In July 2011, Bishop Johnston made an invitation to clergy of the Diocese of Virginia. In the Virginia Episcopalian1, he wrote of feeling an “overwhelming sense – sudden and out-of-the-blue – [that] said ‘MOVE….NOW’” on the issue of blessing same-gender relationships. After much thought, prayer, discernment, and conversation with the vestry, colleagues, and local theologians, we, your clergy, are ready to accept Bishop Johnston’s invitation and to move forward with offering the blessing of same-gender relationships.

Our theological statement2 has been sent to Bishop Johnston. The vestry reviewed a draft of this letter and their thoughtful critiques have been incorporated. The vestry stated that the welcome and inclusion of LGBT people was a strategic goal for the 2011-2012 program year. The vestry has also taken time in study and conversation about LGBT inclusion and same-gender blessings. They requested information both for3 and against4 same-gender blessings and were able to review the scriptural references

To receive permission from Bishop Johnston, he requests that the clergy send him a statement discussing three things: where the congregation is regarding offering a generous pastoral response and what preparation and teaching has been done in the congregation; a thoughtful statement from the clergy about why we want to move ahead on this now, including theological and biblical reflection; and a statement as to whether or not this has been discussed with the vestry and what the vestry’s position is, if any.

At their February 2012 meeting, the vestry unanimously passed this resolution: The vestry resolves that we support the clergy position on the theological basis for same gender blessings and pursuing courses of action to implement the same at Christ Church.

The congregational response to the six-week forum series, Where Do We Stand,5 on welcoming lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people into our community was overwhelmingly positive. Inspired by the congregational response to the forum series, we are moving forward with offering blessings to LGBT people in faithful, monogamous, life-long relationships.

The clergy find scriptural support for their pastoral response to same-gender couples in the many passages out of the Gospel accounts which speak of Jesus being with and including all people.3 It is also Jesus’ response to the lawyer who asked him “‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’” that leads us as we offer same-gender blessings. Jesus said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:35-40)

We recognize that our conclusion will come as a great joy to many in our congregation, a grat relief to others, and a cause for concern to others still. We believe our congregation has an opportunity in this moment to deepen our understanding of the call of Christ and the promise and challenge of life in Christ’s community.

Please join us for a panel discussion with the clergy and wardens on Sunday, May 13, at 10:15 am to continue this conversation.

FAQs on Same-Gender Blessings

  • How is a same-gender blessing different from a marriage? Marriages between same-gender couples are not legal in the Commonwealth of Virginia, so there is not an option in Virginia to perform a marriage for a same-gender couple. Virginia state law does not recognize legally the blessing of a same-gender couple. However, same-gender blessings do confer God’s blessings upon the couple, allow the couple to make a public declaration of their relationship, and invite them to make a formal commitment to each other. The liturgy for same-gender blessings is not the same as a marriage rite; there are options for use that must be approved by the Bishop. At General Convention this summer, rites for same-gender blessings will be discussed. 
  • Who gives permission for this? The Bishop of Virginia requires the clergy to inform him of the intention of a priest to bless a same-gender couple and to say why the priest believes that the relationship should be blessed. This is also required of different-gender couples where one or both have been divorced. 
  • What preparation would a same-gender couple have to do? We envision that same-gender couples would do the same preparation as couples of different genders: attend six sessions of Water into Wine or another approved premarital education program, meet with a member of the clergy for counseling, and have at least one person in the couple be a member of Christ Church. 
  • Are any other local Episcopal churches considering such a move? Yes. Permission has been sought by the clergy of Grace, St. Clement’s, and St. Paul’s, all in Alexandria. In Richmond, St. Thomas has sought permission, as well as other churches in the diocese. 
  • Has this already been tried in Episcopal churches around the country? Episcopal churches around the country have been holding blessings of same-gender couples for a few decades. Some of these have been approved by the bishop of those dioceses, other were done without Episcopal oversight. 
  • Must all priests in the Diocese of Virginia bless same-gender unions, if asked to do so? No. The Bishop understands that not all clergy in the diocese have been moved by the Holy Spirit in the way that he has. Just as the Bishop cannot compel a clergyperson to marry a couple, he cannot compel a clergyperson to bless a same-gender couple. 
  • Why are we doing this now? Because the Holy Spirit is moving the clergy to this. We are inspired by the vibrancy of the Out and About group and the overwhelming congregational response to Where Do We Stand. 

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