Sunday, February 22, 2015

A long time ago in galaxy far, far away ...

This was truly one of those random, serendipity, synchronicity things that leave you scratching your head.

I was looking through old files for a picture I just KNEW I had somewhere in the process I found this letter ... dated exactly 15 years ago today ... that I sent with my application to serve as a volunteer for Integrity at the 2000 General Convention in Denver.



And I'm trying to imagine how different my life would be if I hadn't sent this letter -- exactly 15 years ago today. If I hadn't gone to Denver. If I hadn't had the mentorship and friendship of Michael Hopkins for the last 15 years. If we hadn't come up with Claiming the Blessing. If ...

Well, I have a really vivid imagination -- and I just can't imagine.

And I am so very, very grateful.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Transfigured by Transparency



Last Sunday After Epiphany | February 15, 2015 | Susan Russell

And so the season of Epiphany – the weeks between Christmas and Lent -- ends with the story from the Gospel According to Mark about Jesus and his small group – James, Peter and John – and their quintessential “mountain top experience.”

It is the Last of the “Epiphs” -- as Ed Bacon calls them -- in the Season of the “Ahas!” of God the season we mark with stories from our spiritual family album of the times and ways and places our ancestors were given the grace of awareness of the palpable power of God’s love, justice and compassion present with them.

And this is the story we always hear on this Last Sunday of Epiphany before our Lenten pilgrimage begins on Wednesday with the ashes on our foreheads as outward and visible signs of the 40 day journey to Easter Day (never mind that Ralphs already has a whole aisle of Easter candy.)

It is the “Big One” – the best for last one – the Big Finish One – the one that would feature Neil Patrick Harris if this was musical theater instead of church.

And the church has a name for it – the story we just heard of Jesus, Moses & Elijah on the mountain with James & Peter & John.

It’s called The Transfiguration and one definition of the word transfiguration is: “transformed or changed into something more beautiful or elevated.”

That’s a dictionary definition. Here’s a poetic definition … in a sonnet from English writer Malcolm Guite:

For that one moment, ‘in and out of time’,
On that one mountain where all moments meet,
The daily veil that covers the sublime
In darkling glass fell dazzled at his feet.
There were no angels full of eyes and wings
Just living glory full of truth and grace.
The Love that dances at the heart of things
Shone out upon us from a human face
And to that light the light in us leaped up,
We felt it quicken somewhere deep within,
 A sudden blaze of long-extinguished hope
Trembled and tingled through the tender skin.
Nor can this blackened sky, this darkened scar
Eclipse that glimpse of how things really are.


The glimpse of how things really are

Seen in a moment of transparency that transformed: a moment when the Love that dances at the heart of things shone out upon them from a human face. What the disciples glimpsed in that moment of transfiguration was their rabbi, friend and teacher Jesus so in alignment with the love of the one who created us ALL in love and then called us to walk in love with each other that he was transformed – transfigured – in front of their awestruck eyes and they heard again the words that had been spoken at the River Jordan when Jesus was baptized by John: Beloved.

I love how Nadia Bolz-Weber describes that transaction:

Identity. It’s always God’s first move. Before we do anything wrong and before we do anything right, God has named and claimed us as God’s own. God’s beloved. But almost immediately, other things try to tell us who we are and to whom we belong: capitalism, the weight-loss industrial complex, our parents, kids at school— they all have a go at telling us who we are. But only God can do that. Everything else is temptation.

Everything else is temptation. Everything that tells us we are less than, fallen from, short of, not enough of, too much of. All temptation.

Everything that fails to recognize the utter belovedness of every single human being. All temptation.

Everything that wants to take the experience of God’s transforming love and contain it in a dogma, creed, doctrine, rubric, order, canon, construct, book … … or booth. All temptation.

Clueless Peter – my favorite disciple -- fell right into that temptation. Let’s build some booths. And God interrupted … in what I can’t help but imagine was some exasperation: “This isn’t about building booths, dude. This is about my Beloved. Listen to him.”

Listen to him. Listen to the part about liberation to the oppressed. Good news to the poor. Sight to the blind. The part about love your neighbor as yourself. And down the mountain they went. to proclaim the Good News of God’s astounding love to a world so desperately in need of it that it couldn’t handle it.

