Monday, December 24, 2012

Episcopal Diocese Of Northwestern Pennsylvania To Allow Blessing Of Same-Sex Unions

The Rev. Sean Rowe was a member of the Franklin Area School District Board during the making of "Out In The Silence," a documentary film chronicling the challenges faced by LGBT residents of Venango County. One of the stories in the film follows the courageous struggle of a gay teen and his mom who had the courage to stand up to a climate of extreme anti-gay bullying in Franklin High School. Sean Rowe's silence at the time made him an accomplice to the violence many students experienced.

As reported in this article, he is progressing ever-so-slowly in his practice of Christianity as Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania.

But still a long, long way to go ... 

from Erie Times-News:

Same-sex couples will be able to have their unions blessed in the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania.

The Right Rev. Sean Rowe (right), bishop of the Erie-based 13-county diocese, announced Thursday that he will allow clergy to conduct the blessings.

However, priests and congregations won't be forced to offer it. Churches that want to use the trial liturgical rite, which was approved by the Episcopal Church's General Convention in July, will go through a process of study, reflection and conversation before receiving permission from the bishop.

"I support blessing same-sex unions, but some of my faithful fellow Episcopalians do not," Rowe said in a statement. "The Episcopal Church in northwestern Pennsylvania is a place where people of good conscience can disagree charitably about such matters. We respect and love each other, and we are united in the hope and healing of Jesus Christ."

Rowe said there are people in the diocese with strong opinions on both sides but they're willing to continue to "live together and discern God's will together."

He and the Rev. John Downey, dean of Erie's Episcopal Cathedral of St. Paul, said Episcopalians have spent 30 years taking a careful, deliberate and prayerful approach to understanding same-sex relationships.

"We've been considering this for so many years, it's really not a surprise we've come to this point," Downey said.

Any of the diocese's congregations can choose to hold a conversation about blessing the unions, officials said. If a congregation's priest and governing board of laypeople decide they want to offer the service at their church, they will go to Rowe for permission.

He said he expects some to begin the process immediately, others to do it in the future and some not to participate at all.

Downey anticipated that his congregation would be conducting those conversations in the first part of 2013. He said he thinks the liturgical rite for same-sex blessings will be supported at the downtown cathedral.

Downey said, however, that there's no rush to be the first in the diocese to hold the service, which he said is similar to a marriage liturgy. No St. Paul members had asked for the blessing yet, he said Thursday.

At least one half of a couple seeking it must be a communicant in good standing of a congregation of the diocese, which has about 4,700 Episcopalians.

The provisional rite was approved by the Episcopal Church in July but a blessing couldn't be given until the first Sunday of Advent, which was Dec. 2, and the start of the church year.

Some dioceses, including Erie, weren't quite ready by that date. Rowe said the local policy didn't go out until Wednesday.

It can be viewed on the diocese's website at under resources for clergy.

Some church members and leaders had already been talking about adding the blessing to their ministry.

"I'm wholeheartedly for it," Joyce Gieza, a member of St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Lawrence Park Township, said.

"We're an inclusive church, which is why I'm there," she said. "I don't want to exclude anybody." The Rev. Shawn Clerkin, vicar of St. Mary's, said his congregation has begun the process of discernment and is ready to seek Rowe's permission to offer the blessing there.

Clerkin said it is a way to be welcoming to same-sex couples but at the same time the church doesn't want to isolate people who oppose the liturgy.

An opponent of the blessing couldn't be reached for comment.

Episcopalians tend to be very respectful of one another's point of view and it's important for them to continue to show one another the same love and appreciation even if they disagree on this issue, Clerkin said.

He and Rowe said they've heard from couples appreciative of the new blessing but none is in the works to receive it yet. Rowe said the first isn't likely to occur for a month or so.

"We have many faithful gay and lesbian Christians living in faithful monogamous relationships that are seeking the blessing of the church," Rowe said. "We've had a fair number express interest."

