October 5, 2011
Bishop Shannon Johnston
To: The Clergy of the Diocese of Virginia
Regarding a Generous Pastoral Response for Same Sex Couples
I write to you today with an invitation to attend one of two conversations about the blessing of same-sex couples. I invite those whose discernment has led them to conclude that blessing same-sex relationships cannot be a part of their ministry to gather with me on Wednesday, November 2, at 2 p.m. at St. George's, Fredericksburg. I want to hear from you about your experiences and those of your congregation since I announced my intention at Council. And I want to assure you that your position and witness will continue to be wholly respected and honored in this diocese.
I invite those who would like to learn about how they might proceed in offering blessings to the same-sex couples in their congregations to gather with me on Wednesday, November 30, at 2 p.m. at St. George's, Fredericksburg. I want to hear from you as well what your experiences have been since I announced my intention at Council. And I want to share with you the work you are expected to do to prepare your congregation for taking these next steps.
The diocesan context for these meetings began with my pastoral address at diocesan Council in January 2011. I said then to the people of the Diocese: "Personally, it is my hope that the 2012 General Convention will authorize the formal blessing of same-gender unions for those clergy in places that want to celebrate them. Until then, we might not be able to do all that we would want to do but, in my judgment, it is right to do something and it is time to do what we can."
As a way of moving ahead with doing "what we can," I held a pilot meeting with 28 clergy men and women of the Diocese on April 28, 2011, to listen to their hopes and perceptions of their congregation's needs. I also shared with them the process of applying for permission to offer worship services that honor same-sex couples. Since that time, seven congregations have made application and received permission, and services that honor same-sex couples have begun taking place. Now I invite you to continue the conversation with me.
It is my hope that the next two gatherings, together, will reflect the best of our life together as we move with conviction in the ways that God is leading us.
The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston
The Bible has a rather large latitude on marriage? One wonders why Mormans and Africans are restricted to only one wife. Why should a man not have one wife for every day of the week, especially if it's "committed, supportive, and loving?" In fact, why not have entire communities all married to each other? Let the good time roll. Read it all here.
"What we are doing is not in a vacuum, it is part of the wider church, not every part of the church is doing the same thing," Richardson said. "In the end it came to me to ask permission of the bishop about whether we could bless these relationships."
The church joins six other Episcopal congregations in the Diocese of Virginia approved to perform similar ceremonies. But Richardson is quick to point out that this is different from what we think of traditionally as marriage. Rather, he considers this a recognition of mutual joy.
"This is the right thing to do now," he said. "Our gay and lesbian people have waited a long time."
This isn't the first time the Episcopal Church has evaluated its stance on gay and lesbian issues. The church saw the acceptance of its first openly gay bishop, Bishop Gene Robinson, in 2003. Bishop Mary Glasspool became the first openly gay female bishop in 2010. As of 2009, bishops in each Diocese across the country retain individual discretion over how to bless or recognize same-sex unions.
The Diocese of Virginia oversees almost 200 Episcopal congregations throughout central and northern Virginia. In a statement, the diocese told NBC29:
'The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, has authorized seven congregations to provide a generous pastoral response to faithful same-sex couples in the context of a church service. "I am convinced – both theologically and experientially – that committed, monogamous, same-sex relationships can be faithful in and to the Christian life," noted Bishop Johnston. He also reiterated his firm commitment to supporting all congregations in the Diocese of Virginia, including those congregations who object theologically to same-sex blessings. "I assure in the strongest terms those who oppose such blessings that their position and witness will continue to be wholly respected in the Diocese of Virginia."'
André Hakes, a board member with Virginia gay advocacy group, Equality Virginia, is pleased by the church's decision.
"I think that is fabulous that they're doing that. I think it's certainly more in accord with the general good principles of Christianity," she said. "The gay community wishes it was a non-issue that's what we're looking for is essentially non-discrimination."
Hakes says steps like these show that times, and opinions, are changing.
"People's attitudes are changing. I think, you know I was born on 1971 and when I was in high school it was a lot more difficult to be a young gay person," Hakes said. "I think each generation has helped the other generations make some progress."
Richardson is concerned some with differing opinions won't perceive these changes as progress.
"My concern is that people who don't understand this or don't agree with this will react in a hateful manner," he said. "I don't expect everybody to agree with us, I expect some people to be very against this and will tell us so."
In his decision to bless and recognize same sex unions, Richardson turned to his congregation, his clergy, and even the Bible itself. He says the decision reflects the fact that the definition of marriage is changing.
"The Bible has a rather large latitude on marriage," Richardson said. "We think of it now as primarily for the mutual joy of husband and wife. That has led to an inevitable question - is it only men and women who can have the mutual joy of a committed, supportive, loving relationship?"
Richardson doesn't think so.