Just as we are called to go this morning: Out into a world yearning for a glimpse of how things really are; a look behind the dark veil of violence, oppression, division and separation that keeps the human race from being the human family God intended it to be; the dark veil that covers the sublime

For the prayer that we prayed this morning – that we “be changed into Jesus’ likeness from glory to glory” -- had nothing to do with being changed into the physical likeness of the radical rabbi from Nazareth and everything to do with being transfigured by transparency -- by our glimpse of how things really are -- transfigured into radical bearers of the light of God’s inclusive love down of the mountain and into a world in desperate need of that light and that love.

And yes -- this is a sermon you have heard before. Not these words in this order – with this poem or this example or this illustration – but this sermon –from countless preachers down through the years from this pulpit of privilege here at All Saints Church: God loves you beyond your wildest imaginings. Now go put that love into action in the world.

Last week we celebrated the life of Liz Morton. Liz lived a long, feisty, faithful life which included sixty years of leadership here at All Saints Church. The first woman to serve as senior warden she loved to tell stories of having “trained four rectors” as indeed she did.

• John Frank Scott – who stood in protest at Union Station during World War II as Japanese Americans were deported to Manzanar
• John Burt – who received death threats at the rectory after standing with Martin Luther King Jr. in the L.A. Coliseum in the 60’s
• George Regas – whose powerful sermon against the war in Viet Nam in the 70’s galvanized the faith based anti-war movement
• and Ed Bacon – who isn’t done yet.

And what was the advice Liz Morton gave her “rectors in training?” According to Ed Bacon it included “Remember to tell us God loves us.”

Remember to tell us God loves us. Remember to give us glimpse of how things really are. And then … and only then … send us down off the mountain in response to that love not to built booths or write creeds or dictate dogmas but to do justice. To love mercy. And to walk humbly with the God who created us in love and then called us to love one another.

To reclaim the planet an inch at a time … a glimpse at a time … until the Garden of Eden grows green again

Until this world – this fragile earth, our island home – is transformed by the transparency of the Love that is at the heart of all things

• and Muslim students do not have to fear for their lives as they park their cars in their apartment complexes
• and couples don’t have to worry about whether they’ll still be married if they move from Malibu to Mississippi
• and the public health threat of gun violence does not take 2500 American lives in the month of January alone
• and mothers don’t tuck their black sons into bed every night praying they’ll be safe from the virulent virus of racial bias that infects our country
• and loving your neighbor as yourself means not deporting or exploiting your neighbor
• and we recognize that climate science is not a “myth” but our best hope of reversing the damage we have done to our planet
• and 50% of transgender youth don’t consider suicide because they’ve gotten the message that their one, wild precious life isn’t worth living
• and nobody’s religion is hijacked to support terrorism
• and we come to the place where we recognize that we cannot bomb our way to peace.

And yes – there are those who will argue that issues like gun violence, marriage equality and climate science are best left to the others while the church focuses on “higher things” holier things -- more important things

Like a bishop in the Episcopal Church who wrote on a list-serve for bishops and deputies about our upcoming General Convention “if we spend time debating and perfecting resolutions on subjects like these, we will certainly never accomplish the goal of streamlining General Convention”

And I wrote back “if the goal of General Convention is streamlining General Convention then I say we all do Jesus a favor and stay home”

To be changed by the change that changes everything and then make the goal of General Convention streamlining General Convention is the 21st century version of Peter’s 1st century response to the Transfiguration: to build three booths and stay on the mountain.

In seminary I learned from Fredrica Harris Thompsett that the reason we back up to learn from our history is to get a running start on our future.

And so what I know from our history – the history of All Saints Church -- is that we are not a booth building people. What I know from our history is that we are a down-off-the-mountain-top thoughtful, committed, DOGGEDLY persistent people called to make God’s love tangible 24/7 as we work to turn the human race into the human family.

And what I know from history
is that what fuels us to keep taking that running start on our future
is returning to this sanctuary
to this table
to this mountain top
week after week year after year
to be fed by the bread and wine made holy
and to align ourselves with the inherent experience of love
to be transformed by the transparency of love
not to build booths and hide from the world
but to be sent down off the mountain into the world
to BE the change that changes everything.