Mike Mahler, the editor of Erie Gay News and a local pagan, said acceptance of gays and lesbians varies by congregation, but it was good to see the local Episcopal diocese offering this blessing.

"That is a wonderful thing," he said.


JCF said...

I don't know the story of Sean Rowe in Venango County, but I don't know why *on the basis of his policy towards same-sex blessings*, you'd say

"he is progressing ever-so-slowly in his practice of Christianity as Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania. But still a long, long way to go ..."

Were you saying that because of this?

"However, priests and congregations won't be forced to offer it."

NO individual priest in the Episcopal Church can be forced to marry ANY couple, same or opposite-sex: it's completely up to the discretion/conscience of the priest.

And as far as a congregation goes (in the Episcopal Church, we call them "parishes"), a priest marrying a couple that a parish was dead-set against marrying (in the parish sanctuary), would probably face imminent termination.

In the Episcopal Church, the marriage rite---even the trial rite for SSB's (full liturgical EQUALITY can't come soon enough!)---is done the context of receiving SUPPORT from congregation. In other words, it's not just the priest and the couple (and a witness or two). FAR better, that a couple---hopefully already members OF a given parish, and ergo, known and loved BY that parish---marry within that supportive community.

Like I said, I don't know Rowe's backstory (maybe he was an @ss).

But his policy here, is really up-to-Episcopal standards for any diocese (that doesn't already have civil marriage equality. Godspeed the day every diocese does!)

I hope you will work with him, as SSBs become a reality in the Diocese of NWPA.

End Bigotry in Venango County said...

Yes, hooray, great, wonderful that SOME clergy / church members can somehow find it within themselves to be supportive of basic human rights and dignity after "30 years taking a careful, deliberate and prayerful approach to understanding same-sex relationships."

But we expect more from those who know better, particularly someone like Sean Rowe who, at the time of the problems occurring at Franklin High school, said he was sympathetic to the plight of bullied LGBT students but did nothing to help address the problem.

JCF said...

Yes, hooray, great, wonderful that SOME clergy / church members can somehow find it within themselves to be supportive of basic human rights and dignity

I think perhaps, EBVC, you still don't understand the Episcopal Church. It is the NATIONAL policy of the Episcopal Church to support FULL CIVIL MARRIAGE EQUALITY, everywhere. When it comes to "human rights", there's no If/Ands/Buts about it.

It's only when we're talking about *religious marriage* (the wedding liturgy), that's there's the piecemeal approach of different bishops/dioceses/parishes.

Don't get me wrong: I'm an Episcopalian who absolutely want to see RELIGIOUS marriage equality, also (I want to see our Book of Common Prayer revised to make the marriage liturgy fully adaptable to same- or opposite-sex couples).

But you're an LGBT *civil* rights group, no?

I mean, if Bishop Rowe is anything other than 100% supportive of civil marriage equality, then please diss him to high heaven.

However, I think a civil/marriage distinction is still useful here. Personally, I don't care if (for example) the Roman Catholic Church ever marries same-sex couples in their churches. But it p*sses me off no end, all the MILLIONS of dollars they're spending to prevent CIVIL marriage equality, for everybody! (not just Roman Catholics)

It's a question of priorities. Focus on CIVIL marriage equality, and religious groups will sort themselves out later (my church, the Episcopal Church, hopefully SOONER!)

JCF said...

Whoops, that should have said "However, I think a civil/religious marriage distinction is still useful here."

End Bigotry in Venango County said...

Thx for your enlightening comments JCF. Very interesting. Our comments about Sean Rowe are not so much about his superstitious beliefs or religious practice, as they are about his very calculated decision to not do the right, the decent, thing when he was on the Franklin Area school District Board, i.e. stand up against the institutionally-based homophobia that fostered a climate of terror and violence for LGBT students. His role as a "bishop" in an Episcopalian Diocese seems simply to be a continuance of this 'support the status-quo approach.'