Episcopals in O.C. considering an official blessing for gay

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July 17, 2009, 20:50

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Episcopals in O.C. considering an official blessing for gay couples

Plan approved by bishops, moves to committee of clergy and lay people


The Orange County Register

ANAHEIM – Episcopal priest Ernie Bennett doesn’t see eye-to-eye with Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop, on where the Episcopal Church is moving on gay issues.

But the two have been friends for decades. So they sat down at lunch Thursday during a break in the Episcopal General Convention in Anaheim to chat.

“We agreed that even if we disagree on this, we live in the same family and will love and respect each other no matter what,” said Bennett, 66, a priest in Florida for 41 years.

Church members said some difficult, sometimes-contentious decisions are being made at the convention this week attended by 8,000 at the Anaheim Convention Center.

This morning, 800 clergy and lay members at the convention are to vote on a plan to give gay couples an official blessing authorizing their union in the Episcopal Church.

Earlier in the week, bishops voted 104-30 to draft an official prayer for same-sex couples based on “theological resources and liturgies,” and sent that plan to the committee of clergy and lay members for a final vote.

While many Episcopal dioceses have allowed clergy to bless same-sex couples, no official liturgy for ceremonies currently exists.

The move was widely applauded by Episcopalians attending the convention. But some say it will most certainly increase friction between the denomination and the Anglican Church in England, which has frowned upon the increased acceptance of gay relationships.

“I think we need to move forward with the way the church responds to the needs of gay and lesbian people, especially considering the way civil courts and many elections are going on those issues,” said the Rev. J. Jon Bruno, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, which includes Orange County parishes.

“I think this is a good first step that will still take years to implement,” he added. “I don’t think this will cause any more of a divide (with the Anglican Church) as what we did years ago by allowing such unions.”

If approved Friday, church leaders would still have to draft the wording of such a blessing – and that would be considered in 2012 at the next national meeting in Indiana.

Might that be moving too slowly?

“For a church institution as big as we are, it takes some time to make a turn this big,” Bruno said.

The existing divide between the Episcopal Church and its Anglican counterpart began in 2003 when the U.S. church consecrated Robinson, of New Hampshire, as its first openly gay bishop. It prompted some diocese to branch off in protest and form the Anglican Church in North America.

On Thursday, Robinson told a Register reporter he was pleased to see his fellow bishops moving forward on addressing issues important to gays and lesbians.

“The most important thing, I think, was to see the gentle spirit with which my colleagues on both sides of the issue addressed this,” Robinson said. “I’m delighted to see the church moving forward.”

Earlier in the week, the bishops voted to lift a self-imposed moratorium on consecrating gay bishops, making gay and lesbian clergy members eligible for “any ordained ministry.”

There has been no official reaction from Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who told delegates via video from England at the start of the convention: “I hope and pray that there won’t be decisions in the coming days that could push us further apart.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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