Head of 14,000-member diocese becomes the denomination’s first church leader to allow official rites for same-sex couples
LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas Episcopal churches in Arkansas can offer blessing ceremonies for gay couples, the state’s bishop said in a letter to clergy.
“It is my belief that seeking ways of recognizing and blessing faithful, monogamous same-sex relationships falls within the parameters of providing pastoral concern and care for our gay and lesbian members,” wrote the Right Rev. Larry Maze, bishop of the 14,000-member Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas.
Maze noted in his letter sent to clergy Wednesday that no other national or state Episcopal leaders have produced or approved official rites for the blessings of same-sex unions.
He said the ceremonies will be local observances in each church, not approved formal rites. Arkansas has banned gay marriage, so same-sex couples will have no legal standing in the state.
Two Arkansas churches St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Little Rock and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fayetteville plan to offer the ceremonies.
Maze who was among the bishops who approved the election of an openly gay bishop, the Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire is set to retire later this year.
At its 2003 national convention, church representatives passed a resolution in favor of allowing churches to explore the option of offering blessing ceremonies for gay couples.
But at its convention in Ohio this year, leaders passed a resolution telling dioceses not to elect another gay bishop. The most recent convention did not address blessing gay couples.
Some Episcopal churches are breaking away from the U.S. denomination and seeking oversight from overseas over the gay issue.
Most Anglican archbishops believe gay relationships violate Scripture, and many broke ties with the U.S. church over Robinson’s election.
Several Episcopal dioceses that consider gay relationships sinful are distancing themselves from the U.S. church over the election as presiding bishop of Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who will be installed Nov. 4, because she supports ordaining partnered gays and blessing same-sex couples.
At St. Michael’s in Little Rock, the Rev. Ed Wills said a same-sex couple is planning a blessing ceremony that is set for September.
“God is about community, about belonging, about a relationship,” Wills said. Couples are blessed in the church “not just so that they can be special but that they can be a blessing to other people.”
The Rev. Lowell Grisham of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, said no one has requested a blessing yet, but that he expects a ceremony before the Episcopal general convention in 2009.
“My gay friends are very sensitive about the notion that we’ve been blessing animals for years and find it so difficult to bless their relationships,” Grisham said.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, July 28, 2006.