Prayerbook Committee hears testimony on marriage equality

By Rebecca Wilson

Thomas Cranmer, Shakespeare and Lord Chesterfield all made appearances in testimony at yesterday afternoon’s open hearing on same-sex blessings. Held by the Prayerbook, Liturgy and Music Committee, to which the bulk of these resolutions are assigned, the hearing lasted two hours and drew well over a hundred people.

The resolutions were divided into two categories: those that concern canonical changes and those that call for rites to be developed or amended. Most people who spoke were in favor of same-sex blessings and/or marriage equality, but not all.

Carolyn Litzenberger, a clergy alternate from the Diocese of Oregon and a historian of the English Reformation, spoke first and invoked Cranmer, citing his belief that “belief would be transformed by regular worship with the Book of Common Prayer.” She argued that the Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral and the resolutions at hand continue that Anglican tradition.

Young people and parents both came out in support of same-sex blessings and marriage equality. The hearing audience was moved to applause (ruled out of order) when Hanna Anderson, a 17 year-old volunteer from the Diocese of Northern California told the story of Arthur, her fellow camper at an Episcopal camp. Arthur, who was gay, loved camp because he was accepted there, but killed himself in middle school because, in the words of a suicide note he left behind, he didn’t want to live for just one week a year. Anderson asked the committee to consider the difference that role models in committed same-sex relationships might have made for her friend.

Renee Martin, a mother and visitor from the Diocese of Iowa, asked for rites for same-sex blessings (C041) for her son, adopted from Korea as an infant. “He has held my heart since the moment I first saw him in the Des Moines airport. By the time he was three, it was clear he was gay. Now he is at that age when, like any mother, I pray that he will meet the love of his life—the man who will hold his heart. And when that happens, I want the Episcopal Church to be there to extend the sacrament of marriage.”

Many of the deputies who spoke in favor of a rite for blessings or marriage told personal stories and spoke of pastoral needs, but several who spoke against cited scriptural barriers and division within the Anglican Communion.

The Rev. David Thurlow, clergy deputy from the Diocese of South Carolina, mentioned the stigma he felt standing in opposition to a rite for blessings and said that people who felt uncomfortable speaking had asked him to convey their opposition because “the church needs to discern the mind of Christ.”

Similarly, the Rev. Dorothee Hahn of the The Convocation of American Churches in Europe said that although she did not consider gay people to be sinners and asked forgiveness for the hurt that her opposition causes, “we must overcome the theology of sin before it is time to move on.”

Two hours of heartfelt personal stories and theological proposition requires some comic relief. The wittiest moment of the hearing came from the Rev. Rick Fabian, co-founder of St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco, who explained that Lord Chesterfield opposed building the railroad “because it would encourage the lower classes to travel needlessly” and that, similarly, the greatest threat to the church comes from straight youth who support same-sex unions in overwhelming numbers. “Consider the dangers should these young people pour into our beloved Episcopal Church,” said Fabian. “Shut the door while there is time. If Lord Chesterfield were alive today, you know how he would tell you to vote.”

That leaves only Shakespeare. Sonnet 116, of course: “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments.”

The Prayerbook, Liturgy and Music Committee takes up its work on same-sex blessing resolutions again at 7:30 am today.

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