Sunday, October 22, 2006

Connecticut Media Report: Bishop of Diocese of Connecticut Allows Same Sex Blessings

BB NOTE: 815 remains silent. Nothing from either the Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, or the Presiding-Bishop Ellect Katharine Jefforts Schori. Even ENS is silent regarding the announcement by the Bishop of Connecticut. Guess we know what this means.

State's Episcopal Leader Reverses Ban, Angers Conservative Clergy, Members

And LARRY SMITH Courant Staff Writers

October 22 2006

The head of the Episcopal diocese in Connecticut reversed a long-standing policy this weekend by announcing that priests may give pastoral blessing to same-sex unions in church ceremonies.

The decision by Bishop Andrew Smith does not allow Episcopal clergy to officiate at civil union ceremonies. It does allow the priests, through a blessing ceremony in the church, to acknowledge gay and lesbian couples who have had a civil union granted by the state.

Smith's announcement could generate further controversy.

While it is likely to be accepted by a significant majority of Episcopal churches in the state, it is just as likely to further strain an already contentious relationship between Smith and conservative parishes.

Smith made the announcement during a speech at Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford at the diocese's two-day annual convention that ended Saturday.

"At the heart of the matter is whether we as a Church will welcome and embrace, serve with and care for and bless persons who are homosexual and partnered as cherished and fully accepted members of the body of Christ," Smith said. "I believe it is right to change our current policy, which prohibits our clergy from blessing same-sex relationships."

Smith said he chose to act because Connecticut now recognizes civil unions and because there had been no movement on the matter at the national level of the Episcopal Church. The 2003 Windsor report to the archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the worldwide Anglican communion, called for a moratorium on the consecration of gay clergy and same-sex blessings by the U.S. Episcopal Church.

"What I have permitted is a pastoral ministry of blessing, which does not mimic a wedding ceremony," Smith said in an interview after the convention. He acknowledged that he chose to take action even though the national church hasn't moved on the issue.

When civil unions became law in the state, "it further put the question of how we would respond as a church on the table," Smith said. "I felt the time had come for the church to say `Yes' since there has been no movement on the question that was emerging. And, knowing many faithful gay and lesbian folks are leading lives seeking to serve Christ, I felt that now is the time I move to say `Yes.'"

Outside Christ Church Cathedral on Saturday, several people said they disagreed with Smith but they declined to give their names.

Two who did agree, Greg Semkow and David Garlock, parishioners from Wilton, praised Smith and hailed his decision as "a bold step."

"I think it's a significant step for the church," Garlock said. "We [the Episcopal Church] stand for inclusion. We're very proud of him."

The decision was greeted with joy by the Rev. Pat Gallagher, who leads St. Paul's Church in Willimantic. "I couldn't be happier. ... I'm just so excited about it. It's a right we should have," said Gallagher, who serves openly as a lesbian and who lives with a partner.

A gay rights leader was also happy.

"The Episcopal Church has taken a step to affirm the dignity and humanity of gay people in Christ's name," said Frank O'Gorman, of People of Faith for Gay and Lesbian Civil Rights. "The love between couples gay or straight symbolizes the love of Christ for the church, and the church believes where love is, God is."

A church leader was displeased.

Smith was called "a perpetrator of false teaching," by the Rev. Christopher Leighton, rector of St. Paul's Church in Darien. He said Smith's decision was "defiant of Scripture and worldwide Christianity." Leighton is one of the five priests who have been in a theological battle with Smith since his 2003 vote in support of the consecration the openly gay bishop of New Hampshire.

Leighton predicted that churches that disagree with Smith's decision "will be intimidated into silence."

"This is where he has been headed all along," Leighton said. "Despite that the archbishop of Canterbury and worldwide Anglican [leaders] are asking for a halt to these acts, he continues to press on."

In his convention speech, Smith blasted Leighton and the other rectors of the conservative parishes who sued the diocese in federal court over his pastoral oversight of their churches and property belonging to St. John's Church in Bristol, which the diocese took over after removing its rector. Smith said the diocese has spent $350,000 in legal fees.

"For these past two years, the five parishes and their clergy have continued to enjoy the benefits of the Episcopal Church while at the same time refusing to contribute to our life and mission, and they continue to pursue their own agenda," he said. "It's a little flying an airplane while some of crew are working to dismantle it."

Contact Frances Grandy Taylor at

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