COLUMBIA, SC — The dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral says he will not authorize the blessing of same-sex relationships in his congregation, but remains committed to “respectful conversation” on an issue that has divided the church in South Carolina and across the nation.
The Very Rev. Timothy Jones posted the letter to his congregation Thursday, the same day his bishop, the Rt. Rev. W. Andrew Waldo, announced he would permit the provisional rite.
Waldo, who presides over 61 congregations in the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina, has left it up to clergy to decide whether they will perform the blessing.
“As to my own prayerful reflection on this important issue, I do not believe that Scripture, Christian tradition, nor the Book of Common Prayer authorize me to bless same-sex relationships,” Jones said. “I know well, from years of conversation and study, the arguments brought forward by those who advocate such a blessing, but I have not been persuaded.”
He went on: “I am committed, as always, to the full welcome in our parish of all, regardless of sexual orientation. The church has, to my sadness, failed too often to do so.”
Jones said the congregation will have the opportunity to participate in a curriculum designed by the bishop’s Task Force on Unity and Faithfulness.
“While I will not authorize same-sex blessings at Trinity, I am committed to our having respectful conversations,” he said. “Such discussion may not be always comfortable. It often requires sacrificial love.”
Jones has been dean of the historic downtown cathedral since July 2012. Trinity is the oldest Episcopal congregation in Columbia and the only cathedral in the diocese. As dean, Jones holds one of the most influential positions in the diocese.
Jones was among 11 clergy and lay people who served on the bishop’s task force, which was established by Waldo to address the blessing resolution passed by the 2012 General Convention of the U.S. Episcopal Church.
Jones’ decision on the matter was swift but not unexpected. The task force included conservatives and liberals and those in the middle, and after many months of dialogue, “I don’t think anyone’s opinion changed,” Waldo said in an interview Wednesday.
Sally McKay, a Trinity member who also served on the task force, said Jones takes great care with his parishioners and wanted to communicate with them quickly so they would understand his thinking.
“With the public release of Bishop Waldo’s letter and the task force’s curriculum, Dean Jones sent the letter so that his congregation would hear directly from him on this issue,” she said.
Waldo told clergy on Thursday that he would permit them to perform same-sex blessings, a decision he sees as a way of keeping his diocese together in the midst of ongoing national church dissension on matters of human sexuality. Already, many Lowcountry Episcopalians have fled the U.S. church over this issue and other matters they view in opposition to Scripture and tradition.
No clergy would be required to perform the rite, Waldo said, and congregations would undergo a thorough process before gaining the bishop’s approval.
Waldo explained his decision in a 26-page pastoral and theological reflection and urged congregations to make use of the curriculum as a means of studying Scripture and asking deep questions. In coming days, some clergy will seek guidance from their congregations.
The Rev. J. Fletcher Montgomery, rector at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Wheat Street, said he plans to gauge congregational support for such a study.
“The vestry and I are of one mind that we want to hear from the congregation after they have had a chance to read the document,” Montgomery said. “I hope they will be willing to do that. I think it is important for us to deal with the issues at hand in the modern world while we are practicing our faith.”
However, he said, “I think my responsibility as an ordained person is to pastor the people I’m assigned to. I wouldn’t make any decision this big without them.”