Arkansas Bishop to Allow Non-Sacramental Same-Sex Blessings
From The Living Church
In a letter e-mailed to the clergy of his diocese, the Rt. Rev. Larry Maze, Bishop of Arkansas, has given congregations permission to develop pastoral responses to same-gender couples who seek the blessing of The Episcopal Church for their relationships. Under the terms outlined in the letter, clergy are forbidden from performing sacramental rites for the blessing of same-sex unions, but clergy and congregations are permitted to experiment with pastoral responses to same-sex couples seeking affirmation and support.
The July 19 letter noted that while The Episcopal Church remains divided over the propriety of same-sex blessings, there had been agreement for more than 30 years that “homosexual persons are children of God,” and are to be shown “love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care.”“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,” Bishop Maze wrote, citing the 74th General Convention’s resolution that placed same-sex blessings “within the bounds of our common life.”
A spokesman for Bishop Maze, who began a two-week vacation on July 21, told The Living Church “we are not talking about same-sex marriage.” Bishop Maze “has only approved a process whereby we can explore the meaning of same-sex blessings.”In November 2000, Bishop Maze initiated a conversation within the diocese on the pastoral and sacramental implications of blessing of same-sex unions. The July 19 letter continues this trend, according to the diocesan spokesman.Bishop Maze, who will retire in January, following the consecration of a successor scheduled to be elected on Nov. 11, distinguished between a sacramental rite for the blessing of same-gender unions and a pastoral provision for blessings.
“Neither the General Convention nor the Diocese of Arkansas has produced or approved official rites for the blessing of same-sex unions,” he said, adding “no congregation, vestry, or priest is expected to interpret the pastoral concern and care of the Church for gay and lesbian persons in a way that includes the possibility of formal rites of blessing.”
Congregations, however, were encouraged to come to “clarity around the issues involved when the church blesses anything or anyone.“If a couple seeks blessing in that congregation, they will join in that exploration much to the benefit of the congregation and the couple. This is a pastoral response,” Bishop Maze explained.The bishop’s encouragement of theological speculation on the distinction between a sacramental rite of blessing of same-sex unions and a pastoral provision for blessing same-sex unions is likely to draw the ire of the wider Anglican Communion.
The Windsor Report, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the primates have all asked The Episcopal Church to refrain from such blessings.In a report published in The Christian Challenge magazine, two Arkansas congregations, St Paul’s, Fayetteville, and St. Michael’s, Little Rock, were cited as being open to Bishop Maze’s invitation. However, neither congregation said it was ready to proceed at this time with blessings