspool, a non-celibate lesbian priest as suffragan bishop of Los Angeles, Bishop Smith said he received “exactly one email.”
“Something has changed” within the hearts and minds of Anglicans, he observed.
“The Anglican Communion remains fractured,” he said, but cited Bishop Ian Douglas of Connecticut’s adage the communion was “in the process of inventing itself, and asking harder questions about what it means to belong to one another that we have ever before asked. It seems to me that this process of invention is messy and chaotic.”
What had changed, however, was the assurance that the “Episcopal Church has a place at the table and will play a part in whatever the new shape of the Communion will be,” the bishop said.
“I am glad that we remain part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Belonging to one another, even when we think that we do not, still matters,” Bishop Smith said.