Amen.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Reimagine the Episcopal Church ... with Marriage Equality


Today we launched a new FB page called "Reimagine the Episcopal Church with Marriage Equality." It will be the place to share resources, build networks and stay on top of developments as we move toward the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church and consider resolutions that would end discrimination against marriage for same sex-couples.

Please help us spread the word. "Like" the page. Share it with your friends and networks -- Episcopalians and otherwise. Because the time has come to "Let our yes be yes." [Matt. 5:37] The time has come to reimagine the Episcopal church with marriage equality.

Join us ... here!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Random Thought For The Day

    So if my marriage isn't threatened by the ‪#‎FiftyShadesOfGrey‬ thing 'splain to me again how yours is threatened by gay couples getting married. Seriously. I'll wait.

Monday, February 09, 2015

Study of Marriage Report Introduction/Summary

The Report of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage has been filed and the discussion has begun. 

Over on Episcopal Cafe there's a lively discussion -- and I commend it to you. Just be prepared for a whole boatload of comments that are very narrowly focused on the conviction by a handful of commenters that if they dig deep enough they really WILL find the part where someone is going for "force" them to "violate their conscience" and preside at the marriage of a same-sex couple. 

Seriously.

Anyway, of course you're going to want to read the whole report. You really are. But JUST in case you don't have time to read the whole thing right now, I thought it might be helpful to excerpt the introduction/summary/overview here to get you started. You're welcome

Introduction

One of the defining characteristics of our Anglican tradition is how we approach significant matters that require faithful discernment. We rely upon three interrelated resources that provide a holistic and balanced method of consideration: Scripture, tradition, and reason.

The resolution that defined the work for the Task Force on the Study of Marriage (2012-A050) was broad, to say the least. It asked us to consider the historic, theological, biblical, canonical, legal, liturgical, and social dimensions of marriage. Our budget and our time together were, however, very limited.

Nevertheless, the advantage of having such a broad charge was to ensure that we would approach this important subject holistically, from all three of the traditionally Anglican viewpoints. In some of the seven essays that follow, one viewpoint may be more evident than another, but throughout them all, we have attempted to engage deeply with Scripture, tradition, and reason.

This introduction summarizes a few of the highlights of each essay, in order that the reader might see where we are headed. Those who take the time to read the essays themselves, however, will find a much richer and more nuanced treatment than what this introduction provides. We begin with a biblical and theological foundation in the first two essays, examine our history in the following three, and conclude with two on contemporary issues: whether clergy should act as agents of the state in performing marriages; and some data and reflections on the current state of marriage in our society and Church.

Please keep in mind that these seven essays, however holistic, are not an attempt to be comprehensive, and we do not consider them to be the final word. They are simply our present, admittedly limited contribution to a process of study and discernment that has gone on, and will continue to go on, for a long time.

It is our hope that these essays will provide something more than interesting reading for those who take the time. Given the changing norms and practices around marriage, blessing, singlehood, and other forms of what people consider to be “family,” the subject bears close and faithful consideration by our Church on a broad basis.

Therefore, we encourage the use of the essays, alongside our “Dearly Beloved” toolkit, as study materials in diocesan, congregational, and other settings. After assigning them as reading, facilitators might use the discussion and reflection questions that are provided in some of the essays or come up with other questions of their own.

As we begin our first essay, “A Biblical and Theological Framework for Thinking about Marriage,” we make it clear that we approach the subject of marriage — as has the Church for centuries — not as a matter of dogma or core doctrine, but as a concern of pastoral or moral theology. While the former is considered to be unchanging, the latter can, and does, evolve considerably over time.

Our lead-up to the subject also includes an overview of the wide range of values and regulations for marital relations that are found in biblical texts. This overview shows just how complex, evolving, and contradictory our Scriptures are on the subject, and therefore how tricky it is to speak of “the biblical view of marriage.” We demonstrate how different biblical views and practices of marriage have variously formed and influenced different parts of the faith community through history, even into our own day.

