Adapted from a Diocese of Long Island report
The Bishops of Long Island, Pittsburgh, and Rhode Island on June 28 jointly proposed a resolution, B012, in response to the work of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage.
The resolution seeks to ensure that all of God’s people have access to all the marriage liturgies of the church, regardless of diocese, while respecting the pastoral direction and conscience of the local bishop. Resolution B012 continues to authorize the two Trial Use Marriage Rites first authorized in 2015 without time limit and without seeking a revision of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.
Resolution B012 and an explanation are available in the virtual binder of General Convention.
Q: What does Resolution B012 call for?
A: This resolution reauthorizes the two Trial Use marriage rites first authorized in 2015, but with modified terms. Resolution 2015-A054 stated that bishops exercising ecclesiastical authority “will make provision” for all couples to have access to these liturgies, while also providing that trial use in a diocese requires the permission of the diocesan bishop.
By contrast, this resolution proposes that access to these trial use liturgies now be provided for in all dioceses, without requiring the permission of the diocesan bishop.
Additionally, this resolution proposes to authorize Trial Use versions of “The Blessing of a Civil Marriage” and “An Order for Marriage,” suitable for use by all couples. These services were not authorized in 2015.
Finally, this resolution calls for a Task Force on Communion Across Difference, tasked with finding a lasting path forward for all Episcopalians in one church, without going back on General Convention’s clear decision to extend marriage to all couples, and its firm commitment to provide access to all couples seeking to be married in this church.
Q: Are you proposing that these rites become part of the Book of Common Prayer?
A: No, at least not now. Our proposal differs in this way from that of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage, which does propose moving toward prayer book revision (Resolution A085). They propose to present the Trial Use rites now as prayer book amendments. This would need to pass again in 2021 before attaining Prayer Book status.
But authorizing Trial Use rites is not the same thing as proposing Prayer Book revision. In order to become part of the Book of Common Prayer, a resolution would need to propose that they be adopted as a prayer book amendment, be sent to diocesan conventions for discussion, and then pass again on a second reading at the next General Convention. Our resolution does not propose any of that, but instead simply extends the period of Trial Use.
Q: Why require delegated episcopal pastoral oversight of congregations who wish to celebrate same-sex marriages, but where the bishop’s position is not to permit them in congregations under his or her care? Why not just require access in all dioceses?
A: Good question. The minority of “Communion Partner” bishops in our church have felt unable as a matter of conscience to permit congregations under their care to practice same-sex marriage, for theological and ecclesiological reasons. They have told us that this allows them to maintain their conscientious position, and Communion Partner clergy have told us that it is important for there to be at least some dioceses in The Episcopal Church that both teach and practice marriage alongside the majority of the Anglican Communion.
This proposal allows conservatives to flourish within the structures of The Episcopal Church, but not at the expense of progressive congregations in conservative dioceses. While at first glance it may sound unnecessarily complex, it is a “middle way” that makes room for all in one church. Since our historic polity requires communion with bishops—we are the Episcopal Church, after all!—we can’t just leave things at the congregational level, as our Lutheran brothers and sisters in the ELCA have done.
Q: If I belonged to a congregation in one of the dioceses whose bishops do not permit same-sex marriage, what would we do?
A: Your rector or priest-in-charge and vestry would request delegated episcopal pastoral oversight from a bishop who does permit same-sex marriage, and this resolution requires that this request be granted. Since the “chief liturgical officer” for your congregation would then be a bishop that provides for same-sex marriage, your congregation would be free to make use of the Trial Use rites.
Q: Can we be sure that the conservative bishops would go along with this?
A: Five of the seven Communion Partner bishops have pledged in writing to implement this in their dioceses, if it is passed. Moreover, since the canons of the church state that General Convention may set terms and conditions for Trial Use rites, the terms and conditions specified in this resolution have by extension canonical force. All bishops are obliged to abide by these terms and conditions, as by canon law. We believe that they will hold if challenged.
While these bishops have also stated that this proposal is not their ideal, they have said that they see it as a way for them to flourish within the structures of The Episcopal Church.
Q: What if my diocese has diocesan canons that do not permit same-sex marriage?
A: Churchwide canons in every case supersede diocesan canons, in case of conflict. In this case, the “terms and conditions” that Canon II.3.6 states General Convention may set for Trial Use rites have themselves the force of canon. If there is a conflict between the terms and conditions specified according to Canon II.3.6 and diocesan canons, then churchwide canons overrule.