Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ:
In many ways, my post General Convention reentry has been a lot like returning from sabbatical or other long absence from the diocese. During this time, I have had a lot of catching-up to do (thanks for your patience!) and a lot of time to reflect on what exactly happened while we met in General Convention. There wasn’t just history occurring through the actions of our Church, but also history was being made in the decisions announced in our secular society. In particular, the Supreme Court decision allowing for marriage for all loving couples regardless of gender followed closely by the Church’s decision to revise our marriage rites and Canons to include lesbian and gay couples in those jurisdictions covered by our Church where this is now legal. (Please remember, there are dioceses of this Church outside the United States where it is not!) As chief pastor and liturgical officer of the diocese, it is my duty to outline if and how we are to make use of the approved rites in the Diocese of Michigan.
As with the decision in 2012 to permit the blessing of same gender relationships, it is clear to me that we are not of one mind in the diocese about these decisions. However, after conversation with the Standing Committee of the Diocese, with several senior clergy and others, Iam prepared to give a framework for how we will proceed.
First, beginning on the First Sunday of Advent, 2015 (November 29), I will permit the solemnization of gay and lesbian marriages in this diocese. While this may seem to some as a “given”, I assure you it is not. The actions of the Church are very different from decisions rendered by the Supreme Court that cover civil actions only. Some bishops of our Church have formally rejected the Episcopal Church’s action. However, as an outspoken advocate that same-sex unions can be equally reflective of the teachings of Scripture regarding fidelity, mutual sacrifice and shared service as are unions between male and female partners, I am thankful for the decisions our Church has made. I know that many of you are overjoyed and I honor that. I also know that some among us are not joyful and I honor that as well.
Some have challenged me on waiting until Advent 1. My reasons are: 1) two marriage rites have been authorized for trial use beginning on that day (please see Resolution A054). While I could permit earlier use, I have always stated that I would work within the guidelines of the church as expressed via General Convention; that is still my intention.
2) We need time to make sure that the policy we put in place covers all possible circumstances as fairly and “equally” as possible.
3) As I stated above, as we are not of one mind on this matter, I want our household to have the time/space to embrace this change with all grace while being sensitive to those who may disagree. I realize that for some waiting for four months may seem unreasonable, but please understand, I am seeking to keep the household whole and healthy.
What follows is the policy that will take effect on Sunday, November 29,2015:
• All requirements stated in Canon 1.18 (“Of the Celebration and Blessing of Marriage,” formerly entitled “Of the Solemnization of Holy Matrimony), as amended by Resolution A036, will apply (i.e.,no change to present rules, except that the language of the canon has been rendered gender-neutral).
• For a priest to make use of these liturgies, the priest must be in conversation with their Vestry or Bishops Committee and obtain their support for their use in the congregation.
• No deviations from the authorized texts will be permitted during the period of trial use. Only the authorized rites are permitted. Use of the rite currently contained in the Prayer Book with “home-made” modifications is strictly prohibited.
• At least one of the parties must be baptized.
• As has always been the case, no priest shall be required to perform any marriage.
• Where there has been a previous marriage or civil union, all the current provisions of Canon 1.19 pertaining to remarriage after divorce will apply, as will our own diocesan procedures.
• In the case of a gay or lesbian couple already married in a civil ceremony, provision is made for the marriage to be blessed.
• A gay or lesbian couple whose union has been previously blessed, but who now desire legal marriage in the church, may proceed to be married in the church.
• Between now and November 29, 2015, the Guidelines for use of Authorized Liturgy for Blessing of Same-sex Relationships, promulgated in 2012, remains in effect.
• Finally, I will not tolerate any dishonoring of opposing viewpoints from either side of the matter. No one and no congregation will be forced to use the trial liturgies; no one and no congregation will be forced to perform any marriage (a current provision of our Canons). If any harassment is experienced I ask that you bring it to my attention immediately.
It is my sincere hope and prayer that as we live into the new reality of equal marriage for all, we will, as a community of believers, find more and more ways to embrace and include all of God’s children in the sacramental and missional life of the Church. As beloved children of God, we are called to do nothing less.
Peace and blessings,
The Rt. Rev. Wendell N. Gibbs Jr.
10th Bishop, Diocese of Michigan