The paper then moves to the heart of the matter: a theological framework that we offer for thinking about marriage. This framework includes several powerful biblical models that serve as analogies for the relationship of marriage: God’s unconditional faithfulness and forgiveness; the paradox of union and difference in Christ; and Christ’s self-offering in love that is at the heart of the Paschal Mystery.

Finally, the essay concludes with a discussion about the marriage of same-sex couples, making four points.

The first is that when our criteria for a holy marriage are based upon the moral values of self-offering love, our conclusion is that same-sex couples are as capable of a holy marriage as are different-sex couples.

Second, the essential quality of marital unity in difference outlined previously can be present for same-sex couples in ways other than the often-cited “complementarity” of different-sex couples.

Third, “it is not in the sex difference, or in sex itself (whether understood as the sex of the bodies involved or the sexual act) that moral value lies,” since moral value is determined by “the context and relationship of the actors,” rather than by actions alone.

And last, the clear expectations that General Convention resolution 2000-D039 set forth for any committed lifelong relationship, including same-sex couples, are seen as central to our understanding of the very nature of marriage and its vows.

In our second essay, “Christian Marriage as Vocation,” we consider marriage itself as “a calling, a spiritual practice, a particular, vowed manner of life …, a way of being in and engaging the world, of ordering our life in ways that facilitate our participation in the wider purposes for which God created us, redeemed us, and brings us into newness of life.” This vocation is not for everyone, for Scripture itself reminds us that not all are called to marriage. However, it is set within, and as a part of, the more fundamental, universal vocation of love.

A section follows that more fully examines the notion of union-in-difference and “complementarity” that the previous essay introduced. Relying upon Paul’s understanding of the “new creation” that is made in Christ, where traditional binary distinctions of male/female, slave/free, Jew/Gentile are broken down, we can then see the gift of marital difference in terms much broader and more complex than those of sex. It is the mystery of union and difference that matters in marriage, rather than the sex of the partners.

Gospel and Pauline themes provide depth to our understanding of the vocation of marriage, as they show how “particular graces or charisms gifted to each of us from God can come to their fullest fruition through the relationships and commitments we form,” including marriage. The theme of “abiding” in John 15 helps us see marriage as a form of avowed stability, a vessel that God uses to help us to bear the fruit of love. Paul emphasizes the transformational quality of life in Christ in which we are made anew, and in marriage we can see the possibility of gradual, lifelong metamorphosis. As such, the vocation of marriage can be “a way of participating in the ongoing renewal of creation.”

The following three essays are historical. The first of these, “A History of Christian Marriage,” demonstrates, as do our sections on Scripture, just how complex and diverse the beliefs and practices about marriage have been within the faith community. The various practices of early Jewish and Roman Hellenistic marriage are discussed, with themes that range from marriage as a partnership within a social context, procreation, belovedness, divorce, polygamy, patriarchy, and power.

In the early Church, we see a countercultural shift that “invites Christians to imagine a different kind of family from the paternalistic families of either Judaism or Rome,” as family was now found through spiritual identification rather than through blood lines and social status. In the late New Testament era and beyond, the Church began, on the one hand, to commend abstinence and singleness over marriage, and on the other, to align more closely with the values of the empire.


In medieval times, familial and tribal partnerships are paramount; and in the High Middle Ages, an emphasis on chivalric romance — along with its objectification of women as noble, chaste, and pure beings — becomes a part of the backdrop for marriage. The Reformation rejected the primacy of the celibate life and emphasized companionship and the family as the central building blocks of the Christian life. In the New World, there were “numerous ways in which marriage law was used to oppress, and ... numerous ways in which subjugated people continued to find means to establish intimate bonds of familial relationship despite the impediments to volitional marriage.”

The modern age brought a new call for rights and freedoms for women, and this, in turn, led to dramatic changes in the nature of marriage and family life, including a more peer-based relational model. At the same time, “the imperative to develop a theologically sound and culturally sensitive response to the question of the sanctity of a same-sex marriage has heightened.”

