As U.S. Episcopalians gather this week in Indianapolis for their triennial General Convention, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina said he cannot yet endorse a proposed rite for same gender blessings because he does not believe the theological rationale for the rite has been established.
The Rt. Rev. W. Andrew Waldo said he has traveled the diocese over the past two years to discern the thinking of his 28,000 parishioners on the volatile issue, which has divided the national church and the larger worldwide Anglican Communion since the 2003 ordination of an openly gay U.S. bishop.
Waldo, who calls himself a radical centrist, said he has addressed the issue of same gender blessings at a theological council and at congregational forums. He said he has told congregants, I support the full inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in the life of the church but as bishop, Im everybodys bishop, and that Im in no hurry.
Its critically important, critically important for me, that a space is created for those diverse views, Waldo said last week as he prepared for the eight-day convention that opens today. And when I say create a space, part of my journey these past two years is to discern what that space looks like.
Waldo said the 64 Midlands and Upstate congregations he represents are of a wide range of views on same gender relationships. Thats in contrast to South Carolinas second Episcopal diocese, representing the Lowcountry, and its bishop, the Right Rev. Mark Lawrence, who oppose the ordination of gay priests and same sex marriage.
He has spoken with people who are radically opposed to same gender blessings, and people who are partnered gay and lesbian couples who want the church to move apace to bless their relationships. Waldo said some conservatives thought he already had made up his mind and was giving into a trend that is clear across the church.
Its clear to me that the anxiety is real and for me the anxiety is rooted in a fear that we will be broken apart, said Waldo, who believes the diocese does not lean left or right, but rather if you could imagine a balance beam, that we are evenly spaced all the way across.
The U.S. Episcopal Church is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which has wrestled with the issue of the ordination of gay priests and the blessing of same sex marriages in states where such marriages are legal. The issue is on the agenda at the annual convention of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the largest U.S. Presbyterian denomination with 2 million members, which is meeting this week in Pittsburgh.
Knowing that this issue is so fraught with risks for the unity of the church and also knowing that in my ordination vows, one of the key roles and symbols of the office of bishop is maintaining the unity of the church, I felt I needed to do a lot of work from the beginning to discover what the perspective were in the diocese, Waldo said, to engage people from all perspective in conversation with each other about issues and to discover really what is at stake in the hearts and minds of people who are here.
In two pre-convention meetings, Waldo said his position was bolstered by comments from two homosexual men who did not want to approve this unless the theological rationale was rigorous and robust enough to acknowledge who they were from the depths of the Christian tradition, Waldo said.
Earlier this year, the churchs Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music of the Episcopal Church released the first draft of the rites for consecrating same-sex unions, which will be discussed by the 300-member House of Bishops and House of Deputies, the bicameral houses of the general convention.
The report, titled I Will Bless You, and You Will Be a Blessing: Resources For Blessing Same-Gender Relationships, will be discussed by the House of Bishops and House of Deputies during the 77th General Assembly. If the resolution related to the report is approved, the rites would be used on a trial basis beginning Dec. 2 and undergo further review at the 78th General Convention in 2015.
The second resolution asks the convention to form a task force that would guide the church to identify and explore biblical, theological, historical, liturgical, and canonical dimensions of marriage during the 2013-2015 triennium. This task force would help the church study the issues raised by the marriage equality debate in civil society.
The same sex blessing resolution is among the hottest topics at the seven-day convention, but Waldo said he expects sparks to fly over the churchs budget and an effort to restructure and eliminate some of the administrative layers of the national church. There will be four S.C. clergy and four S.C. laypersons who will serve as deputies in considering the restructuring as well.
That restructuring is aimed at reducing administrative costs of running the church and focusing on the missions and outreach that most parishioners consider the bread-and-butter of their faith.
There will be no sleep as far as I can tell, he said.