This reflection began when I received an email noting that I was a deputy from a diocese whose bishop had not authorized the use of rites to marry same-sex couples, and asking if I would be willing to write a short piece on Resolution A085 since I was to serve on Committee 13, which received the resolution. My initial thought was that this was a kind invitation to suicide. Deeper consideration that sharing with others what my path has been might help others and that thought led me to accept the invitation.
All of us acknowledge that we have been through a difficult time for the Episcopal Church. Tens of thousands of Episcopalians have chosen to leave. Some have left individually and some with entire congregations and even dioceses over the issues surrounding same sex marriage. The loss of friends in our pews has been a sadness to all of us. On reflection, my sense is that both “sides” of the issue failed one another and Christ by seeking “victory” rather than by doing the harder work of recognizing Christ in each other and acknowledging the good desires/beliefs that motived our positions. In short, we could have done better for maintaining unity among Christ’s followers as we worked through change. I acknowledge this would have taken more time and, perhaps, not maintained unity even then. Nevertheless, I believe we could have been more graceful all around, myself certainly included.
Looking forward now, I am hopeful. That hopefulness began in the midst of 2004 when I was unhappy with the pace of change while struggling to perceive what God wants for his people. The turmoil was creating discord both in the church and within me. Then one special evening at a meeting of old and dear friends at an Episcopal conference center, we all enjoyed fellowship and began honest discussion of the same sex issues. Each person there was able to give grace to the views of others and, as we listened and talked, the grace that we offered and received from one another transported my outlook. It was magical. We believed in one another’s good motivations despite our differences. I know I left that weekend a changed person and my friends have shared that they felt the same. We found space in our hearts for each other and acknowledged openly the good intentions of one another despite our different insights.
In the intervening years I have grown in faith and hope due to my new perspective on our dispute. My observation is also that we have made our Church more welcoming to our fellow travelers who have a different sexual orientation. None of us are perfect, and it is a good and proper thing that we all sit together in fellowship, mission and worship. I am thankful to have grown in understanding. I sensed also at the last General Convention that there was rebirth of collegiality and optimism about the future. In Christ all things are possible.
So, as we approach A085, my thoughts are (as no surprise to anyone) that we proceed with caution, confident that we have resolved to get where we are going and get there together. The pace I suggest will take more time but it will pay huge dividends in our unity in Christ. I suggest it is what Christ wants for his followers where they struggle with differing insights on God’s will.
Turning to the Book of Common Prayer, my thought is that great caution to reach a strong consensus is the best path. First, it will allow gracious time and space for those many Episcopalians who still struggle with the changes that are occurring. We should acknowledge their struggle and the fact that they have reached a decision to remain faithful in The Episcopal Church. Can we acknowledge that grace with grace in return, even if we feel an urge to “get on?”
Please consider that other study groups of the Church are urging more caution and study before we launch on revision of the Book of Common Prayer. The report of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music by its sub-committee on Revision of the Book of Common Prayer discusses the advantages of keeping the 1979 edition intact while studying and utilizing the more recent alternate rites. Likewise, the published survey results note almost equal positive and negative responses from trial use to date. (See page 192 of the Blue Book.) That result seems to commend more study before a decision is made, especially when change to our “common” prayer book is proposed.
Finally, I commend the continuation of last General Convention’s grant of discretion to our bishops as regards the use of our trial liturgies. The grace extended three years ago was a blessing for unity in parts of the church. Our bishops do know their flocks and can help hold them together as we “round the curve” to the future. At the same time, we need to realize the pain which restrictions do cause to those seeking local access to trial rites. I believe the collective wisdom of our bishops can recommend a gracious compromise that will address this issue and move us forward together.
I look forward to General Convention with renewed hope and joy. May we each be able to see the love of Christ in one another!
Gareth Aden is a lay deputy from the Diocese of Tennessee.