A part of this complex history of marriage is the closer focus of “Marriage as a Rite of Passage,” our next essay. Beginning with a model introduced by 20th-century anthropological studies, we see how marriage, like other rites of passage, consists of a formal ritual action designed “to help individuals or communities transition from one life state to a new one.” This time of transition serves as a “liminal state,” wherein the participants are separated from their old way of life and yet are not fully incorporated into their new one. This liminal space can provide an experiential context, allowing for greater freedom, intimacy, and reinvention.

In the past, this liminal space between singleness and marriage was marked by rites of betrothal. As these practices have gone out of use, new ones have somewhat replaced them: the publishing of banns, premarital counseling, and, increasingly in our day, cohabitation as a stepping-stone to marriage. From an anthropological point of view, one could see this latter development as “a potential correction” to the loss of liminal space prior to marriage, recapturing something of the sense that marriage is something “that can and should be eased into rather than jumped into.”

The essay concludes with the assertion that marriage can, at times, be a rite that subverts the status quo, a prophetic act. Examples given are interfaith and interracial marriages and new familial bonds that are created across class lines, political affiliations, and ethnicities. As younger generations cross these boundaries more easily than those before them, we now have greater potential to incarnate a Gospel vision of the world as it can be — a world marked by more equality, richness, and diversity.


The third in our series of historical essays is “The Marriage Canon: History and Critique,” which shows that discussions in The Episcopal Church about marriage have largely been about remarriage after divorce. As is often the case, changes in canon law have followed changes in practice. And so the essay traces some of these changes in society that forced issues resulting in canonical responses.


At first, remarriage after divorce was prohibited entirely, then only in the case of adultery, and then finally in other cases, but by petition to the bishop. In addition, other regulations were introduced after society experienced a significant rise in the divorce rate: requirements for pastoral preparation and instruction, verification that the couple had a legal right to be married, the presence of witnesses, the entry of information into the parish register, and so on.

The essay concludes with a series of questions that offer a critique of the current marriage canon. Included in this critique are explanations for each of the changes to the marriage canon that this Task Force proposes in resolution form.

Our essays now shift to two contemporary subjects. The first of these is discussed in “Agents of the State: A Question for Discernment,” which directly addresses the question that many today are asking: “Should the Church be in the marriage business at all?” — that is, as agents of the state. Without drawing a firm conclusion, we note that whatever the Church may decide on this matter, our discernment must include practical and ethical considerations about whether our participation in civil marriage enables us to be better agents of social transformation, makes us complicit in furthering injustice, or potentially does both.

Our final essay is “Changing Trends and Norms in Marriages.” As required by our enabling resolution 2012- A050, we consulted broadly with individuals, couples, scholars, and ecclesial partners; and we considered current social research and data on marriage. These consultations and the information we uncovered were extremely helpful in gaining a clearer picture of the state of marriage today.

The main issue that we identified for our reflection as a church has to do with the current drop in marriage rates, and for those who do marry, a delay until a later age than ever before. Cohabitation, as a temporary option or alternative to marriage, is significantly on the rise. Possible historical causes, as well as costs and benefits of these trends, are outlined, including possible impacts that the Church may consider in its mission and pastoral ministry.

The essay concludes with a section on differences in marriage trends among groups identified by race and ethnicity: African Americans, Hispanics and Latinos, Native Americans, and Asian Americans. Finally, we included some statistics regarding same-sex marriage that were current as of the time that this document was submitted.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

TEC's Study of Marriage Report: Q&As

The General Convention Office has just released the report of the Task Force on the Study of Marriage. It is available for download here. The result of great work by a tremendous team -- in wide consultation with constituents and experts within and beyond the Episcopal Church -- this work is now commended to the Legislative Committee on Marriage and the 78th General Convention ... to be held in Salt Lake City June 25-July 3.
Here is my overview of the report ... in Q&A form.
Why did the Episcopal Church need a task force to study marriage?
The Task Force for the Study of Marriage was called for by the 77th General Convention at the request of the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music (SCLM). It was the experience of the SCLM’s Blessings Task Force that while it worked to respond to the church’s call to develop liturgical resources for blessing same-gender relationships (2009-2012) it faced repeated questions about marriage. Because the questions were much larger than the blessing of same-relationships, they were beyond the scope of the work of the Blessings Task Force.

What kind of questions were they being asked?

Questions like: What makes a marriage Christian? What is the relationship between the Church’s blessing of a relationship, whether different-gender or same-gender, and a union, “marriage” or otherwise, created by civil law? Is the blessing of a same-gender relationship equivalent to the marriage of a different-gender couple, and if so, should this liturgy be called “marriage?”

What exactly did the Task Force on Marriage study?
The enabling resolution (A050) called for the task force to identify and explore biblical, theological, historical, liturgical, and canonical dimensions of marriage. To do that work, the task force divided various tasks into three working group asking the same overall question: “What might the Episcopal Church have to say to today's world as to what makes a marriage Christian and holy?"

• Marriage: Biblical and Theological Dimensions
• Marriage: Historical, Liturgical, and Canonical Roots
• Marriage: Conversations and Consultations; Changing Norms

What does the report contain?
The Blue Book report to the 78th General Convention consists of seven essays, a study guide and two resolutions.

What do the essays cover?
• A Biblical and Theological Framework for Thinking about Marriage
• Christian Marriage as Vocation
• A History of Christian Marriage
• Marriage as a Rite of Passage
• The Marriage Canon: History and Critique
• Agents of the State: A Question for Discernment
• Changing Trends and Norms in Marriages

What does the study guide provide?
Entitled “Dearly Beloved: A tool-kit for the study of marriage,” the study guide offers a variety of formats and resources for deeper conversations about marriage at the congregational and diocesan level. It was used by the A050 Task Force in developing its report and we hope it will continue to be used throughout the church as an educational resource.

What do the resolutions call for?
One calls for changes to Canon I.18 (Of the Solemnization of Holy Matrimony) and the other to continue the work of the task force for another three years.
[1] The suggested canonical changes would make the Canon I:18 [a] ordered more practically in terms of pastoral practice; [b] focused on the actual vows made in The Book of Common Prayer marriage rite; [c] reflective of the theology expressed in the task force’s study and essays; and [d] inclusive of both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.
[2] Continuing the work of the task force would provide an opportunity for the church to study -- and possibly respond to -- the changing realities of marriage in our culture and in our congregations beyond the scope of what the wide-ranging A050 study allowed for.

Does making the marriage canons inclusive of same-sex couples “redefine marriage?”

Only if our definition of marriage starts and ends with the gender of the couple promising to love and to cherish each other until death do they part. As the “Christian Marriage as a Vocation” essay argues, the vocation of Christian marriage is catalyzed by a love that unites two consenting adults in a holy bond -- a sacred vessel in and through which they may grow throughout the course of their lives; a bond that transcends the binary sexual difference of male and female.

But what about the gender-specific language about marriage in the Prayer Book? How would that be reconciled with these canonical changes?

It would not be the first time the canons have been amended to interpret language in the Prayer Book that has become outdated. One leading example is the 1976 decision on the ordination of women. The prayer book still uses only male pronouns in the ordination service, but the Canons interpreted that language as descriptive rather than prescriptive – ending discrimination against the ordination of women by stating “words of male gender shall also imply the female gender.” [Canon 2. Sec 1.] A similar solution can be considered by the 78th General Convention to reconcile the current description of marriage in the Prayer Book with the canonical changes recommended by the Task Force on the Study of Marriage.
Aren’t we abandoning thousands of years of history and tradition?
No. We are taking our place in the arc of thousands of years of history and tradition. As the “History of Christian Marriage” essay illustrates, marriage is an institution that has evolved in manifold ways over the centuries – and continues to evolve in our own day. And as the history of the Episcopal Church demonstrates, it is our tradition to challenge the practices of our past in order to live into the promises of God’s future. Ending discrimination against women in ordained ministry in 1976 is one example of claiming that tradition. Ending discrimination against same sex couples in marriage in 2015 will be another.

What does the report tell us about what the Bible says about marriage?

It demonstrates how different biblical views and practices of marriage have variously formed and influenced different parts of the faith community through history, even into our own day. It illustrates just how complex, evolving, and contradictory our Scriptures are on the subject and therefore how tricky it is to speak of “the biblical view of marriage.” And it offers several powerful biblical models as analogies for the relationship of marriage: God’s unconditional faithfulness and forgiveness; the paradox of union and difference in Christ; and Christ’s self-offering in love that is at the heart of the Paschal Mystery.

Will making these changes create greater challenges for our relationships within the Anglican Communion?

There are those in our wider Anglican family who will be unhappy with any changes we make to be more inclusive and there will be those in our wider Anglican family who are watching us for leadership to help them move forward. While there continue to be tensions and challenges around a variety of issues – including gender equality and human sexuality -- the climate in the Anglican Communion has improved dramatically in recent years. One indication of that shift is the refusal of Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, to allow himself to be leveraged into polarizing differences into divisions.

Was changing the canons to include marriage between same-sex couples a foregone conclusion when the Task Force began its work?

No. It was a foregone conclusion that the 78th General Convention would be called to consider resolutions calling for canonical changes, but not that those resolutions would come from the Task Force. For example, Resolution 2012-D091 – which would simply have made the marriage canons gender neutral -- was referred by the 77th General Convention to the Task Force for the Study of Marriage to consider. However, the recommended canonical changes -- as detailed in the “Marriage Canon: History and Critique” essay – emerged from a holistic canonical study including -- but not limited to -- the question of same-sex marriage. And the unanimous decision to include the call for these canonical changes came late in the process, after much study, prayer, reflection and consultation.

Why do we need to do this now? Couldn’t we study it a little longer?

The Episcopal Church has arguably been “studying” the full inclusion of all the baptized in all the sacraments for decades. Currently 75% of Episcopalians live in jurisdictions where civil marriage equality is a reality. In some dioceses clergy are blessing civil marriages between same-sex couples and in others the 2012-A049 blessing resources have been adapted for clergy to bless them on behalf of the Episcopal Church and to solemnize them as agents of their state. It is time for the Episcopal Church to act consistently with its words and witness in support of marriage equality. Just as we continue to call the state to equally protect all marriages in the civic arena, it is time to call the church to recognize the equal claim of same-sex couples on the sacrament of Holy Matrimony.

So what does the Episcopal Church have to say to today's world as to “what makes a marriage Christian and holy”?
The Episcopal Church has the opportunity to lift up “fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God” as the values that make a marriage holy. It has the chance to talk about marriage as vocation of holy love, grounded in biblical values of faithfulness and forgiveness. And it has the opportunity to say we are a community of faith focused on supporting all who are called into the vocation of marriage – not discriminating against some who are called into the vocation of marriage.
UPDATE: Two more great questions and answers from colleague Tobias Haller ...

What is the significance of changing the name from "Holy Matrimony" to "Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage"?

The former title of the canon dates from the earlier editions of the BCP which titled the rite itself "The Solemnization of Holy Matrimony." The 1976-79 revision of the BCP changed the title of the rite to "The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage" and the change to the title of the canon reflects this change. In the present canon the terms "marriage" and "matrimony" are used inconsistently and interchangeably, and we thought it best to stick with the term that is most easily recognizable. The amended canon also for the first time takes note of the "Blessing" as applicable to civil marriages as well.

There is no proposal to change the BCP, but there is a provision that says that any of the church's authorized forms can be used for any marriage. Does this mean that "I Will Bless You ..." will remain available as an option? Will a same-sex couple be able to use a BCP form? Since the BCP is not being amended, are we simply to make sensible editorial changes to the BCP for a particular marriage as we see fit? (Editing "this man and this woman" and so forth.)

The Task Force confined itself to the amendment of the canon, leaving to the SCLM (and the General Convention acting in response) any specific liturgical proposals. The new language in the canon is simply meant to clarify that marriages can be solemnized using any form authorized by the church. At present a same-sex couple could not use the BCP marriage liturgy without editorial changes (which are not authorized) and so same-sex couples await either the creation of a new rite or the reauthorization of "I Will Bless You" or a variation of it. The provision for individual bishops to authorize rites for use in their own diocese (in accordance with the Constitution Article X) remains in place. In short, the A050 Task Force proposal for the canon does not change the status quo. That will be up to the General Convention acting on any proposal to create or amend